habits, motivation -

Assess Where You Are

Assess Where You Are


I was in Boy Scouts. 

For a week every summer between the years of 1985 and 1989 our troop would head up to Lost Lake Scout Reservation in Clare, Michigan.

It was a great spot.  Series of small campsites (we slept in tents) built around an awesome lake with a couple of buildings (mess hall, camp store, etc…)

During the week, we all took classes to earn merit badges.  These were great opportunities to learn a number of skills that I still use today.

I learned:

  • Shooting
  • Knot Tying
  • First Aid
  • Rescue swimming
  • Axemanship
  • Wilderness Survival.

The last one was really cool.  We spent a week learning skills for our class “final”:  A night out in the woods with some raw food that had to be cooked.  We had to search for materials to build a lean-to shelter: Deadfall, leaves—anything to fight off the rain.  We had to build a fire with basic materials.

Last part:  We were alone.  (not really—the instructors we’re within earshot, and knew where we all were.  But we weren’t allowed to interact.  We spent the night alone.

After I was dropped off in my spot and I watched my Merit Badge Instructor disappear into the woods, I sat for a minute, looked around and thought:

“What can I do with what I have?”

In other words, what can I work worth right, now to improve my position.

I think we all can do this—and do it often, we just don’t think about it.

However, sometimes we reach a point or set a goal and don’t know where to start. We can become intimidated by the thought of embarking on something that seems so vague and distant.

That was how I felt as I stood alone in the woods. 

So I began to focus on what I could do right in that moment and what I had:

I had:

  • Water
  • Food
  • A knife

I could find:

  • Wood for shelter and fire
  • Pine needles for bedding
  • Ferns and other plants to over the shelter for more protection and warmth.


Knowing that these things were available, I moved forward with my plan.

I found some dry wood to prep to build my fire before it got dark.  I found a large log to set up a lean-to for my shelter.  I was sparing with my resources (water).

A couple of hours later, the fire was going (although it was a battle at points).  The shelter was built.

As the sun set across a hazy mid-summer Michigan sky, I cooked my dinner.  I noticed myself relaxing and occupied with the tasks at hand.  After I ate, I pulled a wood carving kit that I bought at the camp-store earlier in the week.  I tended the fire and whittled away at my project until I felt myself getting sleepy.  I crawled into my shelter and got as comfortable as possible.

I wish I could say I drifted off and slept soundly, but I didn’t.  The mosquitos in Michigan sometimes seem to be the size of small airplanes and they can be relentless.  They are attracted to body heat and had a particular affectation for my ears. The sounds of the woods woke me though out the night, because I wasn’t used to them. Coyotes barked and yipped in the distance. The night cooled off and the damp air created the kind of cold that can’t be easily warmed back up sleeping on pine needles.  I remember feeling very frustrated and wishing for time to pass more quickly. I couldn’t wait for morning to come.

The night was long but it ended.  The sun came up.  Just the sight of it seemed to warm me up.  I crawled back out of the shelter and poked at what was left of my fire—still some warmth and smoke.  I stoked it back up to add to the good feeling of being awake and almost at the end of this test. As the sky got lighter and lighter, the instructors came up and got us all one by one.  We extinguished what was left of our fires and returned our shelters to their natural state. We walked back into camp to the mess hall—Heads a little higher for having passed the test.  The oatmeal and the eggs and sausage tasted a little better that morning. 

As I sat and ate back among the other guys from my troop, I told them “what it was like out there”. As I recounted the story from just a few hours previous, I remember thinking,

“I could have done that again.”

When we take on a new task or set a goal, we will all be “out in the woods”.  You will be in unfamiliar territory and there will be many things along the way that will be or will become obstacles that can seem insurmountable.  At the start of your journey—whatever it may be:

  • Weight-loss
  • Fitness
  • New job
  • New Relationship

It will likely feel uncomfortable, if not frightening at first.  The thought of these things can create anxiety. 

  • Asses where you are.
  • What can you start with?
  • What plan can I make?
  • What do you need to acquire?

Asking and answering these questions, will set you off on your journey—and get you moving toward progress.  They will help you build your fire and shelter.  They will get you on your way to making it “through the night” and achieving your goals.

Leave a comment