I grew up downhill skiing. My family had a room in a shared, 40-family lodge at Crystal Mountain (South of Seattle) from the time I was two until my late thirties when it was finally sold. I started skiing the bunny slopes at the age of three, and some of my fondest memories are skiing through the trees on the back runs at Crystal, my dad leading the way and my sister and me faithfully following. When I moved to Bellingham in 1993, Mt. Baker became my ski area of choice. Baker added memories of skiing hard and aggressively with members of the Ski Patrol on the steep and deep slopes (when I was still young and agile!), as well as teaching my own kids to ski there.
My orientation toward skiing is so keen that I remain aware of the snow conditions in the mountains, even in the rare year I miss a season due to surgeries or other life circumstances. It’s on my radar from the months of November until April…when I start willing the snow to melt so backpacking can start. These last three years have been the exception to my own personal rule of never missing more than one season of skiing. Five orthopedic surgeries kept me off the slopes for three seasons (the last time I skied was February, 2013), and I had no inkling of trying to get up to the mountains this year. I started thinking maybe my skiing days were over, following the complex round of foot, ankle, and knee surgeries. I even tried to give my skis to my now 23-year old son earlier this year, but the bindings were too antiquated to be re-mounted for him, and so he bought his own. I happily accompanied him on that mission, yet never once entertained the idea that I might make it up to the mountains myself this year.
Hence I was completely caught me off guard a couple of weeks ago, when a client mentioned in passing that he hoped to make it up to Baker, what with the late March snowfall and the promised upcoming week of sunshine. My mountain weather radar was immediately activated! There is nothing I like better than spring skiing, and in this rare circumstance, the conditions switched from new snow to clear skies, with no rain in between. Conditions would be ideal, I reckoned, and the idea of heading up to Baker for a day started to take root. I spent two days arguing with myself about the absurdity of this proposition. I just had bunion surgery on the left foot in December, and major foot and ankle surgery on the right foot the previous winter. Simply put, both feet are tender and full of hardware. Plus I had undergone two knee surgeries, including a new ACL, which helped stabilize but couldn’t remedy a severely arthritic right knee. The idea of stuffing those feet into 15-year old ski boots was preposterous, and I had no idea how my knee would hold up. Yet I couldn’t shake the desire, and I started scheming and making plans to get up to Baker for a day of skiing. In my head I outlined clear and logical steps to implement the plan, and watched the pieces fall into place. I will outline the steps here, as I realized their potential usefulness for meeting other seemingly insurmountable objectives in life. I hope you will find benefit and applicability in these strategies as well!
STEPS TO MEETING CHALLENGING LIFE GOALS:
1. Ponder all Apparent Obstacles. I made a mental list of everything that seemed to dictate against me going skiing for a day. This included the aforementioned foot, ankle, and knee issues, as well as previous back surgeries which leave me vulnerable to skiing-induced back pain. I didn’t particularly want to ski alone, and I wasn’t sure who could go at the drop of a hat. Also I get cold very easily, a factor that always comes into play when considering a day of skiing, even in the spring. I considered the financial output as well, although mid-week at Baker is still a deal at $53.00 a lift ticket. And wear and tear on my chronically oil-leaking 2001 Subaru Forester was on that list as well.
2. Identify THE Seemingly Most Daunting Obstacle. This was easily the ski-boot factor. As mentioned, my boots are 15 years old, a date easily identified by the chewing on the tongue from my golden retriever puppy acquired Christmas of 2000. The boots have always been a challenge to get on and off, and the plastic is impossibly stiff from lack of use. I didn’t want to buy new boots on a whim. My sister, with similarly surgically reconstructed feet and ankles, had recently dropped $800 on a new pair of boots. That wasn’t an option for a one-day experiment. I knew I would have to successfully get the boots on before making a decision to move forward.
3. Knock off as many lesser obstacles as possible. I drove down to Seattle for Easter with my daughter and her boyfriend. I told Shannon and Kevin of my radical idea to ski that upcoming Wednesday. Lo and behold, they were thinking of going up to Mt. Baker that day for a last go at snow-boarding for the season. Two of my obstacles immediately fell by the wayside. I would have company, and Kevin has a brand new 2016 Subaru Forester that he was willing to drive. Suddenly my plan seemed destined to occur, instead of an unrealistic pipe dream. The weather forecast called for sunshine and blue skies, insuring optimum spring-skiing conditions and desired warmth. I left Shannon and Kevin late Sunday night prepared with an assignment: try on the boots Monday and spend time walking around to see if I could tolerate the discomfort. If I could, we would make plans to go.
4. Strategize specific steps to overcoming that Most Daunting Obstacle. Monday morning found me with my boots, foot powder, and a long shoe horn at the ready for my task of trying on the boots. I put on the long underwear and socks I planned to wear skiing, and got myself organized. It took at least 15 or 20 minutes to get those boots on, and I was sweating bullets by the time I was done. I simply did not have enough hands to pry apart the plastic, pull out the tongue, and try to ease my feet into the boots. In particular the right foot, with an extensive amount of hardware, refused to go in. I almost gave up several times, but my motivation was very high. Once I finally got both feet in, I buckled the boots as loosely as possible, and walked around for an hour to see if the pain and discomfort would lessen. It did. I sent Shannon and Kevin a text informing them of my success, and struggled my way back out of my boots. I KNEW my feet would hurt, and that pain would be part of the skiing experience. But I had a reasonable expectation that the amount of pain would be tolerable, and the benefits of a day at the mountain would far outweigh the discomfort.
5. Be Prepared! This goes without saying, but full preparation helps insure the success of any challenging goal. When I left my house Wednesday morning, I was completely prepared. I had all the necessary ski gear, multiple clothing options depending on the actual temperature, my Functional ACL knee brace, ibuprofen, sunscreen, and a plethora of food and beverages for a day at the mountains. I had the aforementioned foot powder and shoe horn, and even a hair-dryer in case my boots managed to get cold on the drive up and a warm up was called for. The beautiful day and warm temperatures completely reassured me and put all of us in excellent spirits as we headed up.
6. Ask for help when necessary. Regardless of the goal you are striving for, it is always helpful to get others on board. Never under estimate the power of asking for an extra pair of hands. I told Shannon and Kevin I would benefit greatly from their help getting the boots on and off, and we strategized a plan. It made a big difference having extra hands to assist in getting the boots on, and it went much more smoothly and quickly than when I had attempted it on my own. I barely even broke a sweat!
7. Be Realistic, Flexible, and willing to adjust your Expectations. This was a big one for me. In my previous skiing days, I liked to go all out. I’d seek speed, and ski as many challenging runs as I could get away with on any given day. None of that was on my agenda for this ski trip. I honestly didn’t know what to expect, and I was willing to stay with the groomed runs if necessary. I also intended to stay with Shannon and Kevin, instead of taking off on my own to “get a better workout”. I did bring a book to read in the event that I had to quit early if pain was simply too much of a factor. And I left all expectations at the lodge, beyond having the best time possible, enjoying the beautiful mountains and sunshine, and being in great company doing something I love.
8. Check in with yourself often. This was another key factor insuring a successful day. We did venture off the groomed runs after several warm-up runs. The snow was wet and sticky, as much had fallen that had not been tracked out. I had to slow way down, and carefully calculate turns. I couldn’t throw myself around in quick turns as the snow was too heavy and I couldn’t absorb the landings with my knee and feet. So I regressed to an intermediate-at-best skier on the more challenging runs, and took it slow and easy. I still worked up a sweat, and had that feeling of accomplishment at the bottom. As my dad used to often say, “I didn’t look too pretty on that run!”, but I made it down each run without injury or incident. When my foot and knee got too sore from navigating challenging runs, we went back to groomed runs. I knew it was time to quit when I hit a patch of slush on a run out that flipped me around so I was headed downhill backwards. I recovered, but I took the hint that fatigue was catching up with me. We quit 30 minutes before the lifts even closed, all three of us intact.
9. Celebrate Your Success! Driving back down the mountain, we all enjoyed a huge sense of accomplishment about our successful day. With Shannon and Kevin’s help, I had pulled off an unexpected ski day without any apparent setbacks. My feet were sore and fatigued, and it took a couple of days for them to normalize. My knee was swollen and the right quadricep muscles were extra fatigued, but nothing extraordinary. All in all, my meticulous preparations, forethought, and planning had paid off famously. The seemingly unrealistic goal of getting up to the mountains for a day before yet another season ended, happened! And the step by step approach is one know I can replicate in future endeavors to tackle other ostensibly impossible goals.
In retrospect, I realize that part of the success of applying these steps to my goal was that the goal itself was simple, straight forward, and short in duration of time from conception to completion. I did not have months or years in which to ponder or procrastinate or worry about this project. I had to act quickly. Also, there wasn’t a lot at stake. I would disappoint only myself (and potentially Shannon and Kevin) if I couldn’t achieve it, and there was little to lose by trying. It took only a minor amount of time and energy to achieve my goal. I am now considering how these steps would work in reaching a much larger goal. In the next blog post, we will explore using these steps to achieve a personal goal of major significance.