The dichotomy of honesty about weakness and certainty about strength

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. If there’s one thing a long walk gives you, it’s plenty of time to think  

Part of the problem is doubt, not really feeling as if I ever know what I’m doing or deserve anything good to happen to me. But why not? Maybe I have no idea how strong I am and I need to start appreciating myself.

The thing is, I’m far from perfect because nobody is and I kind of enjoy the honesty of sharing that, especially in our modern social media world where people can curate their images, blurring them to unreality.  But perhaps I’m always focusing on the wrong thing and it allows people to believe less of me, and for me to believe less of myself.

I’m not making a hero’s journey. I’m not trying to appear capable. My Instagram will not show a selection of summit pictures and glorious selfies. I am a person of glorious variation, sometimes I push myself for miles and sometimes I want to do nothing more than lie in a field. Sometimes I navigate myself precisely using contour and compass, sometimes I find myself climbing fences where I’d expected a stile.
I rarely fall over but I often stumble. My clothes are all xl, my hair never looks great. My tents are rarely perfectly taut.

And yet I realise I may be selling myself short.
People are very quick to warn me of the dangers, to tell me that I shouldn’t be afraid to change my plans.
Don’t go to the mountains, they say.
Don’t camp in the cold.
There are wolves, they say.
There are robbers and thieves.

If I listened to everyone I would never leave home. I have to choose who to pay attention to, judge their knowledge and how it informs their level of fear. Where is their belief that I am capable of doing this? Perhaps in my desire to appear human I am failing to show my abilities. If I keep claiming to be crap at everything then why should anyone appreciate my strength?

I’m just saying that something is hard. Do other adventurers not do that? Patrick Leigh Fermor skipped across Europe. Dervla Murphy always has a wry tale of yet another broken bone. Rosie Swale Pope is made of pure steel. Don’t even get me started on the polar explorers or all those smug Victorians, conquerors all. Did they feel no self doubt or did they just not make that part of their stories?
I don’t want to do that. I am human, I am weak and foolish and fallible. Yet I think this isn’t all that I am.
If I don’t look like I believe in myself then how can I expect others to believe in me.

As I looked back at my 2018, the realisation has grown that I’m pretty stressed all the time, no matter what’s actually happening around me.
I’m not much of a one for new years resolutions, the changing of the date has always seemed like a pretty arbitrary night out to me. The final filip of celebration after the build up and subsequent food coma of Christmas. A night where the pubs are packed, it’s impossible to get served, any major event involves more queuing and waiting than celebration. And for what, to count down from 10 and carry on drinking. Maybe that says more about my boozy youth than the importance of a New Year. These days I’m happy to miss it, go to bed early, it just doesn’t bother me.
I went to bed in Bucharest but I definitely couldn’t sleep – huge booms, window rattling fireworks exploded regularly from 10pm and the streets filled with tangy smoke at midnight as the pop pop sparkles rattled throughout the city. A 20 minute explosion of sound and fire, I imagined Bucharest at war, replaced terror with glamour and glitter.

This is a long way of saying that I don’t really care about New Year. But I’m thinking about change. As I finish out my 2018 I’m feeling tired. I’m also realising that I’m really hard on myself. I’ve seen it, as I walked across Ukraine, seen how I’m always ready to tip into stress and sadness. When do I just relax and enjoy this? 2018 should be a sequence of proud events – my first book was published to, not rapturous acclaim but a good reception, Nobody said anything horrible (well, just one amazon review but he’s clearly a miserable git anyway). I appeared at Hay Festival, I saved up enough money to leave the country on a 2 year journey (which took months of hard work and van living), I left the country! Packed everything up, hitchiked to Kiev. I pushed through all the reasons not to do such a ridiculously difficult thing and I did it anyway. I walked 600 miles in two strange countries where I understood very little of the language.
Yet the moments of actually considering and appreciating how great my situation is, of feeling proud of all I’ve achieved, are few and far between. Mostly I’m in a miasma of self doubt, worrying about something, there’s always something.
And that’s the problem really, how good does life have to be before I start enjoying it, why aren’t I letting myself enjoy it right now?

I’m not saying I’m going to be able to change myself but at least seeing the problem is the beginning of working on it. Stop doing myself down, stop selling myself short.

I’ve just arrived in Cluj-Napoca train station. I’m going to take another train to Bratca and I’m going to continue walking south. There’s snow on the ground here in the city, there’s a bite in the air that had faded from Bucharest. I don’t know what I’ll find out there, I don’t know what route I’ll be able to take, whether I’ll have to stick to roads or be able to take smaller tracks. Someone offered me snowshoes but I don’t have them right now. I don’t know if I’ll need them, what it’s really like to walk in snow. This isn’t Wales, this is way way more difficult than anything I’ve faced before.
And yet, I need to grasp hold of it, to accept what comes my way, whether it’s road walking and a hotel every night or climbing peaks and camping out. I have the possibility to do either and I have to accept both as acceptable, not peaks as success and hotels as failure. It’s as if I push myself to my limits and then only focus on the tiny step back I take at the last minute. No more, I tell you, no more. Lets have some bloody positivity shall we please.

Oh crikey, and now I’ve started worrying about publishing this, whether it’s too intense and miserable. Lord Ursula, just get it out and stop worrying. I’m here now, I’m doing it, it’s time to focus on enjoyment  

14 thoughts on “The dichotomy of honesty about weakness and certainty about strength

  • January 4, 2019 at 7:55 am
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    Dear Ursula…I know about you via Marion (Rowsell) Llanidloes. And you are so incredibly inspiring with your honesty about your travels. You are out there doing it…I am here at the cusp of doing a different sense of discovery with my bike. Planning in my mind. I know I will get the…you can’t do that by yourself. Well why not indeed?
    Everyday you go out you are embracing your soul. Awesome lady….keep your journal going. Love it!! X

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    • January 20, 2019 at 6:29 am
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      Thank you, it helps me to express it. Acknowledging weakness makes me stronger, in a weird way.

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  • January 4, 2019 at 8:08 am
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    Your honesty is refreshing. Seems to me this is also a measure of how strong you are! Fighting the negativity is possibly the hardest thing we can do. Some swear by Gratitude journals;I do have a faith which helps. Just look for that one great thing about each day. This blog post is a pretty good place to start. Being strong and happy is so much more than a well curated Insta feed

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  • January 4, 2019 at 10:04 am
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    Go gul!!!!! Cheering you on … Love a bit of reality…

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  • January 4, 2019 at 10:14 am
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    Ursula, I do so much admire your writing, it’s honesty and the mixture of feelings. It’s totally believable to me, I have felt like that about some of my walks in the past although none of them were anywhere near as adventurous and challenging as yours. I still feel like this about sailing trips both when contemplating them and when they are in progress. I’m so glad you feel able to share this with us. Sending positive thoughts your way 🙂

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    • January 20, 2019 at 6:30 am
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      Thanks. It’s all progress, I think.

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  • January 4, 2019 at 10:17 am
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    You capture eloquently the existential dilimma for many of us – and you have found an amazing way of facing it. Wallace and I are both still trying to overcome the negative effects of his sudden illness and subsequent heat operation (3 1/2 years ago now and long since physically recovered) and reading your thoughts is hugely helpful and inspiring. Keep doing what you do Ursula. Your are truly “on the path”

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  • January 4, 2019 at 10:55 am
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    I wanted to tell you how much I appreciate this painfully honest post. Am I happy yet? is a question I – and many others I imagine- wrestle with often. You are doing something amazing. Be proud of yourself and of all your achievements. Ceri

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    • January 20, 2019 at 6:30 am
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      Cheers Ceri, xxxx

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  • January 4, 2019 at 1:31 pm
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    Brilliant and inspiring Ursula, many thanks for sharing, with love and blessings, Leslie x

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  • January 4, 2019 at 3:44 pm
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    Ursula, you are an inspiration to me! I know I will never walk the many miles you have traveled (trust me on this…I will be 65 in a few weeks and have some muscle issues) but what you have said about stressing about your abilities and living in the moment…something about that resonates with me and gives me pause to reevaluate my life and its meaning right now. Thank you for your down to earth spirit and honestly…we could all use some of that. Godspeed on your adventure and please keep sharing. We can all dream, can’t we?

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  • January 4, 2019 at 8:03 pm
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    Just – well done! Its your honesty that takes you forward- you have only yourself to compare your self against- and that includes doing things the way you need to, and not how others tell you. Best wishes always.

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  • January 5, 2019 at 2:01 am
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    Thank you, thank you, thank you! Honesty in any form is vastly superior to anything else. I watched Ellen Macarthur sail solo through the Southern Ocean in 2000 (early digital live streaming) and she looked tired and terrified by much of the undertaking. In fact, she is described in a documentary of the event as experiencing… “extremes in ecstasy and terror, exultation and exhaustion.” Ragged confusion as to purpose and the demands of unique logistics seems inevitable when someone like you steps out of everyday endeavors and expectations. I’ve also noted another adventurer who said their experience was frightening, disturbing, impossibly difficult but also freeing and occasionally exhilarating. Seems to me you are right on schedule! Personally I have noticed that the world takes its cue as to how to respond to us from our own opinion of ourselves. For years, and sadly sometimes still, I’ve had a low opinion of myself. Despite positive achievements I’ve often looked for where I felt I didn’t measure up. Confession…I’m an artist and I’ve made that my life career. But rarely, even unto this day have I sold a painting, or completed a commission, that I haven’t felt sick to my stomach as I pass the work to the new owner. I often still count up the small imperfections rather than revel in the praise. Hard one to overcome. But I’d say you’re on the right track. We need to recognize what we’re doing before we can change anything. Best wishes and tally-ho!

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  • January 7, 2019 at 2:36 pm
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    “both [are] acceptable, not peaks as success and hotels as failure” – you say it all in this one phrase. Thank you for sharing your thoughts as well as your experiences on the paths and roads. We are often told “onwards and upwards” but that doesn’t cover the effort in pointing your face and heart in the right direction first. Perhaps we can now start to enjoy our achievements, relish our successes and celebrate what we have accomplished. This what you are helping me do. Thank you again.

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