In my last post, I mentioned starting a project dubbed “Active Ajax Tuesdays.” The goal is to explore 52 different outdoor venues with Ajax this year. I’ve renamed it to “Active Ajax Adventures.” Triple A is easier to remember. I promised myself I would not focus all of my next 52 posts on my weekly excursions. But I will use my project as a metaphor for getting unstuck and then share any discoveries. This brings me to today’s post on discovering my Big Why.

We visited six Little Free Libraries in our neighborhood. "Take a book, return a book" is the organization's slogan.
We visited six Little Free Libraries in our neighborhood. “Take a book, return a book” is the organization’s slogan.

Walks with Ajax

As background, over the past seven years, I figure I’ve walked my dog roughly 8,000 times (he’s 7.5 years old, so 3 times a day, 365 days a year, give-or-take for inclement weather, illness, or travel). If you repeat the same walk, it’s enough to drive anyone bonkers. For variety, we venture to the public library or nearest grocery store. And I’ve explored enough places in our neighborhood to know where all the Little Free Libraries, holiday displays, and active water fountains are. But I’m ready for the change this project will bring.

Seven Library Loop

On a cool, overcast Tuesday morning, Ajax and I headed out for what I call the “Seven Library Loop.” You won’t find it referenced anywhere. It’s a product of my own creation. It takes us past the Lake City Library in north Seattle and meanders past six community Little Free Library boxes. For this walk, we headed farther south than usual, through a neighborhood I rarely visit.

Our first Active Ajax Adventure of the year took us through Virgil Flaim Park, a local park where I used to take my daughter as a toddler.
Our first Active Ajax Adventure of the year took us through Virgil Flaim Park, a local park where I used to take my daughter as a toddler.

One of the parks we passed is Virgil Flaim Park. It boasts a playground and “skate spot” for skateboard enthusiasts. We meandered south toward Lake City Way and detoured down into the wooded ravine west of the heavily trafficked road so Ajax could get a drink of water.

On our first ramble, the best find that sparked joy was a handmade ladder leaning up against a marvelous big tree. I smiled as I remembered playing games outside as a child. Spud, Capture the Flag, Sardines, Flashlight Tag, tree climbing, and Red Rover were summer evening favorites growing up north of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

A hand-hewn ladder leaning up against an enormous moss-covered, climbable tree near Lake City Way.
A hand-hewn ladder leaning up against an enormous moss-covered, climbable tree near Lake City Way.

Boeing Creek and Shoreview Parks

Our second ramble took us northwest to Shoreline’s Boeing Creek and Shoreview Parks. We had overcast, drizzly mornings for both urban walks, but that didn’t stop us. Hidden Lake is currently bone-dry except for a creek running through the middle. I vaguely recalled that the last time we visited in late summer, I had seen a community announcement about the lake being dredged in the future.

Hidden Lake is currently being dredged. One of the reasons I've enjoyed going to Shoreview Park is to see waterfowl on the small lake. Now that I know it is no longer there, I will put Boeing Park on my list for 2024 to see what the end of the restoration project looks like.
Hidden Lake is currently being dredged. One of the reasons I’ve enjoyed going to Shoreview Park is to see waterfowl on the small lake. Now that I know it is no longer there, I will put Boeing Park on my list for 2024 to see what the end of the restoration project looks like.

I had a second surprise. Ajax headed up a steep bank while I chose to traverse the stream bank. All of a sudden my left foot slipped and I landed in the icy January flow. Fortunately, this is not Alaska! As long as I kept moving, I was at no risk of problems other than a squishy shoe. I did, however, pay more attention to my footing for the rest of our trip. For future rambles, I will take note: If Ajax is wary, choose a different route.

Documenting mishaps only takes a quick snap of the cell phone. A picture is worth a thousand words; this one of my drenched left shoe will always put me back in Boeing Creek having missed one of the stepping stones!
Documenting mishaps only takes a quick snap of the cell phone. A picture is worth a thousand words; this one of my drenched left shoe will always put me back in Boeing Creek having missed one of the stepping stones!

Find Your Big Why: Ask Five Why’s

The biggest takeaway was the question: “Why would anyone else care about this?” It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about your goal, as long as it ENERGIZES YOU, whatever your reasons may be. You are not setting intentions to please anyone other than yourself. I’ve spent most of my adult life worrying about what other people think. No more. This is a project for me and Ajax alone. But if what I learn can help others, awesome. It does bring up the question, however: “Why THIS project, now?”

Repeat Why Five Times

Enter the Five Why’s. As you reflect on your intentions, ask yourself, five times: WHY am I willing to devote the time, energy, money, and resources to do this thing?

Using the Active Ajax Adventures project as an example, my first answer was that I need some sort of long-term project to look forward to. Right now, my volunteer activities have pretty much disappeared, my daughter has left for college, my company is in transition, and I’m between big writing projects, lacking climbing partners, and facing mid-life. Seems like a great time to jump-start things.

My little adventurer in Boeing Creek Park. His big why is easy to identify: for the for the pee-mail pupdates, of course!
My little adventurer in Boeing Creek Park. His big why is easy to identify: for the pee-mail pupdates, of course!

Why does having a long-term project matter? Through it, I hope to discover some new things about myself, have creative adventures with my dog, enjoy nature, and explore my community.

Why do those things matter? Because they are part of my values. I feel alive and energized when I’m learning new things and connecting with nature.

Why is it important to feel energized? Because the alternative is numbing out or missing out.

My Big Why

And finally, I asked myself: why is it important not to miss out? The past is behind me and I cannot control the future, but I can take charge of what I do today. If I squander now, I’m wasting my one and only precious life. So, ultimately, this project is my way to explore mindfulness, learn to be more fully present, and experience joy in tiny moments.

Having recognized that the AAA project not only fits with my long-term values and provides me with a teachable tool for the year, I am even more committed to following through than when I dreamed up the idea less than a week ago. You can use the tool to get leverage on yourself in whatever project or goal you are currently undertaking.

A sign at Boeing Creek Park spoke to me. As parks and cityscapes change, so, too, is my inner landscape. Embrace change. Where can you use the Five Whys to your advantage?
A sign at Boeing Creek Park spoke to me. As parks and cityscapes change, so, too, is my inner landscape. Embrace change. Where can you use the Five Whys to your advantage?

As always, I welcome your questions, insights, or comments. Feel free to share the results of your exploring the Five Whys so we can all learn and grow.

Published by Courtenay Schurman

Co-author of The Outdoor Athlete (2009) and Train to Climb Mt. Rainier or Any High Peak DVD (2002), author of Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills/conditioning chapter 4 (3 editions), and Peak Performance column for the Mountaineers Mag (2014-present). Member of PNWA, SCBWI, EPIC. Served on the steering committee for WOTS (2019-present). Completed UW Certificate program for Children's Literature and Memoir. Co-owner of Body Results, Inc. in Seattle. Climb leader with Seattle Mountaineers for over 15 years. Volunteer at Woodland Park Zoo since 2014.

Join the Conversation

8 Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. I did not get a chance to comment on the Resolutions vs. Intentions post last week but I feel like that post, the “Big Why” from this week, and the “Journaling” one from last December form an inspiring triptych.
    To me, they all three speak to finding what matters the most and reaching for that brass ring; to craft a way of living that aligns as closely as possible with my core values. The more I live that way, the more often I feel deep happiness. While I spent an inordinate amount of time early in life trying to find “The Meaning of Life”, a grand cosmic truth, I eventually drifted toward a less lofty (but much more rewarding) quest: living my life in a way that is meaningful to me. Your “triptych posts” do offer very useful advice on how to bring and sustain that sense of “meaningfulness” in our lives. Your Resolutions vs Intentions post triggered memories about one of the books that influenced my life: Finite and Infinite Games (James P. Carse). Resolutions feel rather ten-commandments-ish: thou shalt do (or not do) so and so this year! “You MUST” seldom feels like a warm invitation to play, discover, enjoy, laugh, share. Resolutions, to me, feel like aiming for the point where something ENDS, something is gathered/obtained/acquired/achieved (all past tense). Trophy-hunting can be very enticing, intoxicating; it can bring a good amount of adrenaline… but how much long term residual happiness ensues? Why does it often gives birth to the need for more, and more? I love your reframing of the dialog in terms of Intentions; they are some much more fluid, so much more open ended, so much more playful. I think that intentions never END, they evolve, they meander, they join and branch, they sharpen or become diffuse and exploratory, they morph… they change as we do. Using the new year to “renew our intentions” as we do with vows is a wonderful invitation! Carse talks of finite games as games whose purpose is to end the game, and declare victors and losers; infinite games are those whose aim is to keep the game alive and the players… playing. In that context, resolutions are finite and intentions infinite. My love of infinite games translate very well into my long-distance hiking passion: for me the point IS the journey, not the finish line. Now, I am probably not the only one to have more intentions than I can possibly put energy (and time) behind. How can I choose which ones I want to play with now? Here, I feel, your “Big Why” post provides very good guidance. Asking “why?” until the answers feels like they stand on their own, without further probing, does help being confident that these intentions are congruent with our core values; if they are not, then we can reorient ourselves toward better pursuits. When intentions and values are in lockstep, we can’t go wrong. As for being clear about our “core values”, your December “journaling” post provides more helpful pointers/techniques. Thank you for writing so well (in words and pictures) and in a way where your posts “mesh together” powerfully.

    1. Welcome back, Gerard! You write, “intentions never END, they evolve, they meander, they join and branch, they sharpen or become diffuse and exploratory, they morph… they change as we do.” Yes, that’s exactly what I was sensing as I wrote recently. I didn’t want to be wedded to something static, so my AAA project is fluid, and touches on things that matter to me rather than “exercise more” or “explore more” — while those are included in the project, the overarching theme was gentleness and fun with my pup, an adventure in seeing what my mind wanted to play with each week (vs. Hike X or Climb Y). Flexibility and resilience have become much more important to me both in the metaphorical sense as well as the physical body sense. Evolution in progress!

      “When intentions and values are in lockstep, we can’t go wrong.” Precisely. We can “set goals” or strive for something, but if we have the ladder up the wrong wall, no success up that path will feel “happy” until we move the ladder. In that way I think I’ve found the right wall — now the key is to keep reminding myself of my why.

      I love that you saw the triptych in recent posts; sometimes I get the feeling that I’m repeating myself, but with slightly different slants; hopefully it will land right with readers and the subtle nuances will affect people in different ways.

      Love your comments and look forward to more. Appreciate the time you take to think deeply and craft a story of your own! Joyward!

  2. I love this line:
    It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about your goal, as long as it ENERGIZES YOU, whatever your reasons may be.
    Thanks for reminding us that what energizes us is what we should be doing!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Christine! Yes, if we have energy around something it matters to us. If you have a to-do list and you’re not enthusiastic about the items, check — it could very well be that someone else has “put that on your list.” Those things we can’t wait to do have the juice, the gold – and cue us in to the satisfaction it will bring if and when we follow through. If you don’t have any items on your agenda that give you energy, oh boy, time to revise the agenda! Happy new year!

  3. Thank you very much Court. Another inspiring blog to be saved and mulled over. I appreciate you and look forward to reading about your discoveries. Here’s to 2023!

    1. How great to get your message! Glad it’s providing inspiration. So nice to be appreciated. And I don’t say it often enough but I will say it publicly, here: I appreciate each and every one of my readers, my clients, and those who comment on blog posts. It truly helps me to know what resonates, what helps, and what lands well so that I can find other useful things not only for each of you but for myself as well. Onward, upward, and forward!

  4. Great article, Courtenay. So important to have personal goals and it doesn’t need to be complicated. You always come with great name for your projects.

    Thanks for being such a great role model. You are an influencer. Now I use “ intention” instead of “resolution”. Last week at the bank, a young teller asked me if what my resolutions for 2023 were. Right away I said, no resolutions for me, I only have intentions. She asked if it was the same. I said, well, it is a more positive way to look at goals. And I said forget the “should” and “must”. I focus on I “ choose” and I “want”…she said – I love it…

    Thanks again for sharing your adventures with us. It is priceless.

    1. I so appreciate your kind words, Silvie Marie, you will never know. And I love the thought of being “an influencer.” Hopefully for good. (laughing)

      I simply adore the thought of written words going out there in the form of story and others picking up on them. You totally made my weekend. More adventures to come! Waiting for some nice weather for number three – so not this weekend. Maybe Tuesday.