Looking back to go forward

Updated: Feb 25

Sometimes the answers we seek are in the past, but are you brave enough to look?

I was most privileged to go on an Outward Bound course a couple of years ago and one of the first challenges as a group was to do some sailing in the beautiful cutter. With variable winds and tidal effects we found ourselves going all over the place, including occasionally having to go backwards, to go forwards. At times the pace was downright scary and there was the need to just let everything go until things calmed down. At other times our reliance on the wind left us floating with no momentum, so we needed to pick up the oars and row. Cutters do not usually make their journeys directly, they meander, they turn often, trying to catch the right wind to send them on their way. All these experiences mirror everyday life.


The main reason I went to Outward Bound was to revisit my past, to see whether the person I was advertising in my CV was actually still me. The general ups and downs of life, and long periods of unemployment, had been eroding my confidence. I had come to realise that most of the things that I was really proud of, and found myself talking about, took place over 10 years ago. This caused me to question my knowledge, abilities and skills, leading to a concern that maybe I was no longer capable of them. This feeling was starting to effect my belief in other aspects of my life.

When standing on a 7 foot high mooring post, ready to jump in, clothes and all, time slows, giving you more than you really want for thinking about the situation.

What is it inside us which makes us want to climb back down?


Though we see that others have made the jump in one piece, why do we hesitate?

Our past has a lot to do with things. Our past effects our belief in our present abilities, however our present actions can effect our future abilities. When looking back not all that is stored is helpful.

“Clothes will dry, bodies will warm up, but lost moments can never be recaptured. So just jump in!”

My biggest concern going into the course was whether I was truly fit enough, I have never been a 'fit' person and though I had been practicing my running and achieved the minimum level required, I knew I could have done so much more. I felt, on finding I was the youngest in our watch, that there was a level of expectation around my physical abilities, which were unfortunately unmet. The 65 year old left me in her dust as far as running ability was concerned, if she had not found the need to walk on occasions I would not have been able to keep up. As a society we seem to focus almost exclusively on physical fitness, however I found that I made up for this lack of physical fitness by my unexpected level of mental fitness. Even though I reported a lowered self-confidence as my reason for attending, I soon started to feel a bit of a fraud, especially when I found myself approaching many of the challenges with a level of confidence which others seemed to find surprising. The ability to look at a situation and weigh it up objectively, trust in the equipment and the skills of the leaders allowed me to tackle challenges in new and interesting ways, including blindfolded!

Investing in self is so important. Outward Bound offered a unique opportunity to find myself again, to mix with people I would not usually get to meet, a bit like going back to my teenage years. Everyone on the course attended for their own reasons, we all had our strengths and weaknesses and the challenges were adapted to allow us all to achieve them, at our level. They were not out to kill or cure, but to nurture and grow. Everyone found themselves looking back at who they were, reviewing their values and redefining themselves ready to move forward.


The whole experience of Outward Bound gave me a more balanced perspective on my abilities and provided a chance to revitalize and prove old skills.


When you find yourselves wondering if you are still who you are then look back at your past, identify those points in your life when you truly felt alive. Push your comfort zones, invest in yourself, gain greater mental fitness. When your body eventually gives up, it is your mind which will get you through.


Please share your experiences of rediscovery, or Outward Bound memories.

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