I went hiking last week in California’s Death Valley National Park, famous as the lowest and driest place in North America. Its badlands, sand dunes and salt flats render an otherworldly terrain and offer a great reminder of life’s unexpected surprises.
I was determined to go for a hike, even though my husband’s recent knee surgery meant he wouldn’t be able to join me. I got off to a rough start, slipping and falling on a hidden rock. I caught myself on my hands and knees, and although I got some cuts and bruises, I was thankful that it wasn’t worse. I could have turned back right then and there, but I didn’t want to be discouraged by one fall. I had never been to Death Valley before and I was eager to see more of it.
As I kept hiking I realized that I had somehow gotten off the trail. Although I knew there were other visitors to the park, I couldn’t see a single human being. For the next hour, as I continued to hike, I didn’t encounter another person. The deep valleys made it extremely difficult to get my bearings.
Someone at a higher vantage point may have been able to see me, but when I looked around, I couldn’t see anyone. Unless I wanted to sit and wait, I had no choice but to keep walking. At one point I came upon a river wash and followed it, thinking it might lead me to people. Instead, it dead-ended.
And then, in the distance, I saw two figures standing on the top of a hill. I made my way toward them. The path uphill was unmarked and terribly steep. At one point, I decided the safest bet was to get on my hands and knees and make my way up the hill. It may have been unconventional, but it worked. I got to the top and from there found my husband (who was getting ready to enlist the park rangers in finding me).
In the days since, I keep pondering on the metaphor of that hike. In life we’re often faced with unfamiliar, challenging and even treacherous landscapes. We never know where we’ll encounter opportunities or threats.
We can give in to our fears and never even embark on the journey or venture only as far as we feel comfortable. Or we can strike out boldly, confident in our abilities to find the path or create a new one.
Can you identify your own personal 'badlands' and be clear about how you might benefit by taking the risk to explore them?
Ask yourself these questions: What are they? How will you encounter them? What is the value and benefit to you and others?
Share the results of your experiment in the comments below or contact the author directly at
DONNA RAE SMITH is a guest blogger for Smart Business. She has forged a career, enterprise and an applied discipline on the practice of teaching leaders to be masters of change. She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc., a transformational change catalyst company with an emphasis on the behavior-side of change. For more than two decades, Donna Rae Smith and the Bright Side team have been recognized as innovators in executing behavioral strategies coalesced with business strategies to accelerate and sustain business results. Bright Side®, The Behavioral Strategy Company, has partnered with over 250 of the world’s most influential companies. For more information, please visit www.bright-side.com or contact Donna Rae at
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