Written by Kevin Smoker
“Well, we didn’t get dressed up for nothing.” Hamish Braveheart
A simple statement and reminder of, I committed to this, I wanted to do this. I prepared for this. Now let’s go do this.
As I sat atop of the snow-packed mountain that looked similar to a death wish, I repeated, “I didn’t get dressed up for nothing.” And, I stood up and slid down the kiddy slope at the ski resort with all the grace of a baby giraffe trying to walk for the first time.
For my many years of outdoor pursuits, I had never been on skis or a snowboard. I was venturing into a world I knew almost nothing about and couldn’t be more thrilled with the journey. A journey that was much more than learning to snowboard, but a defining moment of discovery and commitment.
Embrace the journey as a beginner
Fascinated and inspired by the learning process I was reminded that operating from a novice perspective is powerful. As a non-scientist who jumped head first into a very scientific field, I had the opportunity to operate as an unbiased newcomer and learn nearly everything from the ground up. That novice approach forced me to learn in a way different than others with an education in the field. Keeping a novice sense of wonder and curiosity continues to be extremely valuable for me even today. Returning to that state of mind, the snow was a reminder to keep the lessons of a beginner close.
Learning to snowboard took me back to the early stages of my career and how the powerful lessons of learning should be remembered at every phase.
Set yourself up for success
Carving down a mountain involves a lot of preparation and a proper learning environment. Before embarking on my journey, I watched videos and asked plenty of questions. I spent seven hours walking up and sliding down the bunny slope, followed by a full day practicing toeside and heelside regular and switch under the watchful eyes of my experienced friends. I carefully built a foundation to learn. Had I gone strait to the top and flung myself down the mountain, I likely would have hated it. By building the skill slowly and allowing the learning process to progress, I was able to enjoy the journey of learning. Building the skills necessary, and hitting successful milestones along the way, builds confidence and the ability to achieve success.
A little dose of laughter
Falling hurts, but hurts a lot less with a smile on your face and willingness to laugh at yourself. Failing at anything sucks — even more so when it sends snow up your jacket. But, there’s no point in taking something so seriously that you can’t see the humor in a little slip. Keeping in mind how a beginner’s mistake can be funny and being able to admit failures is a constructive way to move forward and persevere.
The gap in what you may think is relatable
If at first something seems just like another action or problem be careful before assuming the two are the same. I spent the first few days after my snowboarding experience relating it to surfing. Indeed they are quite similar, but there are distinct differences in how you control the two boards. In surfing, the majority of control comes from the rear of the board — not so in snowboarding where far more weight must be on the front leg. This misunderstanding caused me some unfortunate tumbles. Relying on what you know can be the folly when undertaking something new, but it can also be a mistake when you are more experienced. Remember to validate what you know in the real world before assuming one challenge is similar to another.
Admit what you’re not good at
Learning requires a healthy sense of awareness to concede that you don’t know everything — and no one expects a novice to. As I loaded onto my first chairlift, I turned to my liftmates and declared, “I haven’t done this before so lookout. And my apologies in advance.” They laughed and said it wasn’t a problem; they’d all been there. They coached me through it and let me exit first while watching to give me plenty of space and limited anxiety about running into anyone. They were congratulatory when I finished without any harm to myself, and more importantly, anyone else. It’s a reminder of how at some point we are all new at something. By simply acknowledging that I was new and unaware, I was able to work with others’ support through the process. There is no reason to be embarrassed of a novice status; every expert has been there.
Get cozy with uncertainty
Trying something new can be unsettling. As a novice snowboarder, everything on the mountain was new — from how to put on boots to the silence on the lift. Every morning and every run I had to remind myself that it was new was going to be a challenge. Training and preparing yourself to be comfortable with discomfort is a key part of learning. The uncertainty also means discovery and opportunity. Preparing your senses, and especially your head, to mentally go to a place of this may be awkward but that’s okay prepares you to learn and grow.
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Kevin Smoker is an Associate Director at Thermo Fisher Scientific helping make the world healthier, cleaner and safer. He also serves as CFO for Peak Rescue Institute and seeks challenges of all types be it professional, outdoor, or culinary. Connect with Kevin on Twitter @KevinSmoker or Linkedin.