Feeling Guilt and Shame While Enjoying the Outdoors
I recently had a conversation with a fellow Latinx climber, Alma Solis at a women’s climbing event in Pilot Mountain, North Carolina. As we waited for our turn on a route, we began to speak about our families and how they fought to make a home in this country.
Alma was born in El Centro, California, roughly 15 miles from the border with Mexico. Both her parents left their families in Mexico to pursue a better life in America. As farm workers. Alma’s family would often move from place to place; working countless hours to ensure the success of their family on American soil and their family back home in Mexico.
Florida is my home and where I grew up. My mother left her children in the Dominican Republic to work as a maid for a kind Jewish family so that she could support her children back on the island. It took years before my mom could afford to bring first my sister and then my brother to the U.S. I spent my entire childhood watching her work hard to make our dreams come true.
Alma and I bonded over the guilt we felt pursuing college degrees away from home and the feelings of disbelief when we found out that the majority of our classmates didn’t have to work to pay their bills or send money home. We spoke about the feelings of confusion during college when we realized that the majority of the people around us didn’t spend their childhoods translating bank statements, traffic tickets, doctor’s notes, and tax paperwork for their parents. As I got connected to other Latinx professionals through social media, my sorority, and in my community, I realized that this was a feeling many of us shared. It struck me how different our lives were compared to the majority of young White professionals. Our difference was something we held in common. The individual struggles we faced gave us empathy for one another and brought us closer together.
Now we get to enjoy the fruits of our labor as we embark on our careers. Our careers have given us the opportunity to do things we only ever dreamed of doing, like buying a new car or traveling across the world. My dreams led me to the Outdoors, to traveling, skydiving, rock climbing, and backpacking. I feel happy and fulfilled but I can’t escape this nameless feeling that I have always felt coiled in the pit of my stomach. After speaking to Alma, I could finally name it and I recognized that I was not the only one who felt this way. That feeling is guilt.
Although I am privileged to have a job and enough income to be able to participate in recreational activities, not everyone in my family gets to enjoy those luxuries. My mom still works countless hours a week so that she can make ends meet; not only for herself but for my family in Dominican Republic as well. Meanwhile, I am spending thousands of dollars a year on skydiving tickets, rope, parachutes, quick draws, and crash pads. I have family members who wish they could have that money to be able to afford the most basic of things such as healthcare insurance or consistent electricity.
When I am out at the crag or ‘living my best life’ on a nice mountaintop I feel grateful for the opportunity to experience the world in such a beautiful way—but I also feel shame. Am I wrong for enjoying this? Should I stop enjoying the outdoors and exclusively help my family? Why do I get embarrassed to share my outdoor life with my family? Why can’t it be all of us? What should I do differently?
My conversation with Alma was the first time I admitted those feelings out loud. Hearing that I was not alone in feeling this way was both surprising and soothing. We spoke about self- care. There is so much pressure to succeed for the family, sometimes the best thing you can do is take time to unwind. How can we expect to help our extended family without the time, self-love and attention required to preserve our own physical and spiritual balance? How do we prioritize our own personal well-being vs the well-being of our families? When does the single-minded pursuit of the next big thrill, the next big send, and the next backcountry adventure become too much? Is there such a thing?
I am nowhere near having the answer to any of these questions. I’m not confident that there is an answer. I think that the power lies in acknowledging that these questions and feelings do exist. We are all human and long with the incredible highs and lows, and deep friendships we find in the outdoors and in our burgeoning careers, we also experience feelings of doubt, guilt, fear and sometimes shame. That conversation with Alma helped me to realize that I was not alone, that there was at least one other human that felt the way I do. I wonder, is there anyone else?