AS I WAS boarding my flight for Fresno, California in the beginning of June 2016, all I could think about was how fast my heart was racing. It had been a long time since I had been so simultaneously terrified and exhilarated to go to work. By happenstance and random chances, I had landed a job leading hikes and backpacking trips for children from a nearby summer camp into one of the most beautiful places in the United States of America: Yosemite National Park.

“Summer in Yosemite” was reason enough to feel exhilarated, but the emotion of terror that I was feeling came from a different place entirely. Not only was I leaving the promise of fun and friendship in my cozy college town for the summer, I was immersing myself in an entirely new place with new people doing a job I had never done before. When I finally landed in The Golden State in early June, fighting back nausea and nerves, I never imagined I would be leaving, come August, in tears. Although I could speak endlessly of all of the things I experienced and how they changed my life, I believe Audre Lorde perfectly summed up my greatest takeaway from my outdoor adventure in her 1978 essay “The Uses of the Erotic”:

“For once we begin to feel deeply in all the aspects of our life, we begin to demand from ourselves and from our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with that joy which we know ourselves to be capable of.”

What I learned that summer is that if we are not careful, it is too easy to slip by living our lives in mediocrity. If we do not push ourselves to our limits either growing our minds, creating, chasing our passions, or simply connecting to our humanity in the vast expanse of nature every now and again, we forget how it feels. We forget how it feels to be so alive, energized, and enamored with life that we let ourselves go through our days cheating ourselves out of the joy we are capable of.

As I move forward in my life, I will always carry this experience with me. I have a new goal now, and it involves changing the way that I move through this world. My goal is to demand from myself and my life-pursuits the joy I know I am capable of experiencing.

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