Last September, I had a one of those “well duh” epiphanies that revealed a hidden not-so-pretty secret and freed me to advance in my skiing for the first time in a couple of years. It reminded me once again how very useful it can be to understand what is REALLY driving my decisions and actions. In this case, I had been stuck because I was torn between wanting to prove myself and caring WAY too much what other people think.
Sitting at our annual Women’s Ski Week at Coble Ski School, one of the skiers I really admire was talking about her decision to ski at a slower speed than the maximum for our age group. Having been on a quest for over 10 years just to REACH that speed, I started listening with both ears.
She spoke about having been injured while striving to progress to faster speeds and shorter lines. When she decided that it made more sense for her to stay at 30 MPH and then start shortening the rope, she got unreal pressure from her mostly male ski friends. This was a kind of pressure I was very familiar with.
The pressure takes many forms, sometimes being quite direct and other times, being that subtle form that communicates that you are just not that good of a skier. Skiers know this pressure well.
The direct pressure happens live and real time in the water. You run a full pass at a given speed. If that speed is below the maximum speed for your age group, most drivers who also compete in tournaments automatically want to increase your speed before they shorten the rope. Why? Because if you want to ski in tournaments, that’s how it’s done. Rarely do you run across a tournament skier who will do it any other way – even for those skiers who never plan to ski a tournament and struggle to ski at the faster speed.
For some skiers, including me, it’s a recipe for disappointment cloaked in the intent to help you progress.
That pressure helps some and stops others . In many cases, the less experienced skier sitting in the water just does what the more experienced skier says to do. “Keep trying to go faster. This is how it’s done. You have to do it this way.” Often, the newer skier gets discouraged, wonders what’s wrong with them and maybe quits the sport all together.
Thanks to my conversation with another skier I really respected, I suddenly realized just how much power I had given to what other people had decided as best for me.
Two days after this insight, I broke through a previously impossible barrier for me.
Here’s what I had completely missed about the pressure I was feeling to go the faster speed: I was doing it because that’s what other people say I had to do. It wasn’t working for me, yet I had not been listening to my internal compass; I was too busy trying to prove myself to the “system.”
The next day, instead of trying to go faster, we shortened the rope. Every skier is aware of the “22-off” bump. It had intimidated me for years, so I rarely tried it, and when I did, I stopped after the first couple of turns and immediately went back into my comfort zone. This time it was different. I was able to tolerate the discomfort enough to make six turns down the lake and get pretty close to actually running the pass. The next day, I succeeded in running the pass.
This summer, I’ve spent more time working on shortening the rope and am having even more fun than ever, although it also means I’m spending more time in my “discomfort zone.”
Caring what other people think had kept me from achieving a win for myself. And that win has been SO MUCH more satisfying than proving myself to others.
It was months before I realized that my insight last September fell into the bucket of “caring what other people think.” I would love to say I’ve gotten past all that. Ha. Hardly.
This insight tells me it’s worth looking at all areas of my life where my actions and decisions fall into the “caring what people think” bucket. Not so that I can prove myself somehow – but instead so that I can free myself to be my best.
Where do you care what other people think – and maybe don’t want to admit it? What decisions do you make out of fear of repercussions that really don’t matter in the end? What would it take for you to operate from your internal compass?
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Given that Waterski Magazine recently ran a story titled “Why Don’t More Women Ski?”, the topic naturally came up at Coble Women’s Week. I would like to report that we have that question figured out – however, for this particular group of skiers, we are stumped. Every single woman in this week’s camp has in some way arranged her life so that skiing is possible. And not one of us is a tournament skier. We just spend, train and obsess like anyone else who is passionate about the sport.
So after much conversation (and maybe a glass of wine or two), we turned the question on its head: “Why DO Women Ski?” and the answers came pouring out. This is the kind of thing we heard:
It uplifts us as we go around that next buoy, speed up the boat or run the full course for the first time. We learn to trust and try new things – including movements previously deemed impossible for our bodies and brains. We learn about life from observing our thoughts and actions on the water.
We have also pondered what makes this week so special. There is no competition, only support. We are all cheering for each other to do better, to get back up after the scary fall and to cross those wakes with confidence. As one of the women said on the last day “I’ve never been with a less judgmental group of women." Every one is enough, whether she goes around the “big buoys” or the mini course. We are learning to separate how we perform on the ski course from who we are. And just the feeling of skiing makes us feel strong (there’s that word again), empowered and confident.
Perhaps the most profound thing about this week: when one of us succeeds, we all feel the same sense of elation as the woman getting off the water with that giant smile.
As we close out the week, we are already planning our next times to ski together and promise to follow each other’s exploits through the year. We are lamenting the end of another summer and we know we will be back next year. A huge thank you to April Coble Eller and Coble Ski School for creating a special place where every level of skier can learn and grow.
This is a business blog, so I have to say something about the business that April Coble Eller and her family have built. It has been said that a true business has been built when the founder is absent and the business still runs like a top. So was the case this week as Shirley Coble, Chris Eller and April Coble Eller were all in Spain competing in the Over 35 World Championships. The staff was highly professional and extremely motivated, living up the high standards April has set over the years. They more than delivered on the brand promise of Coble Ski School, which can be boiled down to this: Safety first, focus on what’s working, celebrate your achievements while shaking off the disappointments, have fun and enjoy the family atmosphere. Perhaps that’s why over 90% of her customers return, and why Coble Ski School is ground zero for bringing new water skiers to the sport.
Many thanks to Coble Ski School for creating a place for such a magical week to unfold! Know someone who would love this article? Email or share below!
Lynn Carnes accelerates change and unleashes leadership performance in organizations, especially in context of challenges without easy answers. She loves to hear about how your experiments with these ideas turn out. To contact her or share your experiences email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Inspiring new ways to look at learning, growth, and reinvention, whether in leadership, athletics, art or life.
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