Imagine you’re standing at the top of a 10,000 foot mountain, struggling to see the bottom. The distance from where you are standing now, to the base, is frightening—from your mind’s eye, it’s way too steep and treacherous to safely get down. Now imagine that you’re standing at the base of the mountain looking up, getting ready for the climb. From this perspective, the trek seems even more insurmountable—you might even need gear in order to safely ascend the mountain.
Whenever my family begins to plan a ski trip out West, the seed of panic begins to grow within me. I feel sprouting roots grip my gut before the plane even takes off. The fight or flight response activates and I take flight by avoiding all thoughts of the mountain until I absolutely have to, until my boots are clipped into my skis. I dread the first run. I dread that first run because I sat in a gondola while staring down the whole mountain, seeing the entirety of what I have to ski to safely reach the parking lot.
I grew up on cross country skis. Since I can’t remember when I first skied, I must have been very young. The landscape of upstate New York provided hours and hours of cross country terrain. It was heavenly to anyone dedicated to fitness in the winter months. My legs moved swiftly to keep up with my six-foot-three father. And I thought I was so brave skiing down “steep” hills with my brother.
So when I married a downhill skier, I traded my cross country ski boots in for downhill ski boots. The transition had to be easy enough since I already felt coordinated and comfortable with skis clipped to my feet. Our first ski trip was out West. After a few lessons, I “graduated”’ out of all levels of classes in less than a day. I was ready to go out on my own. My first run might have looked like an Olympic skier going for the gold, but truthfully, I was out-of-control. My husband even had trouble catching up to me to yell, “turn more, where are your turns?!”
I made it down the mountain that day over a decade ago and have since made it down many more mountains, but that feeling of losing control has always stayed with me. Last month, we traveled to Jackson hole, WY, for another annual ski vacation. I knew I had to up my game if I wanted to ski with my family who often skis the most difficult terrain—the black diamonds. No longer does my youngest provide a buffer between me and the more advanced slopes.
The first run went as predicted because I already told myself how it would be: nerve-wracking. I knew I then had to make a pivotal decision: either quit skiing or quit feeding myself doubt. While making my way down a steep run with moguls, I started repeating “five feet at a time” to myself. And guess what? I made it down. And it was actually fun. With that mindset, I rode the Jackson Hole Ariel Tram, ascending over 4,000 vertical feet to the final 10,450 feet while crammed in with 99 other skiers, observing the heavily signposted sides that read: Expert Skiers Only. I exited out into blizzard like conditions where there was only ten feet of visibility. And guess what? I made it down without panicking, five feet at a time.
Upon returning, I realized that the “five feet at a time” mantra easily applies to manareas of life. We become overwhelmed, procrastinate, or even talk ourselves out of something because we’re looking at the mountain in front of us, we’re looking at something too zoomed out. I see my high schooler staring at his pile of books and tasks, overwhelmed from looking at everything all at once. Five feet at a time. If you begin with the first task in front of you, you’ll make it down, or more appropriately in this case, you will soar above that mountain.