Steph Jagger is a badass. And not just because she skied 4 million vertical feet in a year, broke a world record, is Canadian, and wrote the poignant and hilarious book Unbound. Steph Jagger is also a spiritual gangster—someone who had the courage to take herself on and share that journey with the world through her writing.
Jagger’s 10-month tour de force around the world in search of vert also led to an internal journey that distinctly altered the course of her life. I was fortunate enough to get a chance to virtually “sit down” with her and pick her brain about Unbound, travel, resilience, and how to create the life you want for yourself.
Carolyn Highland: You talk about receiving the “You’re crazy” response a lot when preparing for your trip, and say that this is actually a cue to move forward. Could you talk about that a little more?
Steph Jagger: I’ve come to understand that it’s a cue to move forward– the first handful of times it happened to me, I think it used to make me go like “Am I crazy?” but now I take it as a sign of that I’m interpreting it as an opportunity that they’re not seeing. I think when it comes to the things that we’re called to do, I think of the Hero’s Journey. The whole cycle of the hero’s journey starts with this idea of boredom and discontent. Examples of that can be seen in all of our mythology and all of our storytelling—they start with discontent, and something happens that is absurd.
I think given what I understand now about adventure and our calls to adventure, adventure being very subjective, I think what I’ve come to understand about that is that the calls do have a slight absurdity. We aren’t able to understand right away when we get them, how they’re supposed to happen and all the ingredients…that’s why they’re called adventures. Because if we knew all those things, how boring would that be? So I’ve come to understand that when other people say, “that’s crazy,” that’s almost a challenge in and of itself for me to ask myself what about it isn’t crazy. Even with myself, when I hear a calling come in about something, I even say “that’s crazy” and when I hear myself saying that, I think ohh. Here we go again. We’re going to end up doing that because what a challenge, to figure out how this is all going to work.
CH: How did you handle those people who were still telling you “you’re crazy” even after you’d decided you were going to do it anyway?
SJ: I think I had a bit of a track record leading up to this, I’d done a bit of traveling on my own to a bunch of places in Africa, so I think at that point in my life I was getting a “That’s crazy” response, but I was also getting a “But she’s probably going to do it anyway.” So even though people were saying it’s crazy, they weren’t saying I couldn’t or shouldn’t do it. The other thing I do to combat that type of reaction is that I don’t tell people in advance. I have a lot of conviction and faith in those callings now, and so I typically don’t tell people until I’m much further down the road.
CH: You say that, “true resilience is found in our ability to get up and create space for a message we may not want to hear.” Do you have any advice for creating that space?
SJ: For me, like a lot of other female athletes and outdoor enthusiasts, we’re pretty driven. My suggestion would be to slow down. If I had slowed down enough when I was in New Zealand and really listened, would I have understood more about what was going on? Probably. I think asking questions…What is this? Why am I here? What’s making all of this go wrong? Is there something I’m not paying attention to? When I see shit starting to hit the fan, I say wait, pause for a second…is there something I’m supposed to be learning here that I’m not?
CH: Do you feel like your experience during your trip lead you to becoming a coach or did you have that thought in your head prior to that year?
SJ: I was in consulting and PR and marketing before I went on the trip, so when I moved to San Diego, I had to reinvent. I was in a different country and I had to come up with a job and everything. I reflected on the consulting work that I did and it didn’t make sense to go back to that because it wasn’t really fulfilling me anyway. And I thought, well this makes sense, because I’ve just been through a journey where I realized that I didn’t have all the answers, and even though I may have expertise in some areas—the difference in my mind between consulting, which is I’m an expert and I have answers for you, and coaching which is, you are the expert of yourself and I have tools and tips and techniques to help find the answers with you, but I certainly don’t know them, but I’m willing to walk into the wilderness with you and figure this out—that felt so much better to me.
CH: In Chris’s email to you in Chapter 11, he says that he “has a strong sense of purpose in his life about being FULLY who he is” and this is one of the main things you grapple with in the book. This is something that is really difficult for a lot of people. Can you speak to how to embrace the parts of yourself that you may initially want to reject?
SJ: It’s so complex, because it really depends on how that person is rejecting that part and why. It really depends on what I call the payoff. We do things for a reason. We’re smart creatures. As an example, the rejection of the feminine inside myself from a young age, and the use of “I am not enough” and fear to motivate myself toward the masculine idea—that worked pretty well. I accomplished a lot of things. There was a big payoff for me. So the first thing I would ask is, what’s the payoff? Sometimes the payoff is ego, sometimes the payoff is I learned to reject that because I saw my sister get tormented by my parents for it when I was younger, or in school I was praised for my ability to be an artist so I rejected everything else…etcetera. So you have to ask yourself, is that the payoff you want to continue to have? If not, what is the payoff you do want? What do you want in your life?
The other thing about the parts of us that are a bit hard to accept is that it’s a double-edged sword. This would be an example: a young woman who is scolded her whole life for being too loud and ends up rejecting that part of herself and thinking she’s too much for people—in her adult years you kind of realize no, no, no, honey, that’s a skill you’ve got that barely anyone else has. So how can you use that, how can you bring that out? So we see the knife edge of it, but we don’t always think about how that could be a useful skill for us going forward.
CH: Traveling alone for many women is super daunting. This is not something you touch on heavily in the book. Did you struggle with this at all traveling alone for such an extended period of time?
I think it’s a must. I think it should be a mandatory part of our experience as women. When I finished university, I had a tiny bit of money left over, and my parents were taking a trip to Europe and they suggested I should go traveling and join them. So I did that—I booked a trip to my own on Europe backpacking and then met up with my parents. That kind of got the travel bugs going, and I continued to take other trips, with people and on my own throughout my twenties. So by the time I did the ski trip, that kind of traveling on my own wasn’t terribly new.
I think the world is both an amazing and very safe place, and I think the world can also be a very dangerous place for women, or anyone. It requires common sense. But from a risk standpoint, there’s as much risk getting in a car and going down a snowy highway or going with a bunch of friends into the backcountry as there is hopping over to Ireland for two weeks of solo travel. So I think you need to take the risks into account and think about what else is risky all around us.
I also think common sense is huge. When I go to a new place, especially if its not an English speaking country, I usually like to book my first night’s stay in advance, and possibly transportation from the airport, so that I know if I’m arriving in West Africa at this airport I’ve never been to, where everything is in a language I don’t speak, that all I have to do is look for someone with a sign with my name on it, and go to a hotel. I can observe once I’m in the car, and once I get my bearings, and understand where I am, I can take it from there.
The other tip is just common sense things. So there’s two options for a bus to the station in the middle of nowhere Argentina. Do you book the bus that arrives at 11:18pm and the next one leaves at 3 in the morning? Or do you book the one that gets in at 8am and the one that leaves at 10 in the morning?
CH: How did your adventure become a book? Did you have a sense at the outset that this was something you would write about?
I didn’t know I was going to break a record, I didn’t know I was going to write a book, I didn’t know I was going to meet Chris, I didn’t know a lot of things. As soon as I finished the trip, people started asking if I was going to write a book it, and I was like no, why? That’s crazy. And then Chris started saying this could be a book, and he booked us into a writer’s workshop one weekend. I kept hearing the same thing, this calling that’s coming and I keep going that’s absurd, I don’t know how to write a book.
It just kept coming and coming, and finally I just said yes. I think the tipping point for me was that Chris found a woman in San Diego who takes people through story arcs. So I talked it out and she drew the story arc. Her advice was, “Please make this draft literally the shittiest thing you’ve ever written because that’s the only way you’re going to end up with a first draft.” So that’s what I did. I’m such a big believer now that when you really say yes to a commitment, things will unfold that will literally blow your mind. So for me to get an agent was, dare I say, easy. Which it’s not, but there was some kismet, some magic involved with it. And I think that’s what comes in to support us when we say yes to these adventures. I tackled it with the same mentality as the ski trip. You don’t just write, “Write a book” in your day planner. “Ski 4 million feet today.” You have to break it down.
Here’s my advice when it comes to publishing. I would say, don’t listen to all the people who are going to tell you that’s crazy, that’s never going to happen, it’s really hard to get an agent, and it’s really hard to get a book deal. Those things are true, but if you listen to all of it without saying, “I don’t know how, but I think it’s going to happen,” then…If I had listened to any of those people really seriously, I never would have written a book. I think there’s truth to the percentages of how many books make it in the world, and people let you know that to protect you from getting your hopes up, but like, get your hopes up. Put your book into the world with energy that someone, somewhere is looking for this.
CH: This was a huge goal that you had. Do you feel called to do anything else right now, any big projects coming up?
SJ: This a good example of what’s changed for me from before the trip to know. Before the trip, I would have been able to list off all of these things on my bucket list, but now it’s very different. There’s two things on my bucket list: am I listening for what it is I’m called to do? And the second thing is, do I have the courage to say yes when I hear it?
CH: You meet Chris kind of in the middle of your transformation—you’re still figuring a lot of things out about who you are. There are so many opinions out there about that you have to be fully formed before you’re ready to meet your person, or if you’re vibrating at a lower frequency you’ll attract someone at that frequency. Can you talk about the state of personal development you were in when you met and how that affected your relationship?
SJ: When we’re vibrating at a low frequency, we’re not going to attract the best people into our lives, whether it’s partners, friends, colleagues, etcetera. I mean, this is a never-ending continual process. Before I left on the trip, as I was doing my workouts and planning things, I used to say to myself, and not even really knowing what it would mean, that I had to be my most powerful self. This trip is going to require me to be my most powerful self. I also remember thinking it’s going to be like an iceberg, I’m going to get on it, and only when I get on it will I really know what it means.
Maybe I wasn’t in that most powerful self, but I was making a declaration to myself, I’m going there. And somewhere along that rise, in the midst of that intention, along he came. And I think the same thing for him. He was pretty “evolved” already but he was working on things as well and wanting to shift frequencies. And I think we both caught each other on that “here I am, making a really intentional declaration of what I want in my life.” Do I have it yet, have I made it yet? Maybe not, but I’m going there. And I think that’s the energy that is so attractive to people. I think when we’re making intentions about moving into that space, and when we have that kind of energy, you can see it in people. You can see it in people who are beginning to self-actualize. It’s a really exciting kind of energy to be around. Here’s the thing too, no matter how high or low you are in the frequencies, I think the kind of energy that draws people in is the energy that’s moving.