“Busy Is a Bullshit Word”: How 16 Days Rafting the Grand Canyon Changed a Life

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How do you escape the disorienting world of always being busy yet never appreciating your life? For Angie Stegall and her husband Nelson, they took a forced vacation that turned into an epic adventure.

Here’s her story:

We weren’t happy, Nelson and me. With each other, yes—but with our lives, not so much. Our busy lives were lived in a city we felt very “meh” about. So when we had the chance to check off an item on Nelson’s bucket list—rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon—for 16 days, we decided to do whatever it took to go.

As it turns out, that white-water journey changed the trajectory of our lives.

When we pushed off from Lee’s Ferry, a few tears accompanied Nelson’s huge smile. I, on the other hand, was terrified. This was the biggest thing I’d ever undertaken: I’d never been on such a long trip, and I’d never slept outside under the stars.

Every time Nelson had shown me a video of raft carnage in Lava Rapids (a Class 10 rapid — the biggest, gnarliest rapid you’ll find in the US — that we’d be going down), my fear grew even more. Still, I’d agreed to go. Scared or not, we were doing it.


Out in the canyon, we were forced to slow down. Nelson and I had time for really deep conversations about life, the universe, and everything. And we were able to admit our life needed a major overhaul. We wanted to love our life, and the key thing we were missing was the mental room to do that.

Since that trip, we’ve rented out our house and moved to the mountains of North Carolina. We’ve always worked for ourselves, but now our clients know we are unavailable over the weekends (starting at 2pm every Friday) and that we’re prone to taking off on long trips.

Here are a few life-hacks and thought-twists, all rooted from our time in the Grand Canyon, that have helped us start living a life we love.


14 seconds is all you really need to get over your fears.

Just before one enormous, roaring rapid, Nelson came back after scouting it looking pale and pinched. All he said to me was, “Don’t fall out of the boat.” I began to cry quietly as we approached that first set of big rapids. The terror and the tears continued even as Nelson successfully navigated us through them—upright and alive.

And then something remarkable happened. In order to stop focusing on the terror, I started counting. Running most big rapids took all of 14 seconds.

Fourteen seconds of fear. That was it.

Fourteen seconds of being scared shitless but doing it anyway.

And just like that, my fears became smaller, more manageable.

Get back in control of your devices: unpush and unplug.

Most of the requests for our time and energy come to us over email, text, or social media. All that communication doesn’t just stress us out; it’s also distracting. Down deep in the canyon, we couldn’t have plugged in even if we wanted to, and it was a gift to have a forced respite from our phones.

When we returned home, we turned off all push notifications, dings, buzzes, and visual alerts. This way, we are able to make the choice to engage thoughtfully with our devices, instead of those devices interrupting us continuously with their artificial urgency and neediness. This allows us to have boundaries and be more present in each moment.

Busy is a bullshit word.

While navigating the rapids, we had to be furiously focused. We did what we had to do in the moment, from navigating a tough rapid to setting up camp to prepping and serving meals. I wouldn’t call the fast, furious, focused time “busy,” though. We were purposeful, engaged, and in tune with our surroundings.

We might not have been available to help each other at a particular moment, because we were engaged in some other task, but no one was “busy just to be busy.” By refusing to allow ourselves to be busy for the sake of busy-ness, Nelson and I are now able to be honest, forthright, and specific with the people in our lives—and ourselves.


You can’t have it all (and that’s a good thing).

The idea of not knowing it all, reading it all, keeping it all, doing it all, having it all, or being it all was never made clearer to us than on this expedition. There simply wasn’t room for everything we might have wanted to bring. We couldn’t do all the side trips available or read everything about the canyon before we left. And we certainly couldn’t “be it all” out there.

Figuring out what to let go of is a life-saving and sanity-retaining skill. Our culture tells us to say “yes!” to everything or we’ll miss out. Now that I give myself permission to stop saying “yes” to everything, I have room for more things I love in my life.

Learn more about Angie at her website, and follow her on Twitter @angiemstegall


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