Well it wasn’t really a walk, more like a vigorous hike. I guess it was a walk. We walked/hiked about 9 miles total with 3000 feet of elevation gain in less than 4 miles of climbing. I was not all that well prepared for the walk with my thick cotton pants and running shoes, which were much more suited for a track workout than the tree roots, mud and rocks we encountered, but there was no way I was not going.
After all, this was a weekend of ‘badassity’ where a little suffering and stoicism were to be celebrated. I was hanging out in the middle of nowhere with 50 new friends (and a few old ones) and was just going with the flow. The day before there was an impromptu 100 push-up challenge (which I politely declined). This retreat was definitely not for the pedicure and hot stone massage crowd.
When I finally arrived at the top of the trail the view was spectacular. We had a brief clear look down into the valley we came from with no clouds to block our sight. Standing on a rock near the edge of a steep slope provided an awe inspiring sense of vertigo, and slight elevation of my resting heart rate. I quickly snapped a picture as it was only a matter of minutes before the clouds rolled in and the temperature seemed to drop about 20 degrees. I’m not sure how long we stayed at the top sharing the view with some very aggressive chipmunks and birds. Maybe 20 minutes or so? Time becomes more amorphous when we are immersed in nature. Eventually I decided the chill in the air outweighed the rather cloudy view and I headed back down.
The descent was quicker, but in many ways much more unpleasant. My quads were not quite used to 4 miles of constant deceleration and about half way down I was cursing myself for not having the proper footwear. Hiking boots would have been ideal but I would have settled for my old beat up trail running shoes. With the soft padding of the minimalist racing flats I felt like evil gnomes were punching the bottoms of my feet each time I stepped on a root or rock. I wondered if Seneca would have lowered himself to taking a couple ibuprofen – maybe so if the beer he washed them down with wasn’t too fancy.
I managed to distract myself by having some very interesting conversations with some amazing people on the way down about the meaning of life, work, happiness and financial freedom. This was far from the ordinary ‘nice weather isn’t it?’ and ‘how old are your kids?’ type conversations that usually transpire when you are hiking with people you barely know…but these were not ordinary people.
Welcome To Summer Camp
I was at Camp Mustache which was kind of like a long weekend summer camp for financial freedom junkies. Everyone had their own reason to be there and was in their own unique place on the journey, but the end goal was always the same – freedom. Some wanted freedom to quit their jobs, others wanted freedom to spend more time with family, or starting a business, or just to free up time to peruse their dream or passion. In other words, these were my kind of people.
There were loosely structured activities and informal breakout groups which discussed various philosophical and tactical aspects of financial independence, but the real meat of the weekend was talking with people and hearing their stories. I told my story many times, and listened to many others. Often the conversation would meander to some tough dilemma or philosophical question. Other times is was just about having a good time and laughing. The conversations for the most part went very deep and intimate in a short period of time, but this seemed OK. It was refreshing in some ways to cut so clearly to the things that mattered and were important to us.
When I made it back to the lodge I started the hydration process (no, I was not smart enough to bring water with me in case you were wondering, but I did have some salty trail mix which probably didn’t help matters). Man my feet hurt. Note to self…keep an old pair of hiking boots in the car.
The clouds and rain of the past couple of days were clearing and it was turning into a beautiful day. In my exhausted state it seemed like as good of a time as any to reflect upon some lessons and principals.
A Few Things I Learned
Lesson one – there are some amazing people in this world. This is something easy to forget and may seem like an odd first lesson, but it is an important one, especially if you have a relatively fixed social circle. As I meandered through different conversations throughout the weekend there were amazing people everywhere doing amazing things than I never would have dreamed of. There were real estate empires of passive income, nomadic travelers, bloggers, serial house sitters and even someone living in a van. There were people from all walks of life with careers ranging from government desk jobs to military to private sector to farming to serial entrepreneur. There were people pushing the vanguard of hacking whether it was travel or the tax code or housing.
Lesson two – Everyone can teach us something. See lesson number one. We tend to get myopic in our worldview when we are exposed to the same talking points and opinions over and over again. It is not enough to simply expose ourselves to others; we must be willing to listen. Yes we should challenge different opinions and see if they stand up to scrutiny, but we must be open minded enough to allow these ideas in. Everyone has a unique perspective and everyone knows something about some topic better than you do.
Lesson three – You become the people you associate with unless you expend great energy and will power to be different. Everyone at this retreat was doing something different and against the grain, and it took energy. Time and time again I heard people remark at how easy it was to be themselves when they were surrounded by people who shared their values. This weekend they could let their guard down and just be themselves. No one would judge. No one would criticize. When you associate with people that don’t share your general worldview or vision it makes it more difficult to believe in yourself. Don’t underestimate this. Just as surrounding yourself with the right people will lift your boat, the wrong people will sink it.
Lesson four – Online camaraderie is excellent, but something about an in-person meeting is a force multiplier. Mega-gratitude to the organizers, presenters and guests of honor.
Lesson five – Water and decent shoes make 9 mile hikes a little better. I shouldn’t even have to explain this one…
Lesson six – We don’t like change. We instinctively settle into our habits and patterns. Being with people who ask tough questions and challenge the status quo will help you break free. A few of my blind spots were exposed to me, namely my relationship to comfort and fear which I will talk about in a blog post in the near future.
I went into the weekend not expecting much, I just wanted to hang out with some cool people who shared a passion. But I came away from it with something deeper. And to be honest I was a little surprised by it. The stories we shared and questions we asked each other touched a nerve, awakened something. I feel like I’ve been nudged in a different direction, but I’m not sure where. I think it was a push I needed though.
To be honest many of the details have faded away a bit over the past few days, but the feelings remain. I find myself grasping at the ideas, trying to remember each conversation, each fragment of wisdom because there were so many good ones…but I can’t. I feel like the more I strive to remember, the more I forget. Sadly, I know in a few months from now it will be difficult to even remember everyone’s name, much less the specifics of the ideas we explored.
In any event I’m grateful for the conversations, and I’m grateful for the stories shared. I’m grateful to the people that patiently listened to my story and offered counsel. It was a humbling experience to be honest.
Don’t worry; I’ll have my water bottle and hiking shoes ready for next year.