Throughout my teens and twenties I had an on and off relationship with a complicated man. It was not a smooth ride for us. We were not meant to be forever partners, however we did form a deep bond and a life long friendship. He was a huge part of my life. Knowing him was formulative. I learned a lot about my character through knowing him. I grew, became more worldly, more wise and more self aware.
It may sound a little silly, but one of the biggest gifts that came out of that rocky relationship was snow boarding. Once a dedicated “ski bunny” my friend (then boyfriend) coaxed me into trying to ride and once I did I never went back. Riding took me out to Whistler Blackcolm where I spent a season teaching young riders. Of course my friend had to visit me there and while visiting we rode some very steep and scary terrain together.
After having lived and worked on the mountain for a while I had become skilled enough to manage steep hills, but I lacked confidence. I would habitually pull back and, in doing so, fall. The last morning of his visit he decided we should ride the “Couloir Extreme”. I agreed…though I have NO idea why.
After quietly observing me on a couple other steeps, allowing me to try my own way a number of times, he reminded me that I had the technique and I knew how to use my edges. “Yup” I nodded. When we arrived at the top of the Couloir I sat staring down the hill like it was a dragon I was tasked to slay. He assured me I was strong enough to pop the turns.”Yup” I said again. I believed him and felt strong enough. I also knew if I was going to do this I would have to pop every single turn. There’s no other way down. You pop or tumble.
He looked at me for a long time. I starred back. My heart pounding, my stomach churning. A visual in my mind of tumbing rag doll style down this practically sheer drop. Landing in a crumpled broken heep at the bottom. Death…or worse… humiliation! (My attitude has changed since then 😉 )
“Are you scared?” He asked. His lip curled a little, he knew I wouldn’t want to admit it.
“I want to puke” I confessed.
“You don’t have to do it.”
“I WANT to do it.”
“Then you need to lean in and commit to it. You can’t pull back.”
He was right. I knew he was right. If you want to ride steeps you need your weight over your board and your edge dug into the hill.
If I’m being honest I think it was borrowed confidence that took me over the lip. I dropped in and from that moment until I hit the base I mumbled out loud to myself “commit, pop, pop, pop!” Over and over and over. It was by far one of the most thrilling, reckless and satisfying few minutes of my life. From that moment “commit to it became my mantra”. Every hill, anything I wanted to take on.
I went on to become a very aggressive and confident rider which granted me many unique adventures. I developed a sense of identity by becoming proficient in my sport and the opportunities that came of it. More importantly I learned to lean in and commit.
In the summer of 2019 I recieved an unexpected call. Only two days after our last conversation my friend died. I can not express the depth of shock and grief that gripped me. The sense of loss, not just of a friend but a piece of myself. He was a huge part of my life, a cherished connection abd a linknto my past. He was a person who made me feel more confident because of his confidence in me. There was personal sadness, sadness for his family, sadness for the future I knew he had been building and wouldn’t get to enjoy. Sudden waves of grief knocked the breath out of my lungs over and over for days and months. Still somedays when I go for my evening walk I have to fight the impulse to call him as I often would have in the past, to check in, ask advise, reminisce.
What I wish most of all is that I could have told him how often his on hill advise has come up in my personal life and professionally as a social worker. I think he would have been touched by knowing how many people have been helped by that simple wisdom. “Lean in and commit”. He was never one to talk much about feelings. In fact he always kind of got a kick…(and some annoyance lol) at how much I loved and valued “all the feelings stuff”. He was more of the mysterious type. He was also deeply caring and kind.
There are so many times in life when we fear what faces us. Times we want to pull away. In pulling away we fall. We retreat from the things we need to do most. Maybe we avoid a hard conversation, avoid a medical appointment, delay a phone call or paperwork. Maybe we avoid a person, or a place or a task. We pull back when we need to lean in. When that happens we sit, shaking and afraid, frustrated even angry. We sit, often knowing what needs to be done but not quite getting there. We sit, with missed opportunities. Staring the dragon in the face.
“COMMIT TO IT”
That’s the key isn’t it? Make the decision and stick to it. Weigh the pros and cons, decide what has value, what you want. Understand what needs to be done then make the move and keep going. Aim your sights in the direction you want to go and keep going. Commit. The voices of fear and doubt can be there. Just drown them out with your own voice of determination. If you want this, get it done!
So many of us let go too soon. We fool ourselves into believing that hard is impossible, scary is too scary. We downplay our abilities and reject the discomfort of unknown or unfavorable outcomes. We worry, “What if I fail?What if a fall?”.
What if we never try? What if we spend our lives pulling back and letting go of goals? That’s not a question I want to learn the answer to. That seems more frightening than anything else I have or have yet to face. It’s okay to be afraid and uncertain…but you gotta’ lean in and commit.
So many times I have told this story or used those words. Every time I have a little mental image. My rosey cheeked friend standing on the side of a beautiful mountain, a twinkle in his eye, a smile on his face and some of the best advise I have ever had.
“LEAN IN and COMMIT to it “
The gift that keeps on giving.