About a year ago, I got an unexpectedly powerful confidence boost while on an alpine hiking trip.

I don’t know what I was thinking going on a five-day “detoxification” mountain retreat — I typically resist being in nature for lengthy stretches of time and avoid any form of contact with khaki pants that unzip into shorts.

The B.C. location was beautiful, but the schedule was brutal: Up at 5:30 a.m. Yoga at 6. After lunch, a tough four- to five-hour hike. At 8 p.m., a spin class. Wi-Fi was shut down at bedtime, and food, though delicious, was limited to a measly 900 calories a day. I was ravenous and irritable among a group of excited health fanatics happy to drink herbal tea or a caffeine-free coffee substitute (made with hickory) that did not taste anything like coffee. “But it smells like it!” said a sprightly woman beside me at breakfast. Every night, I listened to my stomach rumble and dreamed of hitchhiking back to the comfort of the city lights.

The last day was the hardest: a long hike, all uphill. I dejectedly wrapped my blistered feet and packed my snack of two small plums and an ounce of cheese. At the rest stop a third of the way up, I paused and set down my 30-pound backpack, sweat dripping into my eyes and my legs shaky from the strain. “I quit,” I said to my hickory-drinking hiking mate who was doing lunges beside me to stay warmed up. “I can’t get up this hill. It’s impossible. I swear on Starbucks, I just can’t do it.” But when our guide started us up again and encouraged me to try to go farther, I did. And somehow I kept climbing even though I wanted to cry. When we reached the summit, the picturesque scene — a tranquil sapphire-hued alpine lake surrounded by towering hemlock and cedar trees — was stunning. So, too, was the recognition that I had made it through one of the hardest physical experiences of my life. As I swatted away a swarm of thirsty mosquitoes, I realized that I was stronger than I thought. If I could do this impossibly hard thing, I could do anything. A year later, that belief is still there. No matter what challenge is in front of me, I think “Girl, you hiked over bear droppings carrying a backpack that wasn’t even Chanel. You got this.”

And that brings me to this month’s theme: “Love yourself.” Self-love (the belief that you are valuable and worthy) and self-confidence (the belief that you can handle any test and rely on yourself) are inextricably linked. So many of the incredible women we spoke to for in Your Guide to Self-Love told us that their self-esteem was driven by taking risks or facing their fears and the confidence that came afterwards. I guarantee that their advice will help you feel more empowered — no hike in the mountains required.



Vanessa Craft

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This article originally appeared in the February 2018 issue of ELLE Canada.