When I was a sophomore in high school, my girlfriend, Sarah, tried to help me recover from a broken heart by passing me the sweetest note during math class. Between hearts and exclamation points, she encouraged me to move on from my longtime crush – who had chosen a sweet, beautiful, blond-haired, blue-eyed girl to be his steady instead of me. 

Sarah’s note asked: Are we going to be a champ or a chump?!?!?! 

There was only one answer.

There’s always only one answer.

Are you going to be a champ or a chump?

I was reminded of this question recently as I prepared for my first wilderness backpacking trip – a 3-day trek to Young Lakes in Yosemite National Park.

When Matthew and I committed to doing this trip three months ago, I was excited but also nervous.

Would I be strong enough to carry my fair share of the load?

Would I be able to handle the 1,400-foot elevation change during the 6.4-mile hike?

Could I survive without the usual luxuries I take for granted daily (like toilets and creamer for my tea)?

I wanted to be a champ (but not a fool), so I committed to getting into shape, knowing I had been more sedentary than usual during 2020.

And then shit happened. Challenging shit.

I injured my knee.

I woke up one day with vertigo.

Wildfires threatened the air quality in Yosemite.

I had trouble finding a backpack that fit my frame.

I couldn’t even find the one piece of thermal clothing I owned to help me keep warm during 21℉ nights.

Over and over, I wondered if I should back out. But I kept myself on track by continuing to ask Sarah’s question, “Are you going to be a champ or a chump?

And you know what? I choose to be a champ.

I went to physical therapy to strengthen my knee.

And I hired a personal trainer to guide me in strengthening my body.

I visualized clean air greeting us when we arrived in Yosemite.

I tried on every backpack REI offered (some of them twice) before finding one that fit.

And I replaced my missing thermal top with a new one and bought bottoms to match.

It all came together – the experience was incredible, even life-changing.

Writing my life stories has helped me see how many times I’ve let fear get in the way of doing something that called to me. I’ve chosen chump instead of champ too many times in the past and missed out on experiences and confidence-building opportunities.

The struggle is in remembering to ask ourselves the question. To recognize when we’re unconsciously choosing to be the chump. To remember we have a choice of how to react when life makes us feel chumpy.

I almost forgot I had a choice when, as a single mother, I didn’t get the promotion I thought I had in the bag and knew I deserved.

I almost forgot I had a choice after my third divorce, which also divorced me from the business my ex and I had operated together.

And almost forgot I had a choice when I realized how cold the nights would be up in Yosemite.

But I didn’t forget. And neither will you now that I’ve passed you this note. I hope you can feel all the hearts and exclamation points I’m sending along with it.

I can tell you the #1 thing that helps me remember to choose Team Champ is continuing to write my life stories. Reflecting on all the times I’ve made the right decision in the past reminds me to carry the practice forward into today.

Don’t let the teacher see you, but when you get a chance, pass a note back letting me know about a time you chose to be a champ. Maybe it’s even today!