8 life lessons from cross-country skiing
I recently spent a week in Switzerland, visiting a friend of mine.
The purpose of the trip was fun, sports, cheese and discoveries.
Now that's my kind of trip.
I've been in this "Yes, please" kind of mood for a few months, focusing on what brings me joy and energy, allowing spontaneity to climb her way back into the podium of my life.
Naturally, "Yes, please" was also my answer when my friend offered to make me discover cross-country skiing.
Even though a part of me was scared I wouldn't have the physical condition or the technique, the proposition felt like a big holy yes.
My ability to complete our first crash-test initiation apparently gave me the green lights to try for a longer (3h), higher (800m elevation gain), steeper, and more challenging outing. And as I was promised to be rewarded with cheese fondue, wine and the sunrise over the mountains the next day, I gave it another "Yes, please" with a big smile. Some people just know how to talk to me!
On this second trip, while I was climbing up looking at the view, lost in my thoughts (and yes, occasionally fearing I'd do something dumb and hurtle down the mountain face first), I couldn't help but compare the journey upwards with life in general.
So here are my 8 learnings from this surprising experience.
It's cold before you start. Once you get moving, it gets warmer.
As the good city girl that I am (who feels chilly anywhere under 25°C), I thought I needed to be careful and to make sure I'd stay warm during the outing. On the parking lot before starting, of course, I was feeling cold.
So I planned all possible layers. I brought all the warming equipment I could think of: thermic t-shirt, ski sweater, ski jacket, hat, ski mask, scarf, gloves. Oh, and heating pads secretly hidden in my bag. You know, just in case.
My friend glanced at my over-covered body and told me to remove those layers.
"You cannot be warm now. You'll warm up as we start climbing. So if you're cold before we start, that's good."
Counter-intuitive somehow. Yet very logical.
I've experienced that in so many other aspects of life.
Like when I feel timid to go to a party when I don't know many people and it would be so much more comfortable to just stay home. Or when I want to go back to the gym but have completely lost the habit, and "maybe I should just go another day". Or when my boss asks me if I want to do a presentation at a meeting and I'm not too sure about my knowledge of the topic and really if someone else wanted to jump in, that'd be great.
It feels cold at first, before you start. But when we start moving, it becomes warmer and warmer. We forget about the initial sensation of cold, and we're happy we did it anyway.
So just don't stay too long in the parking lot, and get moving.
To get better, do more of it.
While we were climbing, I curiously asked my friend how to train to improve cross-skiing abilities. Not that I was struggling... just asking for a friend.
"By going cross-skiing" was his reply. Mmmmh, ok.
Then he added a few proprioception exercises that could help too.
Seems like a dumb advice at first? Well, the most simple advice is often the best one. That's certainly the case here, and it goes for whatever you want to get better at, really.
Do more of it, more often. And sprinkle some specific training on top of that.
Soon enough, what used to scare you won't seem so scary anymore, and you'll be able to do things you never even imagined just a minute ago.
If you're not too confident at first, start small.
You still want to keep a good memory of it. If you go too hard on yourself, you're likely going to leave with a bitter taste in the mouth, and a promise to yourself that you'll never do that again.
So, put yourself out of your comfort zone, enough that it's scary, but not so much that you're feeling like you're about to die.
Don't aim to speak for a Ted Talk if you're afraid of public speaking. Maybe try a room of 5 people. Then 10. Then 50.
You get the gist.
Don't focus solely on the peak.
Of course the end-goal is to reach the peak. And it's important to know that. But if it's the only thing you focus about, motivation is likely going downhill as soon as you get out of breath.
There are times to focus on the big vision (which, let's be real, for me was probably more about eating cheese fondue in the cabin than it was about reaching the peak. You gotta find what works for you my friend).
But constantly reminding yourself that the finish line is in more than 3 hours, when your muscles are aching and your shoes hurting is the best way to start hating the journey.
There are other times when it's better to focus on the smallest next step possible. Like when you're exhausted, or when the path becomes scary or more technical. Then it's all just about putting one foot in front of the other and repeating it without thinking about much else.
And finally, there are other times where it's all about focusing on the fact that there will be a break in 15 minutes. And that this break means you'll get to eat half a bar of roasted-hazelnut chocolate. Again, whatever keeps you going.
Take time to look down & appreciate how far you've come already.
Even if it's not over yet, even if there's still so much more to go. Even if it was easy, especially if it was hard.
Every step already taken is one that you don't have to take anymore.
If you only celebrate at the top, it creates a feeling that only the big achievements are worth being happy or proud.
But life is made of 1000 steps, most of which we don't even realize we're taking.
And success is a process much more than it is an event.
So maybe it doesn't feel like much because you're not there yet, but it's still worth celebrating.
Energy flows where attention goes.
I think the first time I heard that was in my Yoga Teacher Training back in 2017. I didn't really understand it at first, but it was catchy enough for me to remember.
After climbing for a couple of hours, my right shoe painfully putting pressure on my shin was all I could focus on. It hurt enough that I had become conscious of every step and couldn't focus on anything else than the shooting pain.
Later on, we were climbing on what felt like a viciously dangerous side of the mountain where any misstep could cost me my life or at least my leg. My friend was paving the way before me and I was making sure to follow his tracks, to keep the little stability I felt I had. All of that while avoiding to look down, reminding myself to breathe, and laughing around to try and make sure my last words would be positive ones if I was to fall down and vanish forever.
Note: There is a slight chance I might have a very small tendency for dramatization.
First, it was scary but not that scary. And really, I was enjoying myself so much.
Second, there was a frozen pond of some sort downhill, so I wouldn't have fallen very far down if I had.
But still. Oh and that photo above really doesn't give me justice. Or I am just imagining this all thing and it was actually all flat? Was I high? Who knows now.
Anyway, back to my story.
We were climbing on that steeper side of the mountain for quite some time, when I noticed I hadn't been in pain for a while. Not that the pain had disappeared, it was still there. I had just concentrated on something else, more important, more salient. As soon as I thought of my shin again, there it was taking up all my attention one more time. Until something else caught my attention, and it was gone again.
So yeah, acknowledge when something is difficult, don't just pretend like it's not there.
But also, don't over focus on it. Concentrate on what matters, and that's what will matter.
Take a break, refuel, relax & enjoy the view.
I've come to realize that in life, just like in sports, learning when to pause is probably just as important as learning when to try and outdo yourself.
To avoid injuries, to pace your efforts and last longer.
How many times have I waited to be completely exhausted to take a break that the break didn't even feel good anymore?
But the thing I know now is that life is not meant to be lived in apnea nor constantly pushing through.
Making an effort, moving forward and up, working on yourself, it's all a very important and rewarding part of life.
But if you can only enjoy when you're moving, you're missing another key part. And very likely, you'll end up not seeing life pass by.
I find that the breaks make the rest feel even more alive and real. As if the moment of quiet just after the achievement was the anchor into our memory and the way to truly enjoy what just happened.
So before you reach exhaustion, and even if you're still far away from the peak, take a break. Pause, enjoy the view and the moment. Because soon enough it will be time to move again.
Plan for your breaks as well as you plan for your efforts. Make sure you have what it takes for you to unwind often, even if only for a minute.
And then, once you're all the way up there, once the objective is reached, plan for an even bigger and better pause. One that truly feels like a celebration. One where you're not thinking about tomorrow or what's next.
A pause where all that matter is Now. Where you sit to watch the sun set for what wonderfully feels like forever.
Take out the wine and the limoncello. Make the cheese fondue in the pot that felt like 50kg in your backpack (This is clearly an assumption of my part. My backpack was the lightest, I was carrying pretty much nothing. But I was just as grateful for the fondue pot even if I didn't have to carry it).
Enjoy the view. Enjoy the moment. Enjoy the company.
When you fall, breathe, try again & keep smiling.
Now, the way up was a journey and I was ultimately impressed and proud at how well I handled the climb.
The way down? I wasn't so exhilarated about it.
Because the rule, in all logic, is this one: if it was steep to go up, it will be steep to go down.
And well, I may be very enthusiastic about skiing, I'm just not great at it. And now that off-piste skiing thing, that takes the necessary skillset to a whole other level. One I clearly don't have.
So I fell. Probably 4 or 5 times. (Which felt more like 37).
All the ingredients were combined to make me hate that downhill experience. The lack of skills. The sticky snow. The falling down. The fear. The tiredness.
I could have hated every moment of it. I could have cursed. I could have been demotivated, desperate and ashamed. And in all honestly, I think just a few years ago that's what would have happened.
But this time felt different. I wasn't there to be the best nor to be perfect. I was there to have a great time, make a new experience and create memories. And that took the pressure off big time.
So I asked myself, how do I want to remember this moment? And how do I want to remember myself in this moment?
Joyful. Courageous. Inspiring. That's how.
So every time I fell, I stopped (well, that was already done anyway). I took a few breaths,
I reminded myself I was ok and it was no big deal, I stood up and I went right back at it.
With a smile and a little bit of self-derision.
Because let's face it:
1. It's so much nicer this way. For everyone.
2. No one forced me to be there in the first place. I was on this journey because I chose to. 3. Being bitter or frustrated wouldn't have changed anything anyway.
4. Everything tastes better with a smile.
Lesson #8 Don't wait till you're 100% ready.
And finally, one of my key learnings. For absolutely everything.
Way too often have I waited to be completely skilled, trained and ready to do something. But the thing is, we never really are. Better: we become ready through action.
No action, no readiness.
Of course, knowledge, skills and training are important. You won't hear the opposite from me, Miss forever-student. But nothing can replace actually being on the field, learning by doing, making mistakes and growing from them.
When I look back, I realized I've never grown as much as when I moved my sweet butt through something difficult. And I've never discovered myself more than in those challenging moments.
So don't wait until you're totally ready, cause you'll be waiting your whole life, wondering if there will ever be a right time.
Had I waited to be perfectly ready for this adventure, I'd just never have done it. And I'm so incredibly grateful for it.
So the next time you're offered to do something that feels like a stretch, if it feels exciting and a bit scary, how about saying yes and trusting that you'll be alright?
Cause you know what? You will be.
And remember, luck is an attitude.