In my experience transformation was not a glamorous experience the glossy magazines would have you think it is. It was painful and challenging and yet I was spurred on by the discomfort insomuch that I decided to be an ally with discomfort. The first step was to use the image of metamorphosis; inside my own chrysalis I felt the messy, disorganized soup of my insides being churned up. It was a state I needed to be in to change from pupa, my former self, to butterfly. The image also helped me to realize as in the words of Ben Harper’s “Glory and Consequence” I was “more afraid of falling than I am of flying high.” The primordial soup having given way to entropy now also had a great deal of potential energy. I needed a symbol, I needed a retreat to catalyze the transformation, a single grain around which my energy could coalesce. I had always wanted to do a Nols or Outward Bound trip and I have always wanted to rock climb. August of 2015 I went with Colorado Outward Bound School (COBS) for 10 days to Vedauwoo, Wyoming on an Instructor Development Course. There I met Izzy Lazarus, one of the leaders for our course. Instantly cool in my eyes, she taught me in her laid back, easy-going style while the wind was whipping us hard on the top of a climb setting up anchors; that this was it. I was the grain of sand and my perspective was the organizing force in the potential that I would create from this point forward . She did not lecture me, she did not use any words; her smile seen through her millions of curls blowing in every direction said it all; this experience had the potential of being whatever I made of it. Izzy was the catalyst.
Izzy grew up in New York City. From age 6-18 years old, she played Ice Hockey during the school year and her summers were spent on Fire Island with her grandparents in the home her Grandpa built it in the 1950’s. Izzy feels like she grew up there. The ocean and the mountains gave her more a sense of “home” than did the city of New York. The outdoors more than the city life formed her early on, something she has had a tough time explaining to her parents, who once did camp and spend time outdoors, but always remained tried and true city dwellers. Her mom had once given climbing a try, but after being 10 feet off the ground called it quits. “The light bulb needs to want to change,” says Izzy. She attended University of Vermont in Burlington for college. While studying to be a mountain guide she also climbed regularly at Petra Cliffs where she also found her first mentor in the industry, Andrea Charest. One of the owners of the gym, Andrea showed through demonstration that the girls could play with the boys, be strong climbers, and that in this community it was less about gender and more about skills, strength, knowledge and safety.
Izzy was just starting with Outward Bound when I met her. The lifestyle of her and her fellow instructors is not for everyone and is one that she has trouble explaining to her parents. Izzy lives out of her car for most of the year. Now that she is a full time employee of COBS she can take residence in Leadville, CO in the microcabins designed by University of Colorado, when she is on assignment in the area. Because the program has more instructors than cabins, when she is not on contract, her Forester is her base. She built a bed platform that she can take in and out under which she keeps her Rocket box for climbing gear. Her snowboard and puff jacket can be stored at Outward Bound during the summer. Izzy appreciates how much time she has to slow down given her choice to pare down her life and even contemplates if in her own words if, “I am living in my car or out of my car.” She possess little on purpose, a stove, a tent, climbing shoes, things to sleep in and keep her comfortable— because she is sensitive to excess. It gives her anxiety to have too much. She can sometimes even feel conflicted about owning two sleeping bags that need to be doubled on some nights. When I asked her what her big “wants” are, she said running shoes and a better sleeping bag, but cannot justify the investment until some later time when she sees more need.
In 2015 and 2016 Izzy was actively investigating her own potential. Petra Cliffs inspired her early on to constantly learn as a professional, and she completed her AMGA Rock Guide Course. Izzy wants to be a master climber and believes that guide education, quality control through training, and safety are a part of that pursuit. The American Mountain Guides Association offers a Master’s Degree Equivalent which Izzy is pursuing and is working her way to be a fully certified, Alpine, Rock, and Ski guide over the next several years. During these two years she also sought to pursue balance in her personal and professional lives, melding the two and exploring her own potential combining the two. She undertook a two month long road trip in the Grand Tetons, spent time in Indian Creek, Utah, Red Rocks, Colorado, and the Cascades of Washington State while growing in skills and emotional experience. Her 1sttime in the Tetons was as a summer field and logistics intern at COBS, she climbed the standard route on the Grand Teton. The 2nd time she had the opportunity, she used simul climb rope management to move faster; she and her friend organized the climb to move from car to car in one day. With winter approaching, she decided to take on snowboarding in Jackson, Wyoming. After befriending the bare rock in fall, it was a whole new way to experience the mountains. Hannah, Izzy’s “friendtor” (both friend and mentor) also planned The Grand Traverse of the Grand Teton. Before embarking Hannah asked Izzy, “What does success look like to you?” Izzy’s response was, “Really I feel like we just need to try it.” Seeing that the potential inherent to the experience was enough, Izzy says those moments, “always take my breath away.”
As a guide in Outward Bound, the mission is “to change lives through challenge and discovery. While perhaps ambitious and bold, our vision is a more resilient and compassionate world, with more resilient and compassionate citizens.” Izzy meets and works with people of different ages who like myself are knee deep in our own messy changes and takes them hip deep into snow, rivers, and climbing pitches to allegorically and really start to organize a way out of it. Long before the tech world made design thinking popular, these outdoor courses knew that many of the things that hold us back from our potential is truly the inability to know what the problem is. These outdoor experiences amplify the problem that needs the solution, so people can learn what to accept as part of the natural environment and what factors they can actually affect.
“Mountains, rivers, canyon, deserts, these landscapes can provide so much. A lot of what we do in the field with students can feel contrived. I mean why are we sleeping on the ground?! We could be in beds, drinking juice or doing other very comfortable things. But in the 21st century, in the US where there are lots of people who will not be challenged to survive (in the sense of food, water, shelter), we create scenarios where people can learn about how they deal with challenges, or how they would like to. When you learn to enjoy climbing mountains, or paddling a river, these challenges that seem totally overwhelming and hard, you can begin to see the world as opportunities to learn from instead of obstacles that are trying to hinder your experience. The world doesn't happen to us, that is victimizing language. Things happen, humans react. How you learn to react to challenge or adversity is a very powerful learning for people.”
Action and potential are two sides of the same coin. There are times when the down time of solitude, planning, quiet allow me to create potential for my own creativity (I write in a Pilates studio that is empty in the middle of the day). For Izzy too that value, “In relation to both my life and my work is knowing the importance of slowing down. To me that means taking time for simple things like conversations, reading, writing, drawing... One of the biggest things I've learned (sic) at OB is how to walk with people. That means a lot of things to me. Literally, how to walk at a pace that is good for people of all fitness/experience levels and to manage technical terrain. Metaphorically, how to walk with a stranger, talk to them, figure out what they are and what they carry and see if I can take some of that load or make it easier for them to carry.”
“Mountains look really big and scary from the bottom. Life can be that way too. But when you start to figure out how to approach challenges, how to learn from hard situations, failures and success, life stops being a series of challenges meant to beat you down and becomes a lifetime of opportunities to become closer to self-actualization.”
When I asked Izzy about her highs and lows for the year, she admitted that injury and the passing of a dear friend, the 2nd in recent years, were both obstacles she endured over the year. She says that with each injury she learns to “embrace the suck” a little more.
Izzy also travels wide and far and to parts of those places many of us may never see and she feels as though many of them are her homes. What she forgoes in possessions she makes up for in experience, she usurps the energy of a place like Indian Creek, UT, one of the places she calls home; and embraces “the mystery, vibrancy, silence”, that makes it magical and uses the potential she ascertains to lend assistance to others.
I took a piece of Izzy home with me from that trip. Although I am not yet climbing as much as I would like, I am seeing potential in the challenges I face from the mundane daily tasks of raising a family, to carving out time for climbing while balancing the addition of a new teacher training program on my plate. She gave me a vocabulary and the change in perspective around which to organize. My metamorphosis is proving to take some time, I don't have any internal chemical signals telling me what comes next. For now I have the Pilates springs moving in a rhythm of action and potential, action and potential, allowing me to practice how I react, giving me the potential to morph and fly once the incubation is complete.
See more photos of Izzy's adventures here