What Getting Lost in the Woods Taught Me

It was a cloudy autumn day and I had some though times at work. I took a hike in the woods to unwind a bit. I was listening to a podcast without paying attention to it. I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going either. I was just walking through the woods. I was too stressed to pay attention to anything. My plan was to use the GPS of my smartphone to get back if I got lost.

After one and a half hour into the woods, I decided that it was time to go back. I didn’t know where I was, so, I decided to use the GPS. It was then that I realized that I had only 9% battery left. My only option was to find an easy to memorize route and trust that I could follow that route without the GPS assistance. I decided to take the shortest path to the highway and then walk back on the highway. It wasn’t a perfect plan, but I couldn’t come up with a better one at that moment. I switched off my smartphone to save the last bit of battery in case of an emergency.

I took the shortest path to the highway. I was getting more and more relaxed as I started to hear cars passing by. As I approached the highway, I saw a two meter (6’6″) high fence and a three meter (9’9″) cliff covered with thorny plants separating the woods from the highway. That was the end of it. I couldn’t get to the highway.

I started to think about my options. I could look for another way back on my smartphone. I could call the police to pick me up, but I didn’t know where exactly I was. I could try to find out my GPS coordinates on my smartphone. In either case, I had to turn on my smartphone. As soon as I turned it on, the battery of my smartphone died.

Panic set in. I sat down on the ground to increase the blood flow to my brain. No one knew that I was here. It was highly unlikely that someone would come across me. Getting back into the woods could have meant walking in circles without finding my way back. After a few days with no water and food, I would lose all of my strength and become breakfast for wild animals. What a stupid way to die. I didn’t want to die. This couldn’t be the end of my life.

If I had to survive, my only choice was to climb that fence and jump over it. I attacked the fence, climbed over it, and jumped to the other side. I couldn’t believe. I was just saved. Now, the only thing that separated me from civilization was the thorny cliff. I attacked the cliff as well and climbed it. All of this wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.

Luckily, I was trained a little. Even though the fence and thorny cliff weren’t the same as the sanitary environment of my gym, my training helped me. Now, all I had to do was to walk back from the highway. It was a boring thing to do, but I couldn’t complain. It was much better than being breakfast for wild animals.

Lesson 1. We humans are way more capable than we think we are.

When I reflected on what happened on that day later, I came up with some valuable lessons to remember for life. We humans are way more capable than we think we are. If my life didn’t depend on it, I’d never imagine I could jump over that fence and climb that cliff. I wouldn’t even give it a try. The obstacle that you believe to be keeping you from what you want is nothing when it comes to a death or life situation.

We all have that untapped power in us that we almost never use unless our lives are on the line. Why is that? Why don’t we use it? How would our lives look like if we used our full power every day, instead of dabbling with 10% of our capacity?

Lesson 2. If you start a project or task, attack it as if your life depends on it.

Attack your whole life as your life depends on it. When your alarm goes off, think about it as a ticking time bomb, which will explode in 10 seconds unless you get out of the bed. Now, would you hit that snooze button five times and then rush to the work at the last minute? If someone put a gun to your head and pulled the trigger, if you checked Facebook while working, would you still do it? These are the little mental tricks to get you fired up to concentrate fully on your task at hand and to attack it fully.

When you feel like your life depends on a task, you have that visceral feeling of anger, which makes you concentrate single-mindedly on a task and to eliminate all distractions around it. Now, what do you think about Facebook distracting you from your job? That literally means death, right? Do you still want to check it or do you hate it now?

Do you have other ideas to attack a task as if your life depends on it? Let me know in the comments.

Lesson 3. Technology and comfort made us weak.

When I was in my twenties, back in 2000’s, I had a hard copy of the map of Istanbul, Turkey, a city that spans two continents, with more than ten million inhabitants. If I wanted to get somewhere, I would memorize the route to my destination and get there without looking back to the map. Ten years later, I use my GPS even when I drive to places that I visit regularly. Why is that?

By default, we settle with the easy and comfortable option, which weakens us in the long term. So, we have to challenge ourselves with micro-challenges almost on a daily basis to stay in shape and motivated.

Lesson 4. Technology made us dumb.

Constant noise and distraction provided by technology destroys our cognitive capabilities. I have written a few blog posts about it, so I’m not going to go into detail in this post.

Lesson 5. Always stay in shape, because one day, your life might depend on it!

You’ll never know in what kind of a situation you might find yourself in. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to stay in shape, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. How can you prepare for the worse, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?

Physically, I like to work out in the gym, eat a clean diet, and have sufficient rest. Mindfulness is the best way to stay sharp mentally. By that, I mean to eliminate unnecessary distraction and noise to the extent possible. Putting yourself in a situation where you will be rejected for sure is a way to stay sharp emotionally. Reflecting on your death or the deaths of your loved ones is a way to stay sharp spiritually.

A strategy to stay sharp in each area would be to give yourself challenges in each area. Testing your limits without killing yourself or others. Set a challenge for yourself and see if you can do it. You’ll end up stronger afterwards.

What are your ways of challenging yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?

Lesson 6. The problems that are bothering you at this moment are next to nothing compared to what life can throw your way.

So, stop before complaining about someone cutting you in the traffic and be grateful that you can afford a car and you have the physical and mental ability to drive a car, because a lot of people don’t, and there’s no guarantee that you will lose it all by tomorrow.

Lesson 7. You never know when it all will end.

We live through our lives as we will never die. We assume that we will live well into our eighties and nineties. Surprise, surprise, people of all ages and shapes die every day. You might be young, healthy, and have a safe and sanitary life. That’s not a guarantee that you won’t die the next day. It’s crucial to be aware of that fact, making peace with it, and living your life accordingly.

What would you do if you knew you would die tomorrow? Next week? Next month? Next year? How would you live your life? Guess what. There’s no guarantee that you will live longer than that. When you have that mindset, you wouldn’t want to waste a second of your life. With that knowledge, look at your own life. How do you waste your precious time, which is the building block of your life?

If you think a premature death is an unlikely event for you, let me assure you one thing. The time passes so fast that one day you’ll wake up eighty six years old and you will realize that you have wasted most of your life.

The reality is that our lives are like out of control cars driving full speed against a concrete wall and we have no chance of surviving. Now, how are you going to live your life knowing that? How are you going to spend your day? Will you be content about how you spend your day today at the end of your life? Or will you rather have done something else? What would that be?

Lesson 8. Have Compassion

It is easy to look at the people escaping war and immigrating to a safer country as refugees and judging and criticizing them. However, think about their situation. What kind of hardships did they go through? They lost all they have got, their homes, their livelihoods, and most of their belongings. They have put everything that is left in a backpack and grabbed their children by the hand and traveled thousands of miles. They had to walk and overcome obstacles such as border fences on their ways. They had to overcome a lot of hardships and exposed themselves to great danger. And all of that was to have some basic living standards that we take so granted. Don’t they deserve at least a little bit of compassion? Can you at least stop judging them?

Burak Bilgin
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly overview of my latest content on personal development and life lessons.