Life’s Shortcuts: Lessons learned from a Sunday stroll through stinging nettle

nettleCutting corners in life can have painful results.

Whoever said two heads are better than one clearly weren’t thinking of me and my brother Nicholas. Individually, we could make sensible—even smart—choices. Together? Yeah, not so much.  As teenagers, we’d often hatch plans that seldom went smoothly, like the time we decided to embark on a two day hike up the Nine Mile River near our home in rural Southwestern Ontario.

One bright summer morning, we slung backpacks full of cans of brown beans, sleeping bags and a hatchet over our shoulders and started our mini-adventure. Our plan was simple enough: hike east along the banks of the river, make camp when it got dark, sleep under the stars and trek back the next day.

We put in a lot of miles the first day, sticking close to the edge of the river where the brush wasn’t as dense. Of course, following the meandering twists and turns of the river added considerable distance to our journey. Fed up with our winding inefficiency, we made the decision to cut through a large patch of thigh-high vegetation to avoid a particularly long, lazy bend in the river.

Botanically ignorant, we failed to realize those thigh-high plants were burning nettle. Burning nettle (AKA stinging nettle) is covered in tiny, barbed “hairs” whose tips come off when brushed against. These tips lodge themselves in your skin and release histamine and other chemicals, which in turn produces its signature dear-god-my-flesh-is-on-fire stinging sensation.

Wearing shorts didn’t help our situation. By the time we emerged from the nettle patch, we were howling and begging Mother Nature for mercy.

Our second attempt at shortcuttery occurred the next morning. Exhausted from our long hike the day before, Nicholas and I dreaded the winding hike back home. However, there was a more direct option. It involved cutting through the woods to the north and finding our way to Side Road 4 and following that home.

Great in theory. Soul-crushingly miserable in practice.

The trek north proved to be a far more formidable slog than we expected. More wall than woods, the dense and sharp brambles stymied us at every step. But through a combination of Martin stubbornness, brute strength and a desperate need for a shower, we hacked, pushed and bullied our way our of the valley. Very… very… s-l-o-w-l-y.

By the time we emerged on the other side we were bloodied and so exhausted I’d have laid down in a bed of burning nettle if it meant I could take a nap. But the 4th was still a couple farmers’ fields away so we pushed onward, wincing as the morning dew from the ankle-high bean crops stung the open wounds on our legs.

Moral of the story

sl-post-image31TV shows like American Idol and X Factor feed the fantasy of the overnight success. Meanwhile, living in the age where a webpage taking more than four seconds to load is cause for murderous rage we’ve come to expect immediate gratification, which further feeds our impatience.

But like hiking along the Nine Mile River, there are seldom shortcuts in life. Way more often than not, success involves hard work, perseverance, patience, discipline and yes, taking the long way home.


Funny stories. Good advice. Check out my books, “Simple(ton) Living: Lessons in balance from life’s absurd moments” and “Balancing Priorities and Prioritizing Balance.” Click here to learn more and to purchase a copy.

Josh is the creative force behind Badge of Awesome, where he noodles and doodles about life and the lessons learned from it. He's the author of Simply Blunderful and creator of The Overcoming Obstacles Toolkit.

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