09/08/2014 01:57 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Finding Our Solo Vigils

For many of the last 10 summers or so, one of my sons went on a two-week hike in the Olympics. First Nick, then Sam the last few summers, I think Ben was always too busy playing baseball. Sam is the one with a beige shirt, he got back a few weeks ago, including having taken a 24-hour solo vigil at Toleak Point.

It makes us parents a little nervous -- from sunrise to sunrise, each young man has a sleeping bag, water, one match, and they are spaced a mile apart on the beach (yes, guides keep an eye on them). At the core is making this challenge a part of the hiking journey, each has to be with their thoughts and find within themselves what they need for those 24 hours.

So why make it hard when it could just be another day of hiking along our awesome Washington coast? Because that's when we learn about ourselves, what we are made of. It's when we truly grow and become better, stronger people, i.e. when we make it through a hard challenge in life. It's through crucibles in life that our character is formed and we become more resilient for the next challenge.

When it comes to your philanthropy and civic engagement, I hope you will seek out your own solo vigil, push yourself in your community to places where it's hard, and you will be challenged .... where you have just a "sleeping bag, water, and a match." This work many of us do -- philanthropy, strategic volunteering, etc -- is meant to be joyful, for sure. But it shouldn't always be easy, happy and without the same challenges that we all experience in our professional and personal lives.

You don't become better and stronger in life without solo vigils along the way. We've learned to celebrate entrepreneurs who fall and get back up, well we should. We need to do the same in this work of philanthropy. Why? Because it's in those hard places where the real work is happening in a community.

If you don't get into a social cause deeply enough for it to hurt, to feel uncomfortable, then you ultimately aren't going to affect real change. In life, the challenges and hardships come at us, whether we want them to or not. In philanthropy, we have to go find our "solo vigils," seek them out. They are out there, and there is immense personal growth and social change along the trail, but you gotta take the hike to go find it.