Skiing as a Parallel for Professional Life

As I peruse my old articles I keep coming up with things I wrote in 2002-2003 and reminisce about where I came from.  I have often told people about this article that I wrote about taking the professional plunge, but it had been lost until recently.  I hope you enjoy it! -M

<March 31, 2003> On a recent trip to the Rocky Mountains I took the opportunity to do some skiing. Although I was not a beginner, my confidence had been completely shattered because of past runs. However by enlisting the help of an instructor and sticking to the beginner ‘Green Dot’ trails, I shone all morning. Although the runs I was sticking to were not particularly challenging, they were comfortable. Okay, maybe nobody would take notice of me and I was not going to get any better as a skier, but at least I knew that at the end of the day I would make it home safe. The scenery was all the same, and since I was skiing close to the bottom of the hill I did not have the spectacular views that I would have had from the summit… but I was safe, and that’s what counted.

As I tore down the bunny hill, I started thinking of the similarities to my professional life. I have been a computer professional for most of my adult life, and it seems that I am pretty good at it. When I was younger I owned my own consulting firm, and though my clients were mostly pleased with my work, I was a poor manager, and probably not very reliable. I was young and foolish, and thought I knew everything – and I was too proud to ask for help. My business closed, and ever since, I was always happy working for others. One has less chance of really getting ahead, and they say that you can never get rich working for someone else. As the network administrator of a company I would never have the chance to shine, but I always knew that on every second Thursday there was a paycheque waiting for me. Meager though it may be I am safe. I always know where my next meal is coming from, and that is what counts; right?

After lunch I grew brave, and boarded the chairlift to the summit from which there were no Green Dot trails in sight. It matters little that I was invited to ski with an attractive young lady and did not want to show her my fears – the fact is that when I disembarked from the chair, I was looking down from eight thousand feet and the view was magnificent. There really is little in my experience to compare to viewing the Rocky Mountains from high atop one of its peaks. When I skied over to the edge, I looked down and lost my nerve… again. I was looking down at a hard Blue Square to Black Diamond slope, and every memory of the traumatic experience that made me lose my confidence in the first place rushed to the fore… and I froze. My brave exterior was shaking, and my insides were fighting to regain my composure.

It was not too late to go back. I could just climb back to the chairlift and ride to the bottom. I might not look brave to my companion, but I would be safe. I could return to the bunny slopes, and forget my worries. I looked up to see the beauty once more, and tried to convince myself that it looked just like it had from the Green Dot slopes. How much different could it be?

Over the past few years I have had several opportunities to leave the safety of my job and venture out on my own, but I was always worried about the consequences. I was afraid of failing, of falling on my face. Most of all, I was afraid of the unknown and the lack of control that came when you took your fate in your own hands. Would I survive? Could I make it on my own? Did I stand a chance of thriving in the real world on my own?

I thought back to before that fateful experience. I used to ski the slopes like a champion. As I always tell my clients and colleagues alike it is crucial to always know where your limits are. Pushing your limits can be exhilarating. Breaking blindly through them can be disastrous. One wrong turn over a year ago had shattered my confidence completely. I would never be the skier that I had been once.

I thought back to the private consulting I had done. My clients were always pleased with me, and so many of them had suggested I could do well at it – if only I did not have to limit my consulting to evenings and week-ends. I am at the point where my word-of-mouth referrals are so plentiful that I am turning business away. I am often reminded of the times before the nineteen-year-old I once was ruined my business. I was good with computers, but was limited by my lack of business savvy and management skills. Since then I have grown somewhat and nothing moves boundaries like experience. Yes I failed once, but with the lessons learned, history need not repeat itself.

I took one last look at the mountain vista before me, and then turned back to my now impatient friend. I gave her a big ‘thumbs up,’ and with adrenaline pumping through my veins I pushed myself over the edge. Though I was a little shaky at first I did not fall, and within minutes my legs had remembered how it had felt once to be a really good skier. By the end of the next day I was throwing myself off the mountain with the eager anticipation of a child at Christmas… not knowing what was around the next bend, but knowing that whatever it was would be exciting.

My once shattered confidence has returned, and my consulting practice is reborn. In hoping to keep them as a client, I gave my soon to be former employers two months notice, so that I can properly train them to stand on their own without the instructor always holding their poles. After all, I had built their network; shaped their mountain… I realize that I am the ski instructor on this Blue Square trail that my employers are facing, and though I will be there to offer support when they need it, they too no longer need me to hold their hand all the way to the bottom… just to offer them the occasional tweaking when the snow gets too icy and needs grooming.

I may not always know what looms around the next corner anymore, but I know two things are certain: Firstly it will be exciting, and secondly, I can now control my own destiny. It is certainly not for everyone… but I know that the bunny trails are behind me.


3 responses to “Skiing as a Parallel for Professional Life”

  1. […] It is a bold and brave decision, one that I made several years ago (read my archived article Skiing as a Parallel for Professional Life).  He asked what advice I could offer him, and I told him that I would jot down a few thoughts […]

  2. Mitch, I am sitting here, with tears in my eyes, really touched by your words. Thank you for reminding me of the kind of professional life that I had until just a few years ago. For a variety of reasons, I have been having to tunnel under to reach a bigger aspiration. Thank you for reinforcing the internal flame of hope that I have been carrying with me. Thank you for putting into words *exactly* how I feel about the activity that claims so much of our waking time. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with the bunny slopes if one is truly satisfied with it. But for those who desire more – life is way too short to let fear of the unknown get in the way of a dream. So, thank you.

    1. Claudia it is always so touching to hear replies like that, especially to articles that I wrote so long ago and from people I like and respect like you. Thank you for taking the time! -M

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