Develop your expeditionary skills

Everywhere we turn during this COVID crisis, the needs for resiliency skills are raised. Understandably so because we need to be fully able to carry on.  But, as I nosed around the resiliency literature and listened to NPR one day, the phrase ‘expeditionary skills’ emerged. I thought about earlier times in my life and how I had unknowingly used expeditionary skills.  I realized that those skills not only saved my life but prepared me to get back into the wilderness for another adventure. I developed resiliency because I loved being in the mountains and on the ocean. So, is it possible that expeditionary skills will help you move through this time as a stronger you ~ ready and able to face the challenges ahead?  We can’t be nurses if we don’t love nursing. And, we have to be prepared for the challenges that nursing presents – especially, now.


When I lived in British Columbia and Alberta, I needed to learn and develop expeditionary skills because I spent every free moment outdoors. It was these skills that probably saved my life a few times.  I was an avid hiker, back country skier, and ocean kayaker and I had a few close calls. One time, at the end of a long day of skiing in the back country, at about 8,000 feet, I somehow became separated from my group (I wanted to avoid the moguls because I hated big moguls).  Trying to navigate back to the lodge, I found myself at the precipice of a huge cliff in very deep snow  — and the sun was setting. I was alone. I was terrified. On another day of skiing, while carefully crossing a known avalanche path we heard the distant crack and then rumble of an avalanche. Being aware of the risk, we kept very alert; so, we were able to get out of that area. While hiking in the wilderness of B.C., and wearing 40 pound backpacks, we had to navigate a tiny ledge with a sheer drop-off. I hate heights. But, my friends coached me across that ledge, step-by-step.  On a windy day, off the coast of Vancouver Island, I was kayaking across an ocean inlet when I got caught in a sudden strong cross-wind which tossed my kayak parallel to 5 foot waves, I lost rudder control and my extra paddle was dislodged. But, here I am. How did I come through these times? A little luck — but mostly because I relied on expeditionary skills that both saved my life and buoyed my resiliency in getting back to hiking in the mountains and into the kayak on the ocean.


The uncertainties we are facing in this COVID crisis are real. Unlike the situations that happened because of my own activities, COVID was thrust upon us. How we each choose to face the uncertainties we all face will determine our resiliency in moving forward. This crisis will one day be over. And we have an opportunity to grow personally and in the organizations where we work because of practicing expeditionary skills that will lead us to resiliency.

Here are some expeditionary skills that helped me survive and might help you find your path through this uncertain time:

  • Know that fear and anxiety are normal responses during a crisis. However, strive to keep it under control: name the thing that is most frightening to you or causing you the most anxiety.  Then, plan your responses, step-by-step because neither fear, worry or anxiety will let you think clearly. So, take a breath. Whether I was being rocked by waves in my kayak or at the edge of a cliff, I needed to calm myself because negative emotions would not get me to a safety.
  • Control the things that you can control: just like being in the mountains: hydrate, eat good foods that provide the nutrition you need, be physically fit. Alcohol does not help us have a clear mind. Rest. Sleep. Acclimatize to the situation – sometimes, in the mountains we have to sit and wait for bad weather to pass. We don’t know when the storm will pass – it could be hours or it could be days. So, it is with COVID. We have to hunker down and take care of ourselves: nutrition, hydration, sleep. COVID will be controlled one day. The key is to be prepared. I always carried a pack with supplies for 2 unplanned nights in the wilderness. What is in your backpack for these uncertain times?
  • Communication is an essential expeditionary skill. I needed to trust the people I was hiking, skiing or kaying with because my survival depended on trust. It was my fault that I got separated from the ski group at the end of the day because I did not communicate my anxiety or fear with anyone. I ended up scared and alone. So, talk to people your trust and give the gift of listening to others. Cultivate respectful relationships because those people will be the ones to coach you through challenging times – just as my hiking friends coached me around that terrifying ledge. I shared my fear and anxiety and the I trusted their judgment.
  • Developing resiliency requires physical, emotional and spiritual health. We cannot do what needs doing if we are not strong. Resiliency is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced. You know what you need for your body, mind, and soul. Do it.

The uncertainty surrounding COVID requires preparation similar to the preparation in planning a long expedition in the wilderness. I know the expedition will be grueling, distressing to my body and require a steady, sound mind. But, like climbing a steep mountain, moving through COVID will require us to put one foot in front of the other. Like getting up that steep mountain side, we support those around us by encouraging them, pointing out the positive, or sharing a joke or a chocolate bar. We look for opportunities to ease the burdens for ourselves and our fellow hikers. Of course, unexpected things happen. That is part of life. But, by developing, practicing and using expeditionary skills, I have a greater chance of being open to the life lessons and opportunities that will most surely come my way. And, it is a time to forge friendships and unforgettable experiences.