I took up skiing later in life…once I was already indoctrinated in the legal school of risk aversion. At this point, for better or worse, it is second nature for me to think through all of the things that could possibly go wrong or present challenges and develop solutions for the event that they do, as well as proactive measures to avoid or mitigate issues.
When balancing risk, I like to weigh the probability and the magnitude. How likely is the thing of concern and how serious is it if it happens?
The trouble with skiing is, there are an infinite number of things that could quite possibly go wrong and, if they do, carry very serious consequences. Additionally, many of those things happen to relate to major fears of mine – heights, death and bodily injury, losing control…
Yet, at the same time, skiing offers the opportunity to be immersed in nature and to bask in the awe of the sublime. To feel the exhilaration of speed, exertion and performance. Spending days active, with loved ones, doing things you can’t quite believe are even possible.
For me, it’s very much love/hate. Or, probably more apt to say, love/fear. I can’t wait to go and I am so relieved when it’s over. And then, I can’t wait to go back and do it all again.
Just like the love/fear dichotomy, I find that there are two distinct and contrasting states of skiing. One is embodied by that invigorating feeling when you are present in the moment, flowing turn by turn down the mountain like a sparkling stream in the springtime. The other is that vise-like grip of anxiety when the enormity of the mountain takes over. That feeling of getting out over your skis and losing your center. Everything clenching, trying to wrestle back control with sheer will and might. Maybe you pull yourself back from the edge but it still feels like the angles and edges are coming faster and faster, those patches of ice scraping and throwing you off-kilter. Maybe you tumble down and, when you go to stand again, your legs are shaking and your mind is spinning, telling you that you can’t do it after all.
What is interesting to me is that you can be in both of these states on the very same mountain. On the very same run. There can be spaciousness and flow. Or there can be stuckness and dread. There can be rhythm and balance. Or there can be spinning out and overwhelm. The difference lies in your mindset.
Not only that, the mindset you choose (or allow) builds upon itself. It starts to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. You get to the point where you start cursing the mountain (or yourself), or you are gripped entirely by terror, and suddenly everything seems to go wrong. It snowballs… Because, of course, that next turn that feels unsteady and out of control reinforces the idea that you are out of control and can’t do this. So, maybe then you go to force the next turn early, to slow yourself down, only to hit a bumpy patch, anxiety and confirmation building with every panicked move.
I have come to realize that this phenomenon is not unique to skiing. In fact, all aspects of life can be like this. It is why I believe mindset work is so important and has the power to unlock so much. What if we could believe we can do it? What if we could quiet the fear? What if we could choose to be brave? What if we could trust ourselves and our natural path? And the mountain, however breathtaking? What if the hardest run, the steepest incline, the most treacherous terrain could feel like flow?
It’s inevitable… If we are pushing ourselves, stepping into what is calling, some days we will get out over our skis. We will wobble. The important thing is to bring ourselves back to center when we do.