How Not to Start off Your New Year

Jo Ilfeld |Executive Leadership Coach|How not to start off your New Year

It’s Saturday morning January 2nd. I often hike with one of my best friends on Saturdays. During Covid, we began embarking on weekly longer up and downhill 6-mile hikes. 

Jo: It’s raining here in Berkeley. Is it raining by you?

Sara: I’ll check. Just looks foggy here, no rain.

Jo: So should we go today?

Sara: What do you think?

Jo: Let’s do it!


When we got to our hike location, it was raining gently and yet we proceeded onwards. When we hit the first hill and started sliding backwards while hiking uphill, that should have been an immediate clue that perhaps this wasn’t the hike we were ready or equipped for.


We continued slipping and sliding, having just as much “fun” on the downhills as we had going up. Of course, the lively conversation about new year’s goals and intentions kept us moving forward without paying acute attention to the challenge of the hike itself.

Finally, we reached a paved part of the trail.


At this point we could have followed the paved part of the trail to a different trailhead (all paved). From there I could have called my husband to pick us up and shuttle us back to our cars at the other trailhead. But I didn’t want to bother him. And of course, I wanted to make sure I got my full workout in for the day.

Have you ever noticed a project was not proceeding as planned? How early did you signal that there were issues? Were you upfront immediately with your team and stakeholders? Did you wave the flag signaling there might be significant issues ahead? Or, like me, did you decide you’d finish what you started, and of course there was a way to get back on track. . . 


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So onward we continued. Sensibly (we thought) opting for what would be a gentler hill but longer route over the steeper hill and shorter route. I can’t say what that other path would have been but we ended up getting a longer path AND steep hills.

It was a slog in the rain with about 2 inches of mud sticking to my hiking shoes. This meant I no longer had any traction from my shoes, it was essentially mud hiking on top of mud. I did have my trusty hiking pole but I was getting a blister from gripping it so tightly as I slipped and slid around.

Then on one particularly steep uphill, my friend Sara went down. I was slightly ahead so it took me a minute or two to realize she was no longer behind me. As I slowly backtracked and saw her sitting in the mud, my biggest thought was “Wow, she’s so calm about that. I would be really upset to be covered in mud.” Little did I know. . . 

Continuing along the trail, we gripped onto any bushes we found along the hillside to keep us upright. Several times following the shrubbery, we ventured far enough from the trail that we had to backtrack. At one of these points, we realized there was only a 4-5 foot cliff drop below us so we turned around and I took the bottom of a hedge to grab onto while Sara took the top of it. She made the right call. As I left the hedge to take another perilous step, I lost my footing and fell flat on my a$$. But it didn’t stop there. Once I fell off the mini cliff, I picked up speed and I kept sliding another 20-30ft down the hill without being able to stop myself. Even once I came to a gradual stop, I couldn’t get myself upright on the steep downhill without falling again.


“Hey Siri, Call Jeff Ilfeld mobile.” 

Thank goodness for smartwatch technology. I could SOS call my husband without putting my VERY muddy hands onto my cell. As I called sitting deep in the mud on that hill, my husband graciously agreed to pick us up at the bottom with towels and water to wash ourselves off with before driving home.


I have to admit, it felt humbling to call. To admit we’d drastically overestimated our ability (or underestimated the weather) and to disturb others because of it. Yet it was the right call to make. It made me feel less alone and more hopeful as we SLOWLY crept down that last hill back to our cars. Sometimes you need to call in reinforcements, as much to help the project as to re-inspire you for the rest of the journey.


As we were grabbing hedges down that final hill, we heard 3 people starting their hike up it. We called out to them to turn around, that it was treacherous conditions. They pooh-poohed us and said they were “up for the challenge.” As they passed us without hiking boots or hiking sticks, I had the distinct feeling of dread. I asked Sara what our moral obligation is to tell someone they’re getting aboard the Titanic if they won’t listen. Turns out there was nothing we could do. But it did make me wonder about all the times people have tried to help me out and I haven’t paid attention. Are you listening to the good advice of people more experienced than you?



My husband arrived with towels and sympathy. We did convince another couple in their 60s that this was NOT in fact the day for them to do that hike (see age = wisdom! – sometimes). No bones were broken though there were definitely achy muscles. And my sense of humor is (no less) intact.

Here’s what I learnedPay attention to the “weather” around you. If you notice something, stop and ask what it will mean to you rather than ignoring it and blithely continuing on. Ask for help earlier – it might help you avoid that 30 ft long mudslide on your behind later on.

That’s all for now! Happy 2021 To You All!

Jo Ilfeld, PhD

An executive leadership coach, Jo helps C-suite leaders, executives, and high-potential managers develop the flexibility, skill, and frame of mind to meet the challenges of the next five, ten, twenty years…. and beyond. She works with individuals, teams and organizations on four core areas of leadership development. Check out Jo's bio page for more information.

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