how to beat despondency, keeping spirits high and liquid meditation

Interview with Hetty Key

Is there a particular discipline or habit in your life that you hold dear or that helps you to be your best self?


As a perfectionist who is terrible at saying no, I think I’m always trying to figure out how to be my ‘best self’ and am definitely not there yet. There have been many iterations, versions and failed attempts! However that being said, I’ve picked up a few things along the way that help keep me on track, especially when life gets busy or stressful.

The main habit I’m trying to instill into life is listening to yourself. I think we can all think of situations we have offered excellent advice to others but not taken it ourselves. Spending time to at least identify how you are feeling and the reasons you might feel like that is invaluable. It doesn't mean you have to do anything - acting upon it is another thing - but at least acknowledge it.


After this, and perhaps a little more tangible, is writing stuff down. I’m a sucker for a good notebook, it really helps me contain and condense my thoughts. Whatever format your brain works with - lists, doodles, mind maps (mine varies), I’m a firm believer in trying to put the contents of my head down on paper. It just makes everything feel more manageable.


This summer you completed a stunningly beautiful- and challenging- bikepacking trip in Slovenia. Can you briefly depict a particularly high spirits moment on this trip?


Slovenia was incredible - I fell in love with the country and will definitely be going back. I can’t recommend it enough. My favourite moment had to be on the third day riding through the Triglav National Park. We’d been cycling up this rutted and remote forest track for hours. To start it was a rideable gradient, but it just got steeper and steeper. Soon I was pushing my bike, which, when loaded up with all my stuff, felt about as useful as a shopping trolly with no wheels! It was also intermittently raining - not a light drizzle that cools you down on hot climbs, short but torrential downpours.


As the forest track opened up to steep alpine meadows and rocky trails there seemed to be no obvious sign of the uphill struggle lessening. However, just at the point I was about to lose my cool with everything and have a proper ‘hill rant’ we reached the ridgeline. At the same moment, the cloud cleared, and the sun came out to reveal a stunning 360° view of the mountain range. The next hour was incredible - fueled on adrenaline and the last few Haribo, we tentatively traversed the ridge before dropping back into the woods to find water and set up camp.


Are the Women in Adventure 2017 survey results finalized on establishing direct correlations between mental well being and the outdoors? What is one unexpected observation or trend you have noticed in this survey study so far?


The results of the 2017 survey are being finalised at the moment with the aim of releasing them in January 2019 - you will be able to find them on the Women in Adventure website. It’s taken a while to get to this point as I was blown away with the number of responses the survey got and I felt really strongly I wanted to do this justice.

As for what surprised me, I don’t want to dive into the results before they are out, you'll have to wait! But what I hadn’t expected was to have so many amazing women choosing to share their stories and personal accounts. I’ve read each and every one - it was truly humbling.


You also work for Rab: I’m assuming it’s good business to test out your own company gear on adventure missions. How does it differ from other gear companies and what is your favourite piece?


Absolutely! I’m a self-confessed gear-geek so having the chance to wear or test our products is one of my favourite aspects of the job. I also love working alongside the Design and Garment Technology Team as I get to pester them with all my gear questions and thoughts - they are very patient!


When it comes to what makes Rab unique, I think it’s the people - despite being a rapidly growing international company, there is a real sense of community. Everyone is passionate about what they do, and I think that shows in the product. Right down to the angle of a zip or position of a puller, it’s the little things that make a big difference. We describe our clothing and equipment as ‘honest and hardworking’ - I think this sums us up well.


Choosing a favourite piece is hard as I’m always fascinated by the new and exciting! However, if I had to it would probably be my trusty Microlight Alpine Jacket. It was the first ‘proper outdoors jacket’ I ever brought so I’ve had it for years (pre-Rab). I know I could easily upgrade as it’s looking a little tired, but it’s still fully functional and has too many memories to part with.

What is something you learned in your childhood that has stuck with you?


Growing up I was very lucky, I was brought up to believe if you wanted to do something and set your mind to it, it could be achieved. As an adult, I realise this is not maybe true all the time; however it instilled a good ethos in me of not giving up when the going gets tough.


When I was a teenager, my mother was diagnosed with a brain tumour and my father with Parkinson's. It was life-changing for all of us - amongst other things I was suddenly faced with the harsh reality my parents were not invincible. But the way they faced the various challenges illnesses threw in our path was inspirational. It made me realise you have to seize the moment and strive for what you believe in. It might be hard, but you're tougher than you think.


Reflecting back on that now, if you look at most things I’ve attempted in the past few years, I don’t think success has come down to talent or natural ability, it’s endurance and perseverance - obviously combined with an element of luck and good timing.



You do a great job of discussing adventure malaise in your blog titled “It’s Okay (not to be okay).” Often times, we find ourselves resistant or unmotivated to seek new adventure. There are times when we need to check in with ourselves and listen to our intuition. But there are also times when our minds play tricks on us- telling us we shouldn’t do something when we are simply uncomfortable or afraid. Often, these can feel the same. How do you know the difference between times when you’re simply not up for the task or times when you are afraid and should push forward?


It’s important to recognize that it’s not as black and white as ‘stop’ or ‘go’. When you’re in a situation like the one you describe, it can feel like you only have two options; however, there are so many more. My advice would be before you do anything, pause and assess. Yes, you could go forward, or bail, but is there another option? Is there a step you can take to make going forward easier? Do you need to upskill and come back? Is there a ‘sideways’ option?


Social media can make it feel like everyone is successful on their first attempt. It doesn’t show the tears, training and experience behind big (and little adventures) so try not to give yourself a hard time, however you feel. I think deep down you’ll know what the right thing to do is, so trust your instinct.


What is one unlikely or luxury item you try to pack with you on any travels outdoors?


This is an easy question! My luxury item is always my Kindle - it comes with me on every adventure. I like to read books linked to what I am doing at the time as it really inspires me when the going gets tough. Then my unlikely item would be an appropriately oversized block of cheese… I love cheese!


If you had to make your polar plunge sunrise swim club a metaphor for your life in some way, how would you link the two? What have you learned from your recent discipline in morning cold water swimming?


My morning swims (dips!) are like pressing the reset button in my mind. No matter how much I have going on, I find they level and calm me in a way I can’t quite describe.

Cold water swimming has taught me that there is always time for adventure. I took it up during a difficult period in my life when I had a lot going on and was very pressed for time. At the time, I felt like I didn’t have the energy to run, bike or climb, but badly needed the headspace it gave me. The cold water made it simple. I just had to get in - that was it - I couldn’t over complicate it. As a very driven person who sets goals in every area of my life, I find it’s extremely valuable to have a hobby without a point or purpose.


If you could go back in time and give advice to your twenty-year-old self, what would you tell her?


I’m a little torn on this (as it sounds cheesy) but I feel that all the mistakes and choices I’ve made have built who I am now. That being said, I would tell my younger-self to place less weight on the opinion of others. I spent too much time worrying about what everyone would think of me and if I ‘fit in’. I think I’m potentially still guilty of this, but I try to make sure it doesn’t stop me from doing anything or giving things a go.


You are a very accomplished athlete: What have you done most recently where you have surprised yourself?


I’m not sure I would say I’m accomplished, more a jack of all trades master of none!

Recently I’ve been trying to see how much fun I can have from my own doorstep around a very busy work schedule. The other night I jumped off the train a stop early and cycled the remaining 20 miles off-road across the Peak District in the dark. I was about half an hour in, pedalling through dense woodland totally alone when I remembered I’m scared of the dark! I was so surprised I’d not noticed this until then. After a brief panic I concluded I’d been calm up until that point so could maybe just continue that!


If you had to name one thing in your life that holds you back from embodying the most optimal version of yourself, what would it be and how do you battle it?


This is a hard question and one that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. On some level, there are many things that I could let hold me back - comparison, fear, time, saying yes to everything! However, if I had to focus on one, it would be confidence. As I progress and do more, it’s easy to feel like an impostor or fraud in both my adventure and work.


I’m still learning how to battle this, and it’s very much work in progress. Step one is trying to listen more - it’s easy to hone in on the negative however paying attention to everything that is said gives a far more accurate assessment of where you’re at. Then step two is backing yourself and take a logical approach when working out what you are capable of. Identify and act on your weaknesses but also remember to celebrate and champion your strengths. As for the rest … I’ll have to let you know when I’ve worked it out!