I spent the past few days in Aspen with my son, Shiloh, and some family friends. When the idea for a family ski trip with some of our closest friends was suggested I was immediately all in. I’m a skier. I grew up in Colorado and spent much of my young life in the Rocky Mountains. I remember college days when, as a student advisor, I would drive oversized University-owned vans with 11 other students to mountain retreats.
I drove through those mountain passes without a care in the world. Later, as an early career professional, I would take off the occasional Wednesday or Thursday to avoid weekend travelers driving through the Eisenhower Tunnel and up the snowy and windy mountain pass. These days were always so calming. It was me communing with nature, filled with awe by the grandness of the peaks around me. I would spend an entire day skiing alone, happy in the solitude. Since moving away in my early 20s, I go back to Colorado every year to ski. And now Shiloh, 11, has become an amazing snowboarder. He is so at home in the mountains, and his love of speed reminds me of a younger (and more talented) version of myself.
Though I was excited about this trip, I also approached it with some hesitation; something has changed. Two years ago, I remembering coming off a ski lift in Beaver Creek, CO, looking down the hill and experiencing a wave of fear run through me. In all my years in the mountains, I had never felt this sensation. Perhaps the sight of Shiloh on his snowboard got in my head—him zooming past me, seeing how fast he was going, his close proximity to trees and unmarked cliffs. Whatever happened in that moment was paralyzing. My body locked with fear. My breathing became shallow. My heart began to pump faster. My mind could not reason with the other senses that I now desperately needed to get down the mountain. Unfortunately, I still haven’t shaken it. I came down the mountain that day, but it was difficult, slow and terrifying. Driving on the windy mountain road back to my father’s house, a 1.5-hour drive for all the years before, took me over six. Even now when I’m driving in Florida and need to cross a bridge that propels me into the sky and angles to cross a busy highway below, I am filled with fear to the point of near meltdown.
I still can’t make sense of it. Why in the world would I develop a fear of something that I’ve never before been afraid of; something that has never even presented the slightest concern before now? I haven’t yet figured out an explanation, but when my friends suggested a ski trip, I knew the answer had to be yes. I knew that I needed to get back up on the proverbial horse. So, I did. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great. I didn’t feel the sense of awe and enjoyment from days past. But Shiloh did. He and 9-year old Jet enjoyed the beauty of nature, the hospitality of Colorado mountain folks, and pushed each other to get better. I gave Evelyn a few ski lessons. Thomas won the best-dressed contest. Overall, the trip was a huge success, but for different reasons than my criteria from the past.
I guess that’s how it is for a lot of things in life, right? As we grow, add to our experiences, go through ups and downs, our lenses change. What’s important, exhilarating or rewarding at one point in life may not continue to be so over time or as circumstances change. That’s what it means to be human; we are constantly learning, adapting. As our environments change, our skill level changes, expectations of us shift, we must dig in deep and find the energy to continue to grow. Growth-promoting experiences can be unnerving for adults. We likely spend much of our time navigating already familiar environments, being recognized for our proficiency. Learning, on the other hand, requires being vulnerable, potentially exposed as lacking proficiency or afraid. For me, having a simple and structured framework for building confidence helps make new experiences, or familiar experiences that are becoming more complicated, more approachable.
Check out this video with more about the importance of continuing to build confidence and competence.
Building confidence and enhancing competence are essential elements of the human experience. Embrace them. Find others to support you in your efforts. Please know that we are always here to help you on your path to developing your confidence and competence as leaders in an ever- and fast-changing environment.
You’ve got this,