Learning How to Descend a Mountain: Skiing as a Metaphor for Life

Climbing is easy.

Looking upwards at the sky.

Descending is hard.

The Ego is the Enemy is the book I’m reading now, recommended by my friend Sam several months ago and one that I’m ready for now. This is not a book review because I haven’t finished reading the book yet, and it is something I believe that every person can think about reading if they want to at some point in the future.

What I’m here to do is to download all of my thoughts from skiing yesterday. First, skiing is hard. Second, skiing as a beginner destroys your ego. Skiing is like jiu jitsu because it looks easy, you can learn a little bit of it, but it is incredibly hard and actually impossible to master. This much I suspect whether it is day one or day one thousand on the slopes. The turning is incredibly counterintuitive, and you have to accept that you will go faster before you can slow down. You have to stay on edge; adjust your weight; move in certain ways, in order to adapt to the ever-shifting terrain.

There’s a life lesson in there somewhere.

The haiku above describes what my experience of skiing is, and indeed, of life. I think that there were certain challenges to me that I didn’t expect, not with all my balance and mobility work in the months leading up to this trip, or with my other fears around people in positions of power. And the entire time my ski instructor was telling me not to be frustrated, I kept on denying that was true, only to accept it finally that I had hit yet another rock bottom in terms of how I felt with regards to my ability to do well.

I always want success to come early and often. I am impatient; people describe me as ambitious. I used to feel somewhat flattered when they told me this, but I think ambition left unchecked and unmanaged can drive me to depths that I did not think I would be able to handle.

I was arrogant, yes, coming into the day of skiing, and I love it. I love it because I exercised confidence and a desire to protect myself and was promptly taught the lesson that I am human like everyone else; that is, I cannot fight certain laws of the universe like gravity. And probably the idea that expectations are only ideas that cannot be made into reality, or can become so only at a great cost. In this sense, skiing was a hard lesson for me, to remind me that I’m a beginner, but that I can also improve. Skiing for the first time yesterday awoke and then promptly crushed the achiever in me, because honestly, it can be hard to achieve anything when it’s only your first day, or year. Or maybe, some would say, your first lifetime.

I am unimportant and important at the same time when I stand next to the mountain. And when I sit on the chair lift and climb it, I feel like I can be above it, even if for a brief moment. But it is the act of descending down that mountain, of having both the freedom and the fear that comes with that freedom overtake me, is something that I have experienced over and over again. And I learn each time. I get better. Descending the mountain will always have a rush of adrenaline course through me, and I will always have to pay attention to my judgment. But part of what my ski instructor said is that you must practice and you must feel. You must keep your head up, your eyes forward, and your chin up if you expect to see what is in front of you at all.

In all of my aspirations and in all of my sorrow, I know that the terrain is ever shifting and limitless. There will always be new mountains to conquer and valleys in which I will fall.


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