How Spending Time Outside Makes You a Better Leader (Mike Erwin)

Jump To section

Mike Erwin Humans Outside Podcast

When was the last time you were fired-up? We mean really fired-up?

Fired-up-ness is status quo living for Mike Erwin, founder and Executive Director of veteran service organization Team Red, White & Blue, which connects veterans with their communities. Mike is laser-focused building leaders and living a life focused on positivity, and he’s doing it through fitness, community service — and heading outside.

Catch Mike in this episode drilling down into how he’s seen heading into nature develop strong leaders, plus tips on keeping that leadership fire burning when the going gets tough.

Some of the good stuff:

[1:59] Mike Erwin’s favorite outdoor space
[3:35] Why Mike founded Team RWB
[6:15]  Why transition from military to civilian life is hard
[8:37] The details on Team RWB
[10:00] Why spending time outside is an important part of Team RWB
[12:25] Is there any research supporting Team RWB’s use of the outdoors?
[16:26] Mike’s outdoor story
[21:40] What is solitude and how it different than just being alone?
[23:43] How solitude is different from isolation
[27:00] How do extroverts deal with solitude?
[29:00] The link between nature and solitude
[31:23] Mike’s best advice for leading an organization
[34:37] Mike’s favorite outdoor gear
[35:00] Mike’s most essential outdoor gear
[36:02] Mike’s favorite outdoor moment

Connect with this episode:


Mentioned in the show:

Team Red, White & Blue (Team RWB)
Team RWB Eagle logo
Team RWB ethos
First Responders
Fort Bragg, North Carolina
Adirondacks, New York
Lake of the Pines
University of Michigan
Positive psychology 
Army Special Forces
VA Hospital, Ann Arbor
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
Rock climbing
Military transition
Kerri Walsh Jennings
Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)
Runners high
Syracuse University Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF)
Mental health 
Spending 20 minutes outside a day
Tommy Caldwell 
Estes Park, Colorado
Fort Polk, Louisiana 
The Village Arboretum, North Carolina
Pinehurst, North Carolina
Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leadership Through Solitude 
Solitude vs. isolation
Lake Placid
Appalachian Trail
JFK 50 Miler

Favorite Gear: REI pants
Most Essential Gear: Cowboy boots or ruck

Affiliate links above.


Register for our newsletter for a chance to win a free Humans Outside decal:

Don’t forget to follow @HumansOutside on Instagram:

Share your own outdoor life with the hashtag #humansoutside365.

Connect with us on Facebook:

Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation on The Humans Outside Podcast. Listen to the episode on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

AB: For many people, making yourself do something staying motivated or keeping a positive outlook isn’t about internal motivation. It’s about the people with whom they surround themselves, their team. Teams are especially important to people who have team living as a part of their culture. If you’ve always been very involved in sports, for example, you know how much you rely on that group of people or community to keep you going. It’s also one of the reasons why CrossFit has become so popular. It’s less about the workout, and I can tell you that firsthand, and more about the community. And teams are even more important for those with a military or first responder background. Military service puts you in serious danger, high adrenaline environments from where you form bonds and reliance on people to your right and your left. When you leave the military service, that team is gone. It’s one of the reasons veterans have such a hard time feeling like they fit into civilian life. Mike Erwin saw that problem firsthand. And in 2010, he found Team RWB, or Team Red, White & Blue with the simple idea that having a team of people around you can give you purpose. Since then, Team RWB has become a global movement rallying around their Eagle logo, and an ethos of positivity and leadership. Mike Erwin, welcome to the Humans Outside Podcast.

ME: Awesome to be here, Amy. Thanks so much for having me.

AB: So we like to start our show imagining ourselves in our guest’s favorite outdoor space. Where are you today and where are we with you?

ME: So I would say, you know, my favorite outdoor space – well, I’ve got two of them. One of them is, now I moved out to 32 acres just outside of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. So I’ve got some outdoor space in my property right now, which is amazing because I get to experience it every single day. So that would be one place, walking the trails of the Erwin family homestead; or where I spent a lot of time growing up, which is the Adirondacks in upstate New York. And my parents lived on this 40 acre private, you know, or man made lake that’s called Lake of the Pines. And so both of those areas are good for me.

AB: That sounds amazing. I like the homestead! And you’ve got a passel of kiddos out there now, don’t you?

ME: We do! We’ve had five kids and our newest was added a few months ago. I definitely see why like back when so much of the economy was driven by agriculture, why so many people had lots of kids because there’s a lot of work to be done. And we don’t even have a full time farm. We just got some pigs, chickens, ducks, dogs, a small vegetable garden – so I can’t even imagine if you were running a larger scale operation. But yeah, five kids, so they keep us busy, but they also help us to accomplish a lot of the things that we need to do around here.

AB: Awesome. So I’m excited to share Team RWB with our audience today, because I’ve personally benefited from the organization and the people it introduced me to. So thank you for that. I’ve been a Team RWB leader in several locations, and even chapter captain here in Anchorage for a year. So now that full disclosure, right, I’m a fan, talk to us about why you founded this organization.

ME: So back in 2010, I was a graduate student at University of Michigan. And this followed up on three deployments between 2004 and 2009. I went to Iraq and to Afghanistan. And so then I got to take a break, I got to slow down and step back from it all and go to graduate school and study psychology, and specifically the discipline called positive psychology, which is a focus on what makes life worth living. It’s the scientific approach of how to be happy, happier and resilient, and all those kinds of things. And so I was in grad school. And a big part of it for me was just continuing to move my body. You know, I was in a special forces unit. Before that I was the intelligence officer and a lot of the Green Berets were kind of taking a joke at me say — Oh, you go to grad school, you’re going to get soft, you’re gonna stop exercising — because they know I was a marathon runner and all that when I was in third Special Forces Group. And so I kind of took that as a challenge of like — No, I’ve got to find a way to keep moving my body. And so when I was in grad school, you know, I spent some time going to volunteer at the local VA hospital, which is a couple minutes away from where I was going to school in Ann Arbor. And it really just gave me some insight into the challenges that a lot of veterans were facing with transition and reintegration, especially those that were struggling with some form of PTSD or, you know, traumatic brain injury, any sort of challenge that emerged from their service and their transition. It gave me the idea to kind of merge those two ideas together, take the positive psychology that I was studying in grad school, with the opportunity to keep moving my body and keep running and getting outdoors and doing those kinds of things with the ability to support veterans that were finding themselves in a difficult chapter of their life. And so those three things kind of came together in 2010. And we started out with the intent to really support about 10 wounded veterans per year. And less than a year later, we kept on hearing from veterans all over the country that, you know, running, hiking, CrossFit, rock climbing, triathlon, you know, these things that saved my life, and I want to join this team that you’ve created. And so really, it was veterans telling us that the organization had a responsibility to serve a significantly larger number of veterans than we currently worked with. So that’s the origins of it and why I’m still so fired up about what we do right now.

AB: So you know, you and I both have military experience – you as a service member, me as a family member. But many of our listeners might not know why military transition is so challenging and what those challenges can be. So can you offer some insight on that?

ME: Absolutely. I think a lot of this does boil down to identity. And so one of the things I talk about a lot when I speak on this subject is that you don’t need to have been in the military to understand the psychological challenges with transition. It can be you know, from being single to being married, to not having kids to having kids and then they leave and now you’re an empty nester, transition in jobs, you might leave one career field and move to another one, you might leave one state and move to another one, right? There’s all these transitions in life that even if you love change, and you’re one of those people that says you love change, change is still hard because it requires a lot of effort to sort of establish some new habits and new routines. And new relationships. And so when you think about the challenge for folks in the military, I put it up there with people who are like Olympic athletes or professional athletes and people who are at the highest level of their game. Right? Their identity, so much of it is comprised of what they do, from the view of other people, right? Everyone else knows Kerri Walsh Jennings as a volleyball player. Well, she’s just a person like everybody else, but to almost the entire world, she’s a volleyball player. So her identity is so often and easily defined as that. And so for veterans, you know, and by the way, she does an amazing job of not allowing that to happen. But still, that pressure is there every single day. And so for veterans, you know, when you’re in the military, like, it’s your uniform, it’s how you do things. It’s what you look at yourself in the mirror, when you see yourself in your uniform. It’s the people that are leading you and caring about you, right, and then it’s the strict approach to life and then all of a sudden, that’s gone, right? And so that sense of identity that you have when you’re in the military as a family member, a spouse, as a child, a military child, as you know, a soldier or a service member, and then all of a sudden that goes away. That’s hard, right? It’s hard from an identity standpoint more than anything, let alone the daily changes in habit from when you have to wake up to cut your hair to the uniform you’re in and all that. So it’s a lot of change that happens suddenly. And that just brings about a whole set of challenges from a psychology standpoint.

AB: Team RWB chapters, which by the way, are located in how many locations now?

ME: About 200 all over the country. So yep.

AB: And how many members?

ME: We are about 217,000 members and growing because we’ve got a MOU to be released soon with the VA. That’s going to reach about 10.8 million veterans so we’re expecting to grow by like 15-20,000 more new veterans to join the team here by the end of the month. 

AB: Congratulations. MOU, for everybody else, is a memorandum of understanding. 

And the, the VA, the Veterans Administration, does not just partner with anybody. They don’t just walk around saying — you’re a partner and you’re a partner. They require a lot of paperwork because it’s the government and needs to be official and a memorandum of understanding makes that possible, right?

ME: That’s correct.

AB: Team RWB chapters do literally every activity imaginable under the sun. In fact, one of the most popular events here in Anchorage is actually knitting hats, okay? But most of them are movement focused, okay. And most of them are done outside. So talk to us about why that is and what’s important about movement and what it is about doing it outside that’s an even better part of that.

ME: Yeah. So this gets really to the core of why I’m so excited about this idea of exercise, but it’s specifically outdoors, right? Where you, you hear the noises of nature and around you and you feel the wind on your face and all that. We know that there’s an indisputable body of evidence right now about the power of physical activities. But here’s the key thing, right? It’s about the consistency of it. So I use the analogy a lot — it’s like flossing and brushing your teeth. If you do it just once on Sunday, you know, that’s not good, right? Your teeth are gonna have problems. When you talk about exercise, when you exercise just once a week, then it’s going to have real limited impact. The power is in the consistency. A minimum of three times a week, but ideally, you know, it’s just something that you can try to make a part of your daily life. We see this very clearly in the data that it has an impact, obviously on your physical health, right your heart health, your all kinds of other components, but also in your mental health. Think about what’s going on with the cortisol when you’re stressed and then and how the endocrine system kicks in. And we all know about, of course, runner’s high, or that kind of that euphoria, or that good feeling when you get into a certain part of the hike or the run or the exercise or the workout. But of course, then there’s if it’s the feeling after. I tell people all the time –I don’t run for the feeling of when I’m doing it, I run for the feeling of when I’m done. 

And so we’ve got, again, the mental and the physical benefits, but then there’s also just the benefits of doing it with other people. Or in the case of on your own, if you go for a trail run on your own or you go outside, like there’s also the benefit of being able to get inside your own mind and to listen to your own thoughts. So there’s all these, but it’s not one, it’s not two, it’s like five like birds with one stone. Then you add on and you layer on top of that, doing so outside where there’s a whole other set of data and body of evidence that shows that being outside in nature, in listening to the sounds and to the smells into what you see, and how it changes  – there’s significant benefits to again, mental and physical health there, right? So like when you stack those two things together, it’s just an amazing thing. So when you go outside, you’re in nature and you’re running or hiking or, you know, rocking or doing those kinds of things like it has this ability to truly transform your life.

AB: Team RWB has done quite a lot of research on a variety of things. Do you have any data that talks specifically about this?

ME: W\e have partnered with Syracuse University and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families to really kind of evaluate the impact of Team Red, White and Blue. You know, so we have not done any specific nature based therapy or nature, you know, evidence about nature, although I just had a meeting this morning with someone from an area around Fort Bragg that wants to do this there. I mean, I feel that there is an increasing number of people that realize that we’ve got to do more research. We can’t just say — hey, like look at these three or four studies. I mean, we need thousands of studies to prove it beyond the shadow of a doubt, but there’s definitely an increasing number of people out there that are aware that like, this is part and parcel, like a solution to the mental health crisis that we have in our country and around the world. You know, we see it right, we spend more time on, you know, metros, and commuting and in cars and inside on phone calls and working in front of a computer and in front of the TV and in front of iPads and screens. And just a lot of people just don’t get even five minutes of being outside beyond like to their car and back or from the metro up to their office, right? They don’t get any intentional time outside. So there’s a groundswell of people that are aware of this. But you know, our focus, Amy, on the research front has really been around the role of the physical activity and then the social activity that happens through our chapters and by being a member of Team Red, White and Blue. And that’s the powerful combination from our eyes, most clearly is that just getting people moving physically with each other, that sense of team and giving them that ever amorphous sense of purpose — hey, I belong to something bigger than myself. That’s the thing that we look at. But we’re very interested in exploring how we can also look at the benefits of nature in a very explicit way.

AB: Yeah, so it’s funny, because that’s exactly why we moved up here to Alaska, to take advantage of nature for mental health. That’s literally why we moved. And then I, myself woke up, you know, about a year later and realized that we were doing a super good job of helping my veteran with that, and not such a good job of helping myself. And so it goes back to what you just said about intentionality, right? Because you can spend time outside everyday by happenstance. But when I do my 20 minutes outside today, which I’ve done now every day for well over 900 days, it is with intentionality, right? 20 minutes doesn’t happen usually on its own unless the weather’s incredibly nice, and there’s, you know, flowing coffee on my back porch, right? It has to be intentional, especially when life is hard, especially when you are busy, especially in the winter. You know, I recently spent an entire day traveling back from Dallas, Texas to Alaska. And you know, you get home you’re exhausted and you haven’t gone outside yet. You know, that’s intentionality that creates that moment and that mental health space because guess what – I felt way less crazy after I went for a 30 minute run after spending the day in airports and on airplanes than I did beforehand.

ME: Totally. Yeah. I mean, yeah, the idea of intention. I’m actually working on a piece for Harvard Business Review right now on what does it mean to be intentional? I think a lot of us think about – if you’re intentional, if you’re listening to a podcast like this to say — hey, what can I glean? What can I learn about this and apply to my life? The challenge with being intentional is always on the follow through, you know, because there’s so much competing for our time and our own energy today. And so making sure that you’re deliberate about it and putting it on the schedule and following through is where the magic happens. But there’s no doubt that that is a critical component of this because you can’t just sit there and talk about it or think — this would be good if I did this. You’ve actually got to follow through on it.

AB: You strike me as an intentional focus kind of guy. Talk to me about your own connection to spending time outside. Has it always been something that’s been a part of your life?

ME: I think a lot of us, with the exception, perhaps of like, the most hardcore, discipline driven, maybe people like, you know, Tommy Caldwell, who lived like in Estes Park, Colorado, you know, or perhaps, you know, folks in parts of Alaska, like even talking about the challenges like yourself is that there is going to be an ebb and flow, right? It’s like a diet, it’s like anything else. If there are so few people that just can stick to it every single day or you know, 99% of the time, but you’re gonna slip up, you’re gonna find yourself getting into a rut and go — Oh, it had that realization of – Geez, it’s been a while I’ve gone for a run. It’s been a while since I’ve run that route that I used to run, like, you know, three, four times a week. I just haven’t been there in a month. As a young kid, obviously, I’m sure some of the conversation always devolves into the idea of screens and like, in technology and how technology has made our lives certainly more, much more convenient and more comfortable than ever, if we allow it. Growing up, I just didn’t have that stuff. So I spent a lot of time outdoors, you know, a lot of time in nature. But then my Army career, you know, some of it was kind of forced camping and forced nature, you know, when you’re out like training and going out to the field and, you know, in the deserts of Fort Irwin, California or in the swamps of Fort Polk, Louisiana. But, you know, it really was like as I got older, and I transitioned beyond the active duty over the past five years that I’ve had to be more intentional about it. The first house we moved to, the arboretum is right across the street, literally, you know, it’s like 100 yards away, getting out there and just going for a walk, getting in just walking, you know, among all the tall pine trees in the village of Pinehurst, not quite nature, but like, you know getting there. And now, you know, we made the very deliberate decision to move out to these 32 acres, you know, for the large part of wanting to be able to spend more time outdoors. Because it is very easy to find yourself, the gravitational force is strong to sit down on your couch in front of the television because there’s always something in the world of 2020 that can entertain you or make you laugh or educate you. And you can justify spending four hours in front of the television every single day. Because — hey, I’m learning how to cook better. I’m learning more about history. I’m learning more about this. I’m learning, I’m laughing, right? There’s a lot of temptation there to spend a lot of time in front of the screen. And unlike 15-20 years ago, like there’s just there’s a never ending amount of things pulling at you to do just that. 

That’s a that’s a bit of a twisty winding answer to your question. But for me, it really is about living out here, having the animals, building a trail system on our property that we get out there and that we just walk and we run and we rock.

AB: I mean, it’s back to that intentionality, right?

ME: 100 percent.

AB: You know, I find people who live somewhere beautiful have an easier time doing this. But I find that there are even seasons where you have to try harder. Up here in Alaska, we have seasons of light and dark, literally, right? And in that season of dark in this darkest part of that where maybe you’ve turned the corner and things are getting a little bit lighter incrementally, but it’s still just very dark most of the time, you’re talking six, maybe seven hours of daylight.

You have to try. The darkness is a season where you have to try harder. It is a season for fighters. It is a season for people who are not afraid to want it. And because I find every year this sort of thing seeping in — Oh, it’s you know, I can skip the gym today. I’ll do my 20 minutes, but I’ll ski next year. I’ll nap. Right? And you realize that you have to try harder. This is for people who want to try.

ME: Yeah, yes, spot on.

AB: I want to shift the focus a little to leadership in solitude. One of Team RWB’s top focuses is developing leaders in communities for the benefit of the team, but also for the benefit of society. And you authored a book on leadership, and it’s specifically the practice of solitude. So start by telling us what solitude is and how it’s different from just being alone.

ME: Yeah, so solitude is, as we define it, it’s a psychological state where the mind is isolated from the input from other minds. And so that’s different because I think a lot of times people hear the word solitude or a variation of it and they think of solitary confinement or they think about this idea of pure isolation. You know, for us, solitude is not just about this idea of like, are you physically or geographically separated because the reality is you can be, you know, on a hike somewhere and there will be another human being within, you know, five miles of you if you’re on your phone and you know, you’re pulling up Instagram or you’re, you know, reading an article or you’re on the phone, or texting somebody, like that’s not solitude because the psychological state is, you might be physically separated from people, but psychologically, mentally, your mind is open to the input from other people. So at the same time, you can be, you know, in a coffee shop, or in a location where there’s other people around you, or you can be on a group hike. But if you are quiet and you’re turning inward, and you’re listening to your own mind into your own thoughts, that is solitude, right? So just to spell it out a little bit more, you can be reading a book or listening to a podcast, like that’s not solitude, you’re exposing your mind to other people’s minds. Where you flip the switch and it becomes solitude, where you say — Okay, I need to hit pause, I need to put the book down. He just said something really interesting. She just wrote something really fascinating. And I need to think about that more, I need to think about the application of that idea to my own life as a leader as a, you know, as a person. And so that, to me, is really where we have separated the book from all other books that have talked about reflection, or to talk about solitude or nature and in all the different ways of thinking about these kinds of subjects in that ecosystem. That’s what makes ours different is it’s really saying it’s when the mind is free from the inputs from other minds.

AB: It’s also different from isolation. Talk about that.

ME: Yeah, so two things. One, like isolation is often this idea that you are alone against your will, right? Or like in a way you’re isolated, you feel like you can’t be connected? So isolation is often also highly correlated with loneliness, right? So loneliness is the feeling of one seeming to be connected to other people, but not feeling that you are. This often stems from, you know, lack of confidence, mental health challenges, etc. You know, and so when you think about that, and then isolation can also be like it’s compelled upon you, it’s like — no, we’re going to isolate you and put you over here away from the group, or away from the team or whatever it may be. And so, you know, there’s a quote out there that kind of talks about solitude is the richness of self. When you engage in solitude, you consciously say — I’m going to shut down the noise for a period of time. And I’m not talking about going out and having to do this for days at a time or going on like a week long retreat, you know, without access to the internet or any of that. Like it can be 10 minutes, it can be a half an hour, it can be five minutes. Sometimes you get in the car to go pick up your kids from somewhere, instead of immediately turning on the radio or putting on a podcast or listening to music, you just say — hey, I’m going to drive in silence here for the next eight minutes between my house and where I’ve got to go pick up my kids. And I’m just gonna, like, think, right, I’m going to kind of analyze how did that go? How did that podcast that I just recorded go? Well, what could I have done better? And I think there’s a real reluctance that a lot of us have to do this. Because when you start talking to people about solitude and being alone with your thoughts, it can be a scary place, depending on how confident you are. It can also be boring, like in the hyper connected world we live in where people are constantly seeking and bombarded by stimuli. But it can also just be the kind of place where it’s not comfortable necessarily to reflect and to think about what’s going on, or what you could have done better. Because when you do that, it realizes that — Oh, wait, I could have done this a little bit differently, or I should have done that better. Right? And so you have to be open and willing to give yourself that honest feedback that you can get from yourself and only yourself. A lot of us, sometimes we’d rather just kind of drown that out with another video or another, you know, article or another post on social media.

AB: It seems like the interest in doing that could also be personality driven. I’m thinking about extraversion versus introversion. Um, for me, I love being alone. Please, for the love of God, go away, right? I do run with friends. But I really like running by myself, especially if I’m in a situation where there’s a lot going on already. So I was at this conference, and they had a group run every morning, but we’ll meet down here at 615. We’ll see you there. And I’m thinking — you will not see me there because they need to go run without you now. And I need to think about all that, you know, just sort of turn my brain off and let all this stuff that just happened just absorb and go, you know, think through in that solitude, right? But if you’re an extrovert that might be hard. What do you tell people who push back with it in that way?

ME: The first thing I say is that you know, I’m a 99 percentile extrovert. So yeah. My wife is much more introverted than I am. I’m a very big extrovert. And I think that my big takeaway on this is that the research shows that it is harder for extroverts to engage in solitude, because extroverts draw energy, and they draw excitement from the group and from being around people. And so that being said, there’s still data that basically shows there’s significant benefit to giving your mind the break, to giving it the rest that it needs. And so people who are more introverted naturally are inclined to engage in solitude. But, you know, also, like I said before, the idea of reading a book or watching a movie on your own, that’s not solitude, right? That’s something you do on your own, without other people perhaps, but it’s not solitude. Solitude is really that ability to go inward and to listen to your voice, but introverts do find it more natural to do that. And so for extroverts, I tell people all the time — hey, don’t take my word for it, like, run an A B test on yourself, right? And give yourself 15 minutes of solitude to kind of think about some things going on in your life or some challenges, or some leadership concerns that you’ve got about what’s going on in your organization or in your role, and then spend 15 minutes talking about to people. And yes, what might feel more comfortable is talking about it with people, but what actually yields better results, even for extroverts, most of the time, is that 15 minutes of hard thought and reflection yields a better answer. And so it really is trying, and most people end up realizing that when they engage in solitude in a meaningful way, that they draw the benefits from it. And therefore, regardless of how extroverted they might be, they make it more of a habit and a practice in their daily life.

AB: Being in nature is, for many people, a very important part of finding that solitude. Talk to us about that.

ME: Yeah, I mean, so as you think about the ability, you know, to engage in solitude – so like I said, you can do it in a coffee shop, it’s just harder. I don’t care, you know, introverted or extroverted. Like it’s just more challenging. There’s more distractions immediately right there in front of you in the windshield. So as you think about nature, the environment is much more accessible to engage in solitude. It’s getting outdoors and so because of that, like that’s where I think you’re gonna find yourself more prone to engaging in a meaningful kind of solitude. You know, when you’re in nature, and that can be by the beach like I was just last week, I was on the Atlantic Ocean. Yes, I had my phone in my pocket. And yes, I took a couple of pictures of my son and I running, but for the most part, like the environment was more conducive to engaging in solitude. I was with my son, like for a good couple of minutes stretches. He was running and focusing on his breath and all that and I was focusing, you know, on a couple things that I had in my head about — hey, what should I talk to him about? Right? So then we would toggle between solitude and not, right? So I’d be in my head for a few minutes and like thinking and listening to my own voice and say — Hey, Eli, what do you think about this? We’re out here running, you know, and then we would have a conversation, and then it’d be quiet again. 

So again, the key thing to highlight is just how important it is to not make solitude too scary or too big. There is big solitude, which is going out for hours or days at a time, you know, where you go on your own. But so much of this is accessible to us in small doses or small batches. And I think a lot of times people lose sight of that, right? And so in nature, again, going back to your question specifically, that’s where it’s just more accessible, right? And where it’s more accessible at worst, we have a better chance of reaping the benefits of that solitude in nature than if we try to do it in a coffee shop all the time.

AB: So starting an organization or a club, and leading it as it grows is really hard, but you’ve known firsthand, it seems easy, but then it gets hard because people are involved. And people are hard, right?

ME: Yeah. Very.

AB: If you had to give two pieces of advice about thriving as a leader to anyone who finds themselves leading an organization like that, and, you know, maybe roping in this solitude concept, what would you tell them? What would your advice be?

ME: Yeah, geez, that’s a great question. Yeah. People often ask that they say — hey, but you’re a big positive psychology guy, right? And talk about other people and how important relationships are to our happiness and our well being, which is true, right? The number one driver of life satisfaction is the quality of your relationships with family, friends, coworkers, teammates, etc. And so that’s the connection. The bridge, the connection between leading yourself first and engaging in solitude is that it allows you to show up better with more tranquility with more clarity, when you spend some time on your own, right? So that’s actually the prerequisite to being good in your relationships with other people. 

To your point about the complexity of people, I talk about this all the time, like we all come from different backgrounds, we have different beliefs, different, you know, religions, different, you know, interests different, like, the list goes on and on about all the different experiences and backgrounds that we have. And that just means that when you bring a team of people together, it’s like one big cauldron, right, where everyone’s got different views and different opinions and different experiences, and so like leadership is exceptionally challenging. And I would argue, and I’m of the opinion, that with all the noise of the world today, with everything going on, that it’s actually, you know, two times harder, two times more challenging to lead in the world of 2020, then 2010. I think that leadership has gotten twice as hard in 10 years. And so going back to that, you know, engage in solitude because it allows you to show up better. 

It also allows you to have clarity around who you need to give your time and your leadership energy to. So if you think about this, like we’re so accessible in the world today, and because we’re so accessible It means that there’s a lot of people that can reach out to you and ask for your opinion, or — Hey, can I jump on a phone call with you for 30 minutes? Or can I do this or do that? And so without that solitude, if you find yourself in reaction mode all day long, then, you know, you end up finding yourself giving away an hour, hour and a half of your day to someone that, hey, you know, maybe I can talk to that person in a few months. But right now, like, I got a big month going out. And so therefore, I’ve got to really limit the number of phone calls I take, or the number of whatever. And so to me, like, again, that clarity comes through solitude and the thinking, and that gives you the ability to say — okay, anybody pretty much that reaches out to me today or in the next couple of weeks, I’m going to let them know that I’m slammed. I have other priorities right now, and I can talk to them in June. So can you please reach back out in May? For me, that’s a big part of this, is having the clarity as a leader to know where to get your time and your energy. Because, look, we’d all like to be able to help, I think as leaders, and take every request that we get. I think a lot of leaders would like to be able to say yes more. But you know, you’ve got responsibilities to the organization and the men and women that you lead. And therefore you have to have that discipline to say yes and no to the right stuff. And you can only get there, in my opinion, through that solitude and through that thinking.

AB: Yeah, so good. Okay, little bit of a left turn here, but we’ve come to the end. And at the end of Humans Outside podcasts, we always ask the same questions, whether they fit in or not, but really, they’re things that I just want to know. So that’s why they’re again, okay, so talk to us about your favorite outdoor gear. What is your favorite gear? 

ME: Yeah, you know, I think my favorite gear is my REI pants, you know that I’ve had for about seven or eight years now, like some of their stuff is just amazing. Like it just lasts seemingly forever. So they’re gray and I wear them sometimes around town, but I wear them every time I go on a hike. They’re just the best. So definitely my REI pants. 

AB: And what about your most essential outdoor gear? 

ME: Ah, you know, I think it really depends. In my life right now, my 32 acres, you know, it’s actually my cowboy boots. I do everything from clean the pigsty to, you know, when I’m clearing land, I’m wearing these boots. But when I’m out there, I typically say it’s my ruck, you know, because I do a lot of moving out there you know, with a backpack, I just add some weight. So, you know, it’s my ruck.

AB: That’s practical, cowboy boots. I like it because I just spent some time in Texas recently. And I’ll tell you what, a lot of impractical cowboy boots out there.

ME: Yes. Yes, there are and like these are not at all, this is the opposite.

AB: It’s good to know that it’s still a thing. So, talk to us, just in closing about your most favorite outdoor moment ever. If you close your eyes, imagine a time that you just found joy and just, you know, peace in the outdoors.

ME: There’s a lot, I mean, I think a lot about you know, growing up as a kid and, you know, running off the dock and jumping into Lake of the Pines, you know, at my parents cabin. Snowshoeing out there in the winter months. Lake Placid is such a beautiful place. Like there’s so many trails there. My family and I, we go to Louisville, North Carolina up into the Appalachian Trail. But I mean, I think that probably my favorite has to be, you know, running on the Appalachian Trail for 12 miles in the JFK 50 miler. I’ve run that race five times. I’m actually committed to going back for trying number six to try to get into the 300 mile club this November. It’s usually the week before Thanksgiving, so the leaves are all down. It’s usually wet and cold. And so the conditions are not what you would think of, but I often think from like the most trying circumstances are where the best memories are forged. And so for me, it’s up there and I think it’s honestly my first time running it. It was like 27 degrees out, so it was slippery. I fell I think three times on the trail, but that feeling of descending off the trail. There’s a series of switchbacks that go back and forth back and forth for about half a mile, there’s big boulders you got to kind of climb over and all that. And the feeling for that first time of having made it through the 12 mile stretch on the Appalachian Trail and descending down to the C&O Canal for the next 26 miles stretch is just probably my just most joyous and proud moments of being in nature.

AB: Well, you’re welcome to come up here and trail run anytime in Alaska. We’d love to have you.

ME: And there’s no shortage of trails, I can see.

AB: Thank you so much for joining us on the Humans Outside Podcast today.

ME: Absolutely, Amy. Hey, thanks for having me, and I really enjoyed the conversation. I appreciate it.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Jump To section



Humans Outside Instagram

How does spending at least 20 consecutive minutes outside every single day since Sept. 1, 2017 change your life? 

We’re on a mission to find out.

[instagram-feed feed=1]

JOIN Us Today


Keep up with the latest podcast episodes, resources and announcements