Gary Gems – January Ski and Contrition Edition
Sometimes we learn life’s lessons in the funniest of ways and in the oddest of places. I learned one of mine on a ski hill – and I learned it the hard way.
Interest piqued? Here’s a hint: “Plan your work and then work your plan”?
You may be surprised to know that January was my favourite month as a kid growing up in Montreal. The biggest reason was that I belonged to a family of avid Alpine skiers and January meant we could finally hit the slopes. The technology didn’t exist yet to make artificial snow so December was hit and miss for planning ski trips. But January was a month of a different colour – and that colour was white – as in “winter wonderland” white.
January never failed us. Every weekend the hills were alive with the sound of “swooshing”. Every weekday dinner conversation revolved around negotiations to decide where we would ski that upcoming Saturday and then Sunday. We would never argue about what we would be doing, only where we would be doing it. We’d ski everywhere; the Laurentians, the Eastern Townships, Vermont and Mont Ste-Anne, which is located just outside Quebec City.
My father was very competitive. Whether it was running hurdles, managing a business, or skiing downhill, he had to win. My mother was no pushover either; she carried the Olympic Torch at the Montreal 1976 games. This was the environment I grew up in. This apple didn’t fall far from that family tree.
So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we lived to outdo each other, whether on the bunny hill as toddlers or later, on the intermediate and then the expert trails! My dad took to skiing like a duck to water so our ability to keep up with him, let alone beat him down the slopes, was a dream at first, then an obsession.
Back to “Plan your work and then work your plan.”. Here’s a short story of how that advice played out for me while standing on the tallest peak of “Mount Crumpet” on one memorable ski trip.
On that day, my dad and one of his friends took me to the top of an expert trail, or as I remember it, to the top of Mt. Everest. I’ve never been that high (on a ski hill) and had no idea how I was going to get back down without breaking an indispensable part of my body.
Immediately upon stepping off the chair, knew I was in deep doo-doo. Inching forward, I came to a stop and stood there precariously peeking over the edge like The Grinch on Christmas morning. But instead of looking over the candy-caned cuteness of “Whoville “, my eyes beheld in the distance the earth’s curvature.
Suddenly, I felt a rush of air beside me as my dad and his friend launched themselves down the slope. My eyes followed them as they wove in and out and over the many, many moguls. They looked like Olympic skiers – like they were born with ski appendages on their baby feet.
I was frozen. Not because it was cold but because I was scared stiff. How I was going to do this? I was brought out of my panic by the calls from my dad and his friend. They had stopped their descent to check how close I was behind them. They waved at me to come down. It was a “do or die” moment.
While my entire life didn’t flash before me, enough of it did that I remembered what a disagreeable teenager I was, especially with my father. My default mode was to brush-off everything my father said. So, when he repeatedly preached at me to “plan your work, then work your plan, it was as impactful as Muzak. – aural wallpaper. I was a teenager. I didn’t plan for anything more into the future than the next weekend.
Then, like the Grinch, I had an idea, a wonderful, awesome idea. I heard my father’s voice in my head repeating that tired old quote and I then knew how I was going to get down the mountain. I was going to make a plan, then work it. I needed to picture every section on my descent down the acne covered slope and over to where my dad was waiting.
First, I observed carefully how the expert skiers negotiated the moguls – in what order, how they made their turns, their posture. And instead of running the movie of the whole descent in my head, I would play each section of the slope at a time. It was time.
I took one very deep breath and threw myself forward. My adrenaline was pumping as I manoeuvred down the slope, past the moguls and up to the tip of my dad’s skis. I stood there for a moment to stabilize. My head was still on its way down. I gave my dad a thumbs up and with great humility, told him how his wise words inspired me to overcome my fear.
He smiled, turned, pushed forward with his ski poles and continued his ski down the slope – with me following close behind. My young ego grew three sizes that day. The true meaning of humility came through as I felt the contriteness of three teenagers, plus two.
I learned a valuable lesson that day. As my father was a businessman, I felt his “words of wisdom” were business-related and had nothing to do with me. How wrong I was. His advice wasn’t a business lesson, it was a life lesson. That’s the funny thing about lessons you know. They come out of nowhere and everywhere, we just need to be paying attention.
I hope this quote inspires you throughout 2020.
“I never lose. I either win or I learn.” – Nelson Mandela
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In case you missed last month’s Gems, you can check it out here: Gary Gems – December Traditions and Memories