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Backpacking with EI - Part One

Several months ago, I had coffee with my friend, Mike, who had recently left his job with the City of Austin. Mike and I became friends through our time in Leadership Austin. As we were about to finish, Mike gave me some solid advice on how I might structure my Emotional Intelligence training and work. So, Mike, thank you for your inspiration, and here goes!


I’ve been active most of my life. I started playing sports and being outside as a young child. I can remember wanting to be a baseball pitcher and so I would get up early and throw tennis balls against our garage door. There were squares as part of the design that acted as my targets. No, I never made it as a professional pitcher, yet I had dreams and I worked hard at it. I was always up for a challenge, and it paved the way for what lied ahead.


At 28, I was given an opportunity to go on a 14-day Outward Bound backpacking trip in Marble, Colorado. That experience led me to many more backpacking trips, including a 10-day excursion around Mount Rainier on the Wonderland Trail. Myself, my wife and two friends planned the trip. The first step was to decide when we could go. Once we committed to the dates, all the preparation for the trip began. 


If you’ve never gone backpacking or even camping, there is a lot to the preparations. In our case, we had to decide things like food, clothing, fuel, water sources, route, permits, equipment (backpack, sleeping bag, tent, sleeping pad, hydration system, water filter, etc.), first aid supplies and on and on. Add to that, we had to be in shape to carry 30-40 pounds on our back while hiking over 100 miles (about 10 miles per day). I wasn’t about to take this lightly and just show up without proper preparation for what we were about to experience.


At this point, you’ve got to be wondering, “How does this relate to Emotional Intelligence?” That’s a great question. Up to now, all of this is the foundation to a successful backpacking trip. Relating this to EI, the foundational work is knowing and understanding yourself. It all starts with understanding your emotions, strengths, limitations, blind spots, triggers in an honest and authentic way. When backpacking with a group, it’s important to know each other’s fears and concerns so the team can understand how to support each other. In EI, it’s important to understand how you are with others and how they see you. These are the blind spots that can take you by surprise. In my case, if my team didn’t know that I was afraid of heights, that blind spot could have some very serious ramifications. (Why would I go on a backpacking trip around Mount Rainier being afraid of heights? That’s for another story!)


All the preparation for a backpacking trip is foundational to the actual trip itself. In EI, having self-awareness is the foundational platform for all the other skills. By taking time to reflect and understand the qualities that make up who you are, you can begin to build on your EI expertise.


What does that preparation look like? Well, in my backpacking experience it was a multitude of things:

·      Assessing my equipment, along with my wife’s and determining what we still needed.

·      Understanding the limits of our packs and determining what we had space to bring – clothing, food, tents, hydration, stove, etc.

·      Understanding the requirements on the trail we were going to and what other things we might need – i.e. bear poles were provided, so we needed an approved bear bag to store our food and toiletries each night.

·      Studying what weather we may encounter.

·      Applying for the needed permits.

·      Start a training program.

You get the idea that this is an exhausting list of preparations. Add to that, we still needed to mail food re-supplies to the park at specific locations at least 3 weeks prior to the start of our hike. These are no small tasks and require a lot of communication and clear understanding. The last thing we wanted was to find that we forgot something once we were on the trail. We did read blogs and books from people who had already done this trail to construct a to-do list.


EI has foundational preparations as well. It starts with us as individuals. The better we know our true selves and how we typically interact with others is paramount to determining our foundation.

·      What things trigger certain emotions?

·      How others see us?

·      Strengths and limitations

·      Can we define the feelings and emotions we have at any certain time?

·      Typical communication styles when stressed.

·      Why do we need to improve EI? What is our end-result?

What things can we do to work on Self-Awareness within EI?

·      Meditate – spend time with your own thoughts.

·      Journal – gratitude or simply describe the day including the feelings or emotions you had.

·      Mindful walks and moments.

·      Learn how to take calming breaths.

·      List 5-7 values that guide your life behaviors, decisions, and interactions with others.

·      Reflect on “Am I who I say I am?” Do others see me the way I see myself?


I’m nowhere near where I want to be. I have much to work on, so if you’re thinking I have all this figured out, I can tell you I don’t. What I do have is a path or a construct to follow that will help guide me. My biggest obstacle is myself, when I fail to live up to my expectations or I fail to understand how my blind spots affect the interactions I have with others. I must constantly remind myself to be present. The more I get lost in my own thoughts, the more I remove myself from the present, the more I get in my head about what I think is happening and the more removed I get from my present situations. Intention is the most important guiding path for me. My intention is to help people become the best version of themselves. That means I must be present and available to be my best version. EI is my “trail”. I need to remind myself of my intention and how I can be there for others. It all starts with knowing who I am.


Next up will be Self-Management.


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