It’s Olympic season. Time for some epic wins, and some epic fails.
Watching these beautiful, beautiful people accomplish amazing feats, as well as the occasional falls that are also part of the game, reminds me of my own days going down the ski hills.
Spoiler alert : this is not the story of an Olympic athlete.
I started skiing when I was about eight. I can’t say I have fond memories of it. It was okay. I remember how afraid I was of losing control, which lead me to go down in a pretty safe manner. Like Grandma passing me by manner. Not much fun.
I mostly forgot all about it, except for this one evening. My whole family was there, grandparents included. We got to the top of that slope. Actually, I don’t think you can even call it a slope. Let’s call it a pitch. All I could see was the dark sky full of stars. As I stand there, I knew this was going to be the end. There was no way I could go down, I could not even see the next turn I would be able to take. I had to go down in the unknown, and I was so scared. After minutes and minutes of resisting, I went in reluctantly, crying all the way. Like a baby. Once down, no way I was ever going to try something like this again.
Navigating tight turns
Of course, I went again. But it was never fun, until I discovered snowboard.
Now, that was something. At first, I was as careful as when I was skiing, going down with the beginner trick, the pendulum. However, eventually, with the help of a really patient friend, I discovered how to make turns.
Once you got it, there is no going back. The thing with snowboard, compared to skiing, is that there is no way you can do the gesture in half. When skiing, you can always slow yourself down, and take your time. When you snowboard, if you want to make turns, you can’t hold back. You’ve got to go all in. Actually, the only way to stay in control is to surrender and become one with your board.
Just like in ski, there were also times when I got down the chairlift and engaged into a slope, only to stop at the top, regretting my choice. However, instead of going in afraid, I carved into the snow and the ice, moving through fear. Once you let go of resistance, once you stop apprehending whatever’s coming up next, fully in the present moment, it actually becomes exhilarating. The feeling on those rides is something I remember as one of the best moments of my life.
Fears of the daily mundane
Same context, different approach. Tony Robbins says that most skiiers and snowboarders will always stay intermediate, never daring to approach that double-black-diamonds. If they ever get close to it, they will probably stumble their way through, like I did when I was skiing, afraid of dying. Those who will decide to go all in, those are the ones who will eventually become athletes, pros, masters.
What applies on the mountain also applies anywhere else in your life. As everything about him, Tony’s example is a bit extreme. Of course, when confronted to some real potential hurt, fear is totally normal. When you’re about to go downhill, especially if you don’t feel like a pro snowboarder and you get on a way too steep one, the risk of falling and breaking some bone is real. You’ve seen them on TV as much as I did, nobody wants to go through that.
What interests me the most is that we often find ourselves confronted to that same feeling of fear when really, there is no danger.
I’m talking about fear of discomfort. Fear being alone. Fear of being judged.
What do we do when we start feeling that icky pressure in our chest? We try to avoid it as much as possible. On top of the hill, we don’t know how we gonna make it. We can’t carefully plan our path. So we kind of go in, but not really, mostly getting stuck in our head, thinking, thinking, thinking all the way through. Numbing ourselves with food, exercise, Netflix, alcohol or drugs. The fear is humongous, we are not present. Even if we do get to the bottom of the slope, it’s as if nothing happened. We didn’t grow.
I encourage you to do what’s counterintuitive. Do not resist the fear : embrace it. Learn to listen to that scared voice inside, completely acknowledging her. Then become one with it. Integrate it to your experience, instead of pushing it aside. Morph it into something else. As Robert Heller says so beautifully, “fear is excitement without breath”.
There is a typo in your internal code
Once you discovered that there is no need to be afraid, everything becomes more exciting. Especially when we are not talking about huge mountains and little to no-equipment to prevent injuries. Our daily life becomes that wild adventure we were looking for.
How come we were not there all along? When we are confronted to our inner fears, the ego is often the one trying to save us from some pain. I am telling you : this pain is not real. It does not exist anywhere else but in your mind. Whatever might happen cannot hurt you if you choose to not let it.
Once you accept to show the good and the bad, the real and the raw, once you accept that you are all of that, no one can hurt you. Once you become vulnerable, your vulnerability becomes your strength, as you are the one bringing your shadow to the light. No one can blackmail you anymore. There is nothing to blackmail you about, because you have made the decision that there is nothing about you you need to be ashamed of.
Funny how we all think we are not good enough. As Martha Beck would put it, there is a typo in our internal code. Once we discover that we are perfect just the way we are, as long as we try our best and speak our truth, there is no hiding anymore. Now correct that typo, and show me your raw self. I want it all, just like with the Olympics. Yes, we love the epic wins, but what we love the most is those tears, the pain, the efforts, the perseverance that brought the athletes to the top, and eventually down, the hill. Remember, it’s all for fun. Going up, and down, up, and down. It is after all called the Olympic games.