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Finding Direction at the Top of a Mountain

mountains_960One of our Engineering students who is taking a year off contacted our office about his next steps for his education.  During our interactions he mentioned that he has been doing some personal exploration.  I thought that his story might resonate with other students.  You can check out another of David Zhang’s posts here.

The Calgary Hiking Club – by David Zhang

The weather forecast was terrible. Well the forecasting wasn’t bad but the actual weather — not so much. Thunderstorms in Banff. I had organized our first hike of the summer and it was the morning of. Five confirmed attendants, supposedly. It was 5 minutes passed meetup time. My calls were returned with voicemails.

Luckily, one of them did show up. “You’re a troll”, he muttered, shaking the rain out of his hair. As troll as it was, we trekked on our way through the summer thunder to our hike. Our two-man hike.

At arrival, we were pleasantly surprised. The rain had settled the dust and crisp clean taste of the dew-covered forest lingered with every breath. Birds brimmed the trees, singing and celebrating the passing of the storm. We joined them, immersing ourselves in nature; awe stricken by its beauty, our daily worries seemed to disappear.

The best part: the scenery was silently serene; there were those who made a logical decision to stay home, and there were us.

After a good 10 miles’ up’n’down, I was absolutely exhausted. It was tough. It was grueling. It was amazing.

I loved every minute of it. Even though 3 of our initially planned party didn’t show up, it made me realize that I didn’t need to depend on others for my plans; I was the creator of my happiness. Through a good 9 hours of talking, laughing, singing, and sweating, we began the legacy of the Calgary Hiking Club.

Co-founded by two people, the CHC was originally a joke alias to keep our motivation for proactivity. Our philosophy was “Just do it!”. Might sound familiar but I assure you it’s 100% original. Whenever someone came up with an idea, it was accepted immediately — unconditionally. It was circumstance that had given us the chance to reap our first adventure, and it would be initiative that would keep us going for the next.

Over the summer, we had a few friends come visit and took them along the CHC “Tour de Banff”. With each hike, the club grew. Not necessarily in size, but for my friend and I, the summits had made us stronger. We were eager to embark on new journeys and face new challenges; getting out of our comfort zone began to not feel so uncomfortable.

In four months, our population grew from a measly 2 to a pretty outstanding 5 (yeah I know, not to brag or anything…). Although we weren’t selective in club members, we didn’t chase people to join it. This wasn’t some kind of pyramid scheme or resume builder, this was something for ourselves. Besides, any members that needed to be “chased down” were probably not worthy of the membership. Following the motto, the CHC were full of people with initiative. Those who joined would not be exceptions. When we planned something, there were no maybe’s. Everyone was full of vigor and passion. It wasn’t just about the exercise; there was something about climbing mountains that invigorated us. We wanted to do things. To climb greater heights. To live better lives.


I was an all-star in high school. I was smart, athletic, and popular. I got 2310 on my SATs, won the Canadian Junior Chess Championship, and could bench 205lb in grade 11. I felt like I was on top of the world, with unlimited potential to effervesce. The sky wasn’t even the limit. I was invincible.

However, the past two years of my life have proven otherwise. Once I stepped into university, my slate was wiped clean. Since I moved out of the province for school, I knew no one, and although I didn’t care too much about popularity, in a school with so many people that want to fit in, it’s hard to make real relationships. It felt like I had to choose between putting on a mask to socialize with everyone and taking it off to meet people who wanted to build something genuine.

I bet you’re thinking, Dude, you just gotta’ balance it bro, and don’t get me wrong, I thought so too. In fact, I did try to balance the social aspects of my social life, but it didn’t work. Sure I met a lot of people and found a few good friends here and there, but I couldn’t help but think of how it was like in high school. I didn’t have to try, friends came naturally; everything was authentic — it was just so easy.

In addition, even though I had good grades, the curriculum didn’t stimulate me and the lifestyle was hard for me to adapt to. I began drifting away from my goals and used school as an excuse for doing nothing productive in my time. The enthalpy between high school me and 2nd year me could have saved America two months of gas bills. I began spending all my time thinking about how badly I was wasting it. Along with a heavy backpack of personal issues, I fell down to rock bottom and into a pit of depression. I wanted help, but all I got from psychiatrists were prescriptions for SSRIs and an $80 fine.

So I put it on myself.

I tried to bring myself back up. I told myself that I would get back to where I used to stand. I would climb back up the mountain and reach the summit that I had once conquered before. But this was a fallacious mentality. Instead of pursuing new goals, I spent the past two years chasing after my past successes. With eyes glued to the back of my head, never once did I try to move forward.

It was through the simple joy of going out for hikes that began to change my perspective. By pushing myself out of complacency and into the wilderness, I began to move forward in directions I had never seen before. Just the actions of initiating and committing have given me the conviction to do things I would never have imagined myself doing 4 months ago. I have set goals and put plans in action. I used to wake up at 1PM and spend my day waiting to sleep. Now, I don’t even think I have time to sleep! There are too many things I want to do.

As mentioned before, the CHC is really just an alias. The conception of the club was through a hiking trip, but the real beginning of it all was when we took the dive to shoulder the thunderstorm and just do it. While I’d like to say something like “The CHC isn’t just about climbing mountains, we’re about reaching greater heights! lol!”, the CHC is all about climbing mountains! However, those mountains don’t have to be in the shape of a big earthly mound. Many of them, in fact, aren’t physical ones. In our everyday lives, even the smallest hurdles can impede us from going forward. I’d tell myself that it’s too hot outside to go for a run. I’d give excuses to avoid, push, and procrastinate. I’d say tomorrow instead of today. It’s easy to get comfortable, and that’s exactly where we were when we started.

When we began hiking, we proved to ourselves that any mountain can be overcome with guts and initiative. As long as there is a start, there can be a finish.

Through blood and sweat, the CHC has shown me the power of simply doing things. When life is caving in on you, you either squish, or you push back. I have been bruised, broken, and have fallen down one of the highest points in my life.

Maybe I’ll never climb back up the mountain I once stood upon, but that’s okay, because the next one is right up ahead.

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