Originally posted on Medium and republishing here:
Earlier this year, I got talked into going on a ski trip with my friends. I, who have never had real winter experience, much less have affinity for doing any winter-related sports actually agreed to go on a ski trip.
I was excited, of course. It’s a new experience. We were renting an amazing cabin up in the mountains. I also bought ski gear that I was excited to wear. Sure, they were from Decathlon. But they were new clothes and I’m definitely that kind of person.
I was also terrified. Skiing represented so many fears for me. Specifically the fear of falling and breaking a limb and looking like an idiot. And if I’m being honest, I’m more concerned about my bruised ego than my potential future bruised ass. At almost 35 years old, you would think my ego is no longer as fragile as it used to be — but nope.
But I was more excited than terrified so — I still geared up. Went to the slopes with my friends. And I got myself a trainer. And while I don’t think I got good enough to qualify for the next Winter Olympic Games in 2022, I learned other things apart from surviving in a pair of skis in those 2 days that I hit the slope.
Trying to look cool even though I could barely move an inch
On how I thought I was going to go home with broken limbs but didn’t.
Day 1 of Skiing. My trainer had a very hard time trying to get me to slide “down the slopes” (air-quotes because really it was mostly flat). Apparently, instead of assuming ski position — knees bent, upper body leaning forward, I kept trying to stand straight, and lean back. Presumably to slow down, or to completely stop. I didn’t even realize I was doing it.
I don’t really have a clear explanation for why my body kept unconsciously doing the opposite of what I was consciously trying to get it to do. But I do remember what was going through my head the entire time:
I’m going to die. My legs are going to get the best of me, I’ll hit something, and then I’ll my break my neck. And die.
Every time I tried to “ski down”, I kept screaming for help. Really. At some point my trainer had to do the equivalent of sitting me down, except we remained standing — and told me:
You’re going to just have accept that you’re supposed to go down, and you’re supposed to go fast. The more you fight it, the more you’ll end up on your ass. And no, you’re not going to break your neck and die.
Unfortunately, those words from my trainer didn’t unlock the inner Olympian inside of me. They were inspiring, alright. And true. I went to the slopes to learn how to ski, but I was also stopping myself from doing so. But this wasn’t the movies wherein some well-crafted speech would be all that I needed to be excellent at everything.
I still couldn’t ski and I was almost convinced I never will be able to.
Day 2 of Skiing. The next day, I went back to the slopes. For all my fears of looking like an idiot, and despite the obvious protestations of my body, I also had my pride preventing me from quitting. Also everybody else was going, and while my pride was convincing, my FOMO was even more so.
I took another trainer and off we went. But this time, I felt less afraid.
I actually skied. And I felt less resistance in my body, and even went higher up the training slope. And every time I skied down, I tried to do it faster each time. Until eventually, I found myself being able to go off on my own. Without needing the trainer to be right beside me to make sure she can catch me at any time. I also didn’t scream for help. Not once!
Obviously, I didn’t die.
At first I thought it was just because it wasn’t my first time. I skied before. And so, I had “experience”. But it wasn’t just that.
Here lies the difference. Day 1 Ski Instructor was so focused on getting me to “ski”. No matter what it took. He skied beside me. He even skied backwards holding my ski poles practically pulling me along. And provided me with as much pep talk as possible. But nothing could take away the fear from my heart that I was going to fall down face first and never get up ever again.
Day 2 Ski Instructor. After asking me how the previous day went, she focused on one thing for the first half of the session. She focused on teaching me how to stop. She focused on making me feel like I have control of my body. That I can go when I want. I can go fast or go slow. And more importantly, I can stop when I want. She made me feel comfortable to just go.
And apparently, that’s what my brain needed. I needed to be comfortable with what I knew. Before I could manage to unlock my knees and just GO.
Next stop, Winter Olympics 2022
On how skiing is apparently my new metaphor for life and career and all that
Lately my conversations about my career development has been around the themes of:
taking the next step
having bigger impact
becoming a leader
But these 3 things paralyze me. I have no idea what they mean. Much less have any idea on how to even start. At least that’s what I thought.
Funny. Give me a challenge regarding a product, about reaching an objective, or anything similar — I’m game. I can do it. I know my tool kit. Which means I know how to start. Even when the challenge is as vague as vague can get. But when the challenge is myself — I get stuck.
And that’s precisely my problem (broken down into 2 parts).
Problem #1. I wait for challenges to be given to me. I’m great at them, “the challenges”. I pass with flying colors. Often times I succeed. And when I don’t, I learn. But I wait for the challenges to be given to me, just the same.
At first I thought it was just a complete lack of vision; and that I just don’t have the skill to spot those challenges or opportunities. Which would have been an easier pill to swallow.
But I do. Between this sentence and the next, I could already think of a few opportunities that I’ve seen without being told that they were there. The problem is I just didn’t take them.
My manager and I talked about this and we’ve called it “asking for permission”. Permission in the form of “validation that it’s a good opportunity.” Permission in the form of “acknowledgement that I can do it”. Permission to go ahead. Which often times I don’t get because I also have the debilitating problem of “not asking for something” (a problem I’ve worked on already).
Which brings us to Problem #2. I don’t acknowledge my super powers enough. I don’t have faith in my own strengths and I focus too much instead, on what I think I am lacking. Which leads me to believe that I’m just not ready (for whatever it is) because I have a long list of things I think I’m not good at.
Which justifies my feeling of “if it’s not being handed to me, then I’m not equipped to handle it”.
So I wait. Until I feel that I’ve tested my super powers enough times. Until I feel that I’m more comfortable with using them out in the untested waters outside of my comfort zone. My comfort zone being the space that I have gotten permission to play around in.
And sometimes waiting — is a long time.
In the end, what it all just means is that — I just don’t trust myself enough to be able to handle whatever it is that’s waiting for me on the other side of all of the opportunities that I’m passing up just because I waited.
Meanwhile, in real life, expectations of me are growing. That I’m already in the position to start contributing more to my organization by spotting those opportunities not just for myself but for us in our organization, so that in the end, we are creating more value.
Instead, here I am, still stuck in my lane. Still fighting with myself about what I think I can or cannot do.
Sure I’m still great at the things I really know I can do. But because I don’t move beyond that — what’s really happening is that
I’m not sharpening new skills because I’m not actively giving them the chance to be used
Which is counter intuitive to my need to test my skills enough times to be comfortable with them.
So which came first? The chicken or the egg?
In a perpetual state of existential crisis
And I realized it’s just like me and skiing. I couldn’t go down that slope. Regardless of how flat it really is. Or how I have somebody to catch me or help me up if I fall. Even if I already knew what to do. Because I needed to feel comfortable first. Because I needed the time to feel that I actually know what I’m doing to be able to control my situation. And for skiing, it took me 2 days to do that.
For my career? Multiply those days by a big number.
In the end I’m still able to do things. And I’m still able to grow and have my wins. But I just can’t help but imagine what adventures I could be having now with my career if I just took a deep breath, buckled my knees, trusted myself more, and just let go.
A mentor once told me that we all grow into the people we’re supposed to be in different ways, with different timings. I guess today (as in when I first started writing this) — is my turn