Don’t Throw Your Glasses in the S*!T Hole

Don’t Throw Your Glasses in the S*!T Hole

It's the middle of the night, and someone's slicing up my eyeballs like deli meat.

When I force them open, I still can't see anything but black, and the deli slicer whirs into high gear.

On a scale of 1 to 10 for pain, my eyes are a 111. I’ve been counting my breaths for over an hour trying to use mind-over-matter techniques to overcome this torture, but all  I want are massive, western painkillers.

I fumble around in the med kit I pack for a skijor across Denali National Park, but too many of the pills I’ve packed are the same shape.

I hesitate to shout across camp for help this late at night, but I really don’t want to mistake a fist full of painkillers for a fist full of laxatives - I'm already blind - so I call out.

My friend pads over through the crunchy snow and turns on a headlamp. Even with my eyes under a thick blindfold, the faint light feels like someone kicked me in the eyes with a soccer cleat.

How the hell did I get here? How did I, of all people, go snowblind?

I know better. I've worked on a sun-beaten glacier in Alaska for three summers in a row, and I learned quickly how the reflection of sun off snow acts like a laser.

Even with overcast skies, the sun’s rays will find every exposed sliver of skin and burn it like a bonfire marshmallow. If that body part is your eyes, your corneas will crisp up like a nice crème brûlée and you'll go "snowblind."

I'm usually religious about wearing the extra dark, glacier glasses designed for bright snow conditions like this, so why didn't I wear them? It just doesn't make sense.

When my friends radioed the wilderness EMT on the sat phone, she gave strict orders for me to sit in medical-grade blackness for 24-48 hours. It’s my only chance to prevent permanent damage. So here I sit in the middle of the Denali wilderness pondering my failure inside this dark tent wearing a stupid, blue, fleece blindfold. So I sit, playing back the tape day by day. 

How did I miss the classic symptoms? The headache, the stinging, the sand-in-your-eyes sensation, and my personal sign that I’m in pain, my raging inner critic.

Let's see.

At the top of Ice Cream Gulch, I finally admitted something was wrong. My eyes were so hot and inflamed from the climb, I couldn't make out the trail right in front of me - and then everything went dark.

Before that? I felt like I had sand in my eyes when we “skied” down the dirt road that was supposed to be covered in snow this morning.

Last night, my eyes stung, but I just thought I’d gotten sunscreen in them.

On the McKinley River Bar the second morning, I had a hard time getting my contacts in, but it didn’t seem that bad. Maybe I was so busy with three rowdy sled dogs and less than ideal trail conditions that I didn’t notice.

Maybe... but what was the cause?



The morning we left, I dropped my glacier glasses down the hole in the outhouse - and left them there.


Wait. Why the hell did I leave my glacier glasses there? Why didn’t I tell my friends that I needed to delay our start and just fish them out of the hole? The outhouse pit was frozen solid, and no one had used it for 9 months, not even me. I’ve retrieved stuff out of much skankier outhouses. That’s not above me.

Cue my ego and my pride.

I didn’t want to ruin my tough-girl persona by asking for help on the first day of the trip with people I didn’t know that well. I wanted to prove myself and not look vulnerable.

My ego had me sacrifice a critical piece of gear (and my entire potential to succeed) on the altar of what someone else might think.

Now I'm sitting here blind as a bat and being a huge, vulnerable, pain in the ass.

A small, insignificant decision cut my potential for success off at its knees.

Here's what I've learned.

You need to know what part of your brain is doing the deciding at any given moment. 

Your ego and pride will unconsciously compel you to hide your vulnerabilities, to "look cool" and resist the very help that could be the difference between failure and success.

It’s true on the trail and it’s true in your career.

Maybe you wonder why you keep ending up in jobs you hate. Why you seem to choose the wrong career over and over. Why you keep accepting jobs that make you “look cool” but leave you miserable.

I’ll ask a harder question. 

Why do you resist asking for the help you need? 

I get it, I also have a hard time breaking through the shield of hyper-independence that we were all taught. Being self-made is a seductive myth. But it’s a myth that will keep you stuck in a job you hate.

Don’t wait until you are nearly blind before you ask for help. 

If you're feeling stuck in your career, I’m here to help you figure out your career once and for all so you can stop throwing your glasses in the s*!-hole.

Updated Apr 18, 2023.

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