The black-clad Bedouin, standing in front of her trailside tea shop, was annoyingly insistent: “You need a guide! You need a guide! You need a guide!” She must have repeated herself at least a dozen times. The three of us kept on replying, “La shukran! (no thank-you) We don’t need a guide!” The trail up the Jordanian hillside looked well-trod and easy to navigate. We thought to ourselves, “She’s just another huckster, out to make a quick buck off of the tourists.” Long after we’d passed by her tea-tent, she yelled after us, “YOU NEED A GUIDE!”
A few hundred yards later, the trail quickly faded into scrub brush and stone. We had no idea which way to go…but we weren’t going back the way we came. No way we were going by that maddening Bedouin. No way we were going to hang our heads in shame and admit that we needed a guide. It was unthinkable. We had no choice but to press on, even if we had no idea where we were going. We scrambled up a ridgeline to get a better view. There was nothing but endless boulders, ravines, and dusty mountains without a sign of life. Like the ancient Israelites, we were wandering in the wilderness.
After wasting a few minutes pondering our predicament, we discovered a dirt track that seemed to head in the right direction. We followed it past a small flock of untethered sheep. Around the bend and down a hill, we spied an old Toyota pickup randomly parked near the tent of a desert trader. After buying a few bottles of water, we checked out the amazing views. The traders’ tent was perched high up on a ridge. We could see for miles. We could even see the town from which we’d started our trek …miles away and hours ago. Now we knew we could get there! We didn’t need a guide after all! We were right: we could do it ourselves!
Bolstered with self-assurance, we set off on a steep trail that snaked down the mountain toward the Treasury of Petra. We were making good progress – until we ran into a problem. The trail passed over a narrow rock ledge just a couple of feet wide. On one side was a solid wall of granite. The other side was a sheer cliff, that dropped 30 or 40 feet straight down. One of my colleagues suggested that we should cautiously crawl across the ledge. I wasn’t a fan of risking my life on that narrow ledge. Neither was my other colleague. I suggested an alternate route that would have us shimmying down the slope between two tightly packed granite towers. Neither of my friends were fans of getting permanently sandwiched between the rocks. Cooler heads prevailed. In defeat and humiliation, we turned around and began making our way back up the mountain.
As we plodded along, we were haunted by the thought of having to pass by the maddening Bedouin woman. The last thing we wanted to hear was “I told you so… You need a guide!” As we passed by the traders’ tent, the old Toyota pickup caught our eye. That was it…we could avoid the Bedouin woman entirely if we could convince the desert trader to drive us out of the mountains in his pickup.
It took some fierce negotiation, but about 40 minutes later and $40 lighter, the three of us were bouncing out of the desert in the dusty bed of an ancient Hi-lux. It worked. No need to pass the maddening Bedouin. No need to shamefully admit that we were wrong. No need for a guide. We did it ourselves (more or less).
As I’ve cheerfully reflected on the amusing adventure with my friends, some deeper thoughts have drifted across my mind. Thoughts like these: Why is it so hard for me to welcome advice from others? Why am I so inclined to think that I can do it myself? Why do I have such a hard time admitting when I’m wrong? Why am I so independent?
Truth is…I need a guide. Every leader needs a guide. Who’s yours?