Edinburgh Day 4: Scaling the Heights – The Value of a Support Group

November 5th, 2012 by Laura Longley

Arthur’s Seat is an extinct volcano, right in Edinburgh, and is part of Holyrood Park. In preparation for my trip to Edinburgh I joined some Meetups (as mentioned in an earlier post –www.meetup.com), and one of these was a Walking and Socialising (British spelling on Socialising) group.

I have always loved to walk for exercise, both on my own and in a group. I figured this would be a good way to do something I liked and get to know some people at the same time. It happened that a few days after I arrived the group was climbing up Arthur’s Seat, which is quite close to where I am staying. Seemed perfect.

As we started off the weather was less than perfect – sleet and wind – but I was dressed appropriately, so wasn’t really bothered by it. Besides, I’m from Seattle; we know about wind and rain – even sleet.

Since we were climbing a volcano I expected it to be uphill. Seattle has lots of hills, too, and my neighborhood (where I walk almost daily) is quite hilly, so I felt prepared. Boy was I wrong!

I’m The Laggard!

As we got going, I realized that the difference was that when I walk in my neighborhood, it isn’t just uphill. It flattens out for a while, or even goes downhill for a while. This was uphill the entire way. Not only did I have to stop to catch my breath, but as we got near the top my legs were so shaky that I wondered if I would be able to make it. This was not part of my plan!

There were nine of us in the walking group that day, and as I started to lag behind, one of the regulars came to walk with me and point out the best routes to take as we got onto loose rock. At first I felt a little uncomfortable as the laggard, but he was so kind and nice that I didn’t feel that way for long.

Once I got past my embarrassment of lagging behind, I appreciated not just being left to make my own way. I realized later as I was telling friends about the experience that having the group include me and make sure I was doing okay led to me making it to the top.

If I had chosen to go up Arthur’s Seat on my own (not as part of a group), I don’t know if I would have chosen to go all the way to the top or not. I certainly would have rested more on the way up, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But because of the peer pressure (in my mind) I was able to climb faster and with less resting than I thought I was capable of.

Why Support Groups Work

This experience made me think of the value of support groups in a broader sense. When we belong to any type of support group, one of the functions is to bring everyone along at something of a similar pace.

It’s true that we do each have our own unique pace, but I think there is also value in pushing ourselves and not giving up too easily. When we see others doing it, waiting for us and assuming that we can do it, too, I think it pushes us to try harder.

Sometimes we avoid being part of a group because we think everyone else is more capable or competent at whatever it is than we are. I know this has been true for me at times. This experience helped me understand the value of being the laggard in the group sometimes.

If I had chosen to go up Arthur’s Seat with a group where I was one of the fittest members, I wouldn’t have pushed myself at all. In fact, I may have taken advantage of the lack of fitness of others to slack off.

Is there a group you might like to join but have hesitated because you feel you’d be the “laggard?” As long as the group is a supportive one, invested in the success of all members, you might want to think again. There is value in belonging to a group where most people are more capable than you are.

Thoughts? Please comment.


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