Four years ago, I tore my ACL while skiing. It was a long road of aggravating self-doubt to get me back to where I am today. The mental fisticuffs that went on after the accident was a complete parallel to life. What I learned through getting over my fear of skiing translated directly to getting over my fear of life. Let’s examine the metaphor, you guys!
The Fundamentals of Skiing
(1) To state the obvious, skiing is a controlled fall. The challenge is to be the one in control of the fall and that requires you to push beyond what is comfortable. It feels safer to lean back to be closer to the mountain and the solid ground you know so well. But doing that gives the mountain control, not you. Instead, you have to completely ignore your comfort zone; you have to lean away from the mountain and into the fall.
(2) Staring directly in front of your skis, another basic human instinct, doesn’t work either. You do this because you want to know what you’re about to encounter. But if you stare at the tips of your skis, your body tenses up to react to every tiny undulation coming at you. You won’t be planning where you want to go, preparing for the obstacles, or seeing the big picture — you’ll be relegated to always being reactive. As soon as you lift your head up, your body relaxes, those tiny undulations aren’t significant anymore and you roll right over them. You have to look down the mountain and into your future to take charge of your path.
(3) The final piece is knowing that you have everything you need. Trust that your legs and your equipment can handle the obstacles as they come. Know that your muscles are strong and trained to carry you through the bumps. Know that your equipment is designed and fitted specifically for you to handle the terrain. They are more than capable, but you have to believe in them. Relax your legs, let your skis run, and allow them to do what they are meant to do.
When you have these fundamentals down, your likelihood of a humiliating yard sale scenario (illustrated below) is far diminished.
Sucks to be those guys.
The Fundamentals of the Fight
For three years following my accident, skiing and I fought, and everyday skiing won. I was terrified, leaning back, staring directly in front of my skis, with nothing to stabilize me. I was so scared of falling that I micromanaged every turn, knuckles white, smile fake, toenails continuously falling off. I did not have any fun — like none. Yet I kept skiing, determined to get over this gigantic fear and crippling self-doubt.
Then one day everything changed. This was the day I gave in. I was so tired of insecurity and micromanaging and overthinking. I was done with fear and felt utterly drunk (I wasn’t, not a single sip of delicious mountain whiskey!). I had an out of body view where I finally saw what I was doing. The words: “What are you so scared of??” screamed at me.
And for the first time since the accident I relaxed and let myself, my legs, and my skis go. My whole body loosened, even my vision, and instinctively I leaned forward. My core showed up to hold me steady and I knew without a doubt that I had everything I needed.
Surprise, surprise, that was the best ski day of my life — even prior to the accident.
Driving home that day, I thought about what changed and I realized that I wasn’t afraid to fall anymore. Obviously I’m not into being concussed, but avoiding a fall was no longer my main focus and once I let go of fear, I regained control. I saw that falling can be a good thing. Falling means I’m trying, I’m reaching, I’m pushing.
Since then, skiing and I have become buddies again. We still have our setbacks but I know how to regain control. I know that if I don’t take control; the mountain, gravity, and inertia will. I would still get down the mountain, but I wouldn’t really be skiing, I would just be falling.
The Fundamentals of Life
To really ski, you have to lean forward, widen your perspective, know that you have everything you need, and then just let go. What else can be said for life in general? If you live your life through fear, you won’t be driving. If you are so afraid to fall that you don’t push your boundaries, life will just happen to you. If you don’t look into the future, you can’t plan or dream. If you think you don’t have everything you need, you won’t have everything you need. If you lack a belief in yourself, any setback will take you to the ground. Because above all, if you don’t control your life, someone else will.
So there you have it: you can learn everything you need to know about life from skiing. Well, except for solving the Pollock octahedral numbers conjecture, that you have to learn the advanced additive number theory. But maybe skiing has an answer for that too…
Things They Forgot to Mention:
Skiing well, like living well, requires you to know you have everything you need, you’ve always had everything you need, so relax and just drive.
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