“Fear tells us what we have to do.” — Steven Pressfield
For most of us, trying and attempting new things is usually scary and intimidating. It’s uncomfortable, sometimes awkward, and maybe even a little embarrassing.
Over the past few years, I’ve had some experience in the arena of “new.” I taught English in Thailand for a few months, from November 2014 to February 2015. Some weeks were difficult and exhausting, and sometimes I wondered what the heck I was doing and why I was doing it. But I did it. I conquered my personal self-doubt and internal sense of incompetence.
My most recent experience is being a part-time children’s ski school instructor here in Big Sky, MT. Somehow (as it usually goes with me), I sort of “fell” into it, and before I knew it, took the job back in November of last year. The thing is, I hadn’t skied in at least 15 years, maybe more. I got a free pair of skis with bindings and a cheap pair of boots at Goodwill and hit an easy green run the first week the resort was open. I was pretty bad my first day or two, and basically felt like an idiot; and I don’t know about you, but I absolutely hate being bad at something and looking like a “gaper” (the term often used for newbies or just lamely dressed skiers or boarders; or according to Urban Dictionary, “a skiier or snowboarder who is completely clueless”). I only had a few days on the mountain to brush up my skiing before a week of ski school training.
I got a little better during my week of training, seeing some steady improvement, although being around a bunch of solid, experienced skiers made me feel more than a little out of my element. But I made it through.
My first three lessons were over New Years amidst the holiday rush after returning from a trip home to PA. I was pretty nervous; in new [work] situations I often feel apprehensive and insecure. But I survived, although not without a few battle scars. Crying 4 and 5 year olds sobbing, “I want my mommy” or “I’m cold/hot” or “I can’t ski” is quite difficult to handle at times. Also, picking up your four kids dozens of times during a lesson is very physically taxing.
All that being said, the thing about trying new things you’re not good at — putting yourself through all the discomfort and grinding through personal fears — has its rewards. If you don’t go through the hard part of learning and trying and improving, you’ll miss out on all the opportunities that accompany the process.
Like being able to speak encouraging words over a ski school student all day, whether they’re doing good, or not so good, which is such an important part of a child’s emotional development, and which builds their self-confidence. I love this anonymous quote I found concerning affirmation: A word of encouragement during a failure is worth more than an hour of praise after success.
Like having a little 4 year old girl go from crying on the carpet lift to laughing as she follows you down the bunny hill on her skis, just having a blast. Like teaching a brother and sister from scratch, both of whom have never put on a ski, to go confidently down a green run by the end of the day, and love it at that. Like making new friendships with other ski instructors, whom I otherwise would never have met.
Like earlier this week, hanging out with an 8 year old kid, talking about his meditation class at school and how he believes in God. Telling him, “Next time you meditate, pray to God.” And, “I believe in God too. I believe he hears us when we talk to him. I believe he loves us, and that he’s a good God.” This conversation never would have happened if I wasn’t a ski instructor in Big Sky this winter.
Like a few days ago, teaching a 7 year old from Tennessee, and a 10 year old from Georgia, first time skiers. Hearing them say, “This is so much fun! Let’s do that again!” by the end of the day after making it down green runs for the first time; it somehow made my heart feel bigger and dampened the increasing weariness that accompanied five full days in a row of teaching. Their smiles, effort, and enthusiasm brought me such great joy.
As I was walking back to my car, my 10 year old student was walking in front of me with her family. When I said her name, she turned around and smiled; as she said, “Hi!” she came up to me and gave me a hug. It wasn’t until the moment after, when I said goodbye and walked on ahead, that I realized how much that small gesture, that brief hug from my wonderful student, filled my heart with so much affection and appreciation. It was such a small, seemingly insignificant moment, but left with me such a profound impression. I felt so blessed, my heart so full. These moments make all the bad days worth it, all the hard work rewarding. Pushing through personal doubts and insecurities has been worthwhile. Here I am. I’m doing it.
I remember that it’s only been a few months since I learned how to ski again myself, and think back to the thoughts of incompetency and doubt — “Why the heck am I doing this? What’s the point? Is it really worth it?” Like most people, I want to be comfortable. Being challenged to try something new that I’m not very good at forces me right out of that comfort in which I naturally want to remain.
All of these small experiences and brief encounters, they never would have happened if I hadn’t taken small steps into new and often uncomfortable and stretching territory. I don’t know how in the world I ended up here as a children’s ski school instructor this winter. Some mornings I wake up and I simply don’t want to go in and teach. As an introvert, it’s tiring, some days down right exhausting. On certain days, especially at the beginning of the season, I honestly didn’t like it all that much. But it’s what I signed up for, so I do it; and now I like it a lot more.
Even though the same position we find ourselves in may come easily and without discomfort to many others, we may have to face fears and apprehensions of our own that others won’t (which is why we can’t make comparisons). And by doing that, day in and day out, it’s a small, personal victory, one day at a time.