Cheryl Strayed is a writer, mother, feminist, and a storyteller. She is the author of 4 books, including the #1 New York Times Bestseller, Wild. The book shares her journey on the Pacific Crest Trail alone at the age of 22 while going through grief and depression. From a difficult childhood with a single mum to later losing her mum, Cheryl has experienced great sadness and come through stronger.
In a conversation on the Tough Girl Podcast, Cheryl shared more of her personal story and how she deals with fear and grief after going through so much.
Find Your Strength
The death of her mother was the darkest time of Cheryl’s life. Through her books, Cheryl’s learned what happens in families when a key figure passes away. She learned that when one thing falls apart, so much else falls apart. Cheryl realised that life as she knew it was over. She had to rebuild her home and a new identity.
Cheryl decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) not because she felt strong, but because she’d lost her family and she knew she was at a weak time. “I knew I was strong, I just needed to find that strength again,” Cheryl shared. Wild places were where she felt most full. She remembered that in nature she felt strong and she could envision herself regaining her strength there. Nature is still Cheryl’s place for solace. It doesn’t even have to be a great hike. Just walking around the city makes her feel better.
Where do you see yourself gaining strength? Where do you feel most full? Answer these questions and seek solace in these places.
Challenge Yourself to Grow
When you do something challenging like hiking a mountain, you push yourself to your limits and that physical challenge magnifies growth. Going through a physical challenge can help you change on multiple levels. While you’re overcoming a challenge right in front of you, you’re mentally growing and transforming.
Monster, Cheryl’s incredibly heavy backpack is a mistake she’s glad to have made. She learned to bear this weight and suffer from her lack of preparedness. It lent itself as a metaphor that she would have to live with carrying the heavy things in her life. Carrying that pack taught her that lesson.
Finishing the hike was glorious for Cheryl. She felt grateful that she’d done the hike and grateful that she’d been strong enough to see it through. She knew that she made the right choice because she did find her strength after her darkest moment. Cheryl remarked, “I found a lot of things that I didn’t know were there. It was really becoming a lot of things that I was deep inside.”
Being alone on the PCT made Cheryl feel empowered. She had to suffer from or benefit from her own decisions. When you do things on your own, it’s scarier, but you gain more from it. Silence brings clarity.
The fact that makes you sad might not change, but in solitude, you can change your mind about it. Grief is always with us. On the PCT, Cheryl realised that she would always be sad about losing her mother. There are some things that you never get over, you have to learn to live with that. For Cheryl, learning to do that was learning solace and how to find her strength in the sadness.
“I feel really bad right now, what can I do to feel better?” These are the questions that Cheryl advises we ask ourselves and seek solace to answer.
Recover Your Identity
There are some moments where everything convenes and you have this grand realisation, but transformation happens in many ways and not all of them are grand. The way to know yourself is in the daily struggle.
In the struggle and discomfort of the PCT hike, Cheryl witnessed incredible beauty. Accumulating such beauty brought her meaning and stayed with her. You don’t have to go on a life-changing hike to recover your identity. You can find it in the tiny details of your everyday life.
Decide to Be Brave
Before Wild was published, Cheryl was terrified of what people’s responses to the book would be. We all want to be loved and she was scared that people would criticise her personally.
She decided that to be a writer, she had to be fearless. When it comes it writing the truth, being brave is a requirement. Then, she appealed to her reason. People will judge her and criticise her, but there are also people who will be inspired by her. Of course, you need love, but you don’t need everyone to love you.
“The people who are open-hearted and willing to take risks by sharing their fears are the most powerful people I know,” Cheryl said. Choose to be brave and powerful. Make the conscious decision and live your life fearlessly.
Listen to Cheryl Strayed share more about what’s she learned and experienced in an intimate conversation on the Tough Girl Podcast.
Take a listen to Cheryl Now!