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  • Rob Kenning

Tough & Worried: Self-Perceptions of an Expedition Leader

Updated: Oct 13, 2019

Looking at my CV I’m thinking you’re thinking “tough guy” - Expedition Leader, Mountain Rescue, National Park Ranger, Ironman athlete. I have a beard, prefer Marston’s over a Merlot; country over classical. I grew up learning to use a chainsaw, chopping wood and reading SAS books.



You may think I’m resilient because as an Expedition Leader, I’ve spent more than a decade taking people through unfamiliar environments across 5 continents. I have climbed Kilimanjaro 6 times, spent 100 nights in the jungle, and canoed across Belize. I have gone 4 months without electricity, been stuck behind Himalayan landslides for 24 hours, and evacuated people into helicopters after snake bites (that’s another blog btw).




You may think I am determined because I completed one of the hardest Ironman triathlon courses in the world – that’s a big swim in the sea, a very long bike ride and marathon to round off 13-hours of continues competitive exercise…if you don’t finish it in 17 hours you can’t even call yourself an “Ironman”. I enjoyed it – I was grinning all the way and chatting to people as I went. Oh and by the way I couldn’t do 1 length of front crawl in a pool 6 months beforehand, and it wasn’t even my dream to do it in the first place...



You will perhaps think I’m courageous when at 21 years old I drove a Fiat Panda from Devon to Mongolia – that’s over 8000 miles through a lot of places many British people will not be familiar with when they retire - Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, St Petersburg, Moscow, the Kazak desert, Almaty, Siberia, Lake Baikal, the Mongolian Steppe, and Ulaanbaatar – I was 21…while university peers were working in bars and supermarkets, experimenting with illegal substances or playing inter-mural football I was accidently driving through police check points in Russia and being made aware of that fact when a policeman pulls me over and cocks his gun.


So pretty clear… TOUGH. RESILIENT. DETERMINED. COURAGEOUS…well at least I hope that’s what you’re thinking…


During my Barefoot coaching training course, we were shown a model from Ditzler (2006) showing 3 conceptions of the self – who I am, who I’m afraid I am, who I pretend to be. So far I have been discussing the outside circle – who I pretend to be.




Model from Ditzler 2006


So now lets look at the second circle of Ditzler’s model - who I’m afraid I am…

Before my coaching experience I felt fragile. When I spoke to you I needed you to show you like me – smile at me, be interested, laugh at my joke, be interested in me. I need your reassurance that I’m valued and I won’t be the last one left on the PE bench when it comes to picking teams.


I think I am a worrier. I worry that I don’t achieve enough in my day – that I don’t cross off enough to call myself ‘productive’ or ‘organised’. I worry that I am not ‘ambitious enough’ to run my own business, or ‘good enough’ to write a blog post - can you imagine what people will think if I write a half-cocked piece on such an intimate topic? I stay up until 3am worrying over ‘this font’ on ‘that slide’ the day before a presentation.


I think I am timid. I’ll happily entertain the team on an expedition or the crowds by the dance floor of a wedding, but if you ask me to do my Mrs Doubtfire impression (“Hellooo my dear”) or play guitar in public I will likely shy away from the chance and then kick myself later for not being brave.


I think I am weak. I cried on my Duke of Edinburgh Gold expedition because the tent felt so alien to me and I missed my home and my family.


Perhaps the truth – the central circle of ‘Who I am’ is that I am all these things and none of them. I am a whole human. I am changeable. At 35 years old this self-reflection is a gift. Life is a never-ending journey, far richer than any one single presentation, or wedding dance floor, or lofty mountain view. What a privilege it is to be alive.

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