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Lessons From A Mountain (and a Cool Teacher)

January 28th, 2013 by

Recently, I was browsing through the “Stop Workplace DramaSki the Diamond” blog of my wise and talented friend, Marlene Chism.  She had written a post about a recent ski trip to Breckenridge in Colorado, and the wonderful lessons she had gleaned while on (and off) the slopes.  This post is wonderful in its insight… I recommend you read the whole thing here.

But, as all good posts do, it got me to thinking.

Thinking about the one huge lesson I learned from skiing – a lesson I seem to forget and remember and forget and remember over and over again.

And, now, as I’m faced with the challenges of launching new products, and, indeed, an entirely new business, I find that I need to re-learn this lesson all over again.

What Marlene’s article brought back for me was an experience from back in my college days- I took a “recreational” skiing class at the college I was attending in Santa Fe (had to meet the PE requirement for graduation!), and I was blessed to have an instructor who, not only was an expert skier, but also an upperclassman, Resident Advisor in our dorm, and all-around cool guy that pretty much everyone looked up to.

On our final “class”… after a few weeks of puttering around on the bunny hill and some intermediate stuff… he took us to the top of the mountain for our final exam. One hill was an intermediate – he said “go that way for a ‘C’ and I’ll meet you at the bottom. For those of you who would like an “A”, follow me to a Black Diamond.”

To make a long story short, no one (at least not any of us dormitory denizens) wanted to look bad in front of Mr. Cool- and so we headed to the precipice of the Black Diamond. And it did look just that way… like a precipice.  Steep.   SCARY steep.

And I’ll never forget what happened next. He told us that, in his opinion, we had all mastered everything we needed to get down the slope. All we needed to do was push off, plan a route two or three turns (moguls) in advance, get in the flow, and, above all, don’t panic. He said that panic is what puts people in the hospital.

And I’ll be darned if I didn’t ski my first Black Diamond that day. In fact I went back up and skied it two more times before the lifts closed. I had a ball. And, yes, I fell. I almost panicked once or twice. It took me nearly 40 minutes to get down the first time. But I was in the flow… exhilarated, thrilled… in the flow. And none of us (the 10 or so of us that challenged ourselves against that mountain that day) wound up in the hospital. We all had a blast.

And I can’t help be reminded that life is like that as well. Things we’ve never done look dangerous, daunting… impossible (if you’d asked me before that day if I’d ever consider skiing a Black Diamond, I’d have said NO WAY)… you know it will be thrilling and rewarding, but too scary to attempt.

But if you trust yourself to make that initial push-off… if you plan two or three moves at a time and don’t look all the way down the mountain… if you get in the rhythm and flow of the thing… and, above all, if you DON’T PANIC – there is really nothing that your heart desires that you can’t do.

Sure, you’ll fall down a time or two, your first run may take longer than you would like… but, what the heck. It’s a small price to pay for the reward that you receive.  And the reward is doubled – or more! – if you’re in the business of transforming the lives of the students in your charge.

Fall Seven Times, Stand Up Eight

True words