Be Fearless and Get on The Right Ski

Sometimes, we need to slow down and think. It’s in reflection that we begin to make meaning of the things that have come at us so fast that all we can do is either duck or grab hold and deal with what’s coming at us. The last several years have been a bit like that for me. But there’s a lesson. A big ‘a ha’ that I can’t help but share. This one’s a little long, but it’s personal.

In 2020, my business shifted from a history of organizational restructuring and leadership development into nearly 85% senior executive coaching. I have cherished every minute of that shift and the patterns I observe talking to CEOs, CFOs, CMOs, BU Presidents, and VPs in nearly every function. I came alive as I watched my clients thrive, many of whom have since been promoted.

Simultaneous with coming alive professionally, I began a very long journey back to the sport of competitive water skiing [Stay with me here, the parallels are amazing.] I had been out of the sport since 2007 when as a top 50 nationally ranked competitor, a blood disorder sidelined me. Doctors said I would never do cardio exercise again because the oxygen in my blood depletes, making recovery from even a small amount of exercise difficult. At that time, I was a senior driver and a three-event judge. I walked away from the sport cold turkey. If I couldn’t ski, I didn’t want to be around it.

In 2020, I was in such bad shape that I could not lift the boxes when I moved. My back just gave out. But one July day in 2021, I found myself on a friend’s Mastercraft teaching a kid how to get up on a slalom ski. It had been 15 years since I’d spun a Mastercraft or stood on the back as a coach. It engulfed me like a tsunami on a crowded beach and I could not look away. Against the advice of my friends, I strapped on a wakeboard to see if I could get up. To my surprise, I not only got up, I rode for a while and I didn’t die. I did it again the next day and I hurt, but I was alive. REALLY alive. And thus began the long journey back.

Knowing I couldn’t handle my 20-year-old slalom ski, I humbly bought a wakeboard. I found a trainer who helped me figure out that I had entire muscle groups that weren’t communicating with my brain and I sobbed when the explanation made sense and he said we could fix it. That first winter was spent on nearly remedial therapy, but in the spring of 2022, I was pronounced “functionally normal” and we began to build strength.

After discovering my fantastic trainer, I was able to link up with a pro skier who helped bridge the time warp related to equipment and got me a new, modern ski. And I rode that damn wakeboard for 2 months before I even had enough strength to get up on the ski. There was a lot of emotion on this journey and tears of joy the day I finally put the wakeboard away and began to slalom.

Humbling doesn’t begin to describe it and I struggled. REALLY struggled to come to grips with the fact that while my 16-year-old scores would have beat anyone at the lake today, I could not even run the course at the slowest speed and I was completely uncomfortable on the ski. But I was alive and I was behind the boat. That kept me going.

In July of 2022, I took one of the worst slalom falls you can have, flying out the front over the second wake. I did a couple flips, the ski hit my face hard, and I came up dazed and bleeding. After late night surgery at a very primitive urgent care facility, and a trip to the hospital, I tried again. It was, however, a very serious concussion and it took 3 months of brain therapy to fix the vision and balance issues. Every time I tried to ski, it just felt like something was wrong. I was determined and something was still off.

In November of 2022, I suffered a heart attack, brought on by myocarditis. I figured at this point, my journey back was over, but just in case, I got back in the gym in January to see what I could do. It was hard. Too hard, I thought. When I went to Florida in April of 2023, upon my arrival, a friend invited me to ski with him. I tried to decline, but he insisted. “Just see if you can get up.” He said. I was pretty sure I couldn’t and frankly, was pretty embarrassed by it, but I went along when he wouldn’t take no for an answer. I got up twice out of 6 or 7 tries. The ski wasn’t comfortable at all and I just didn’t remember it being this difficult. I was mortified and determined to quit, but if you were listening, you’d have heard that friend cheering from miles away. Everyone needs a friend like that. But enough, I thought, my tail firmly between my legs. The journey is over.

Not to be deterred, this same friend, drug me to his coach. “Just watch”, he said. And I did. Many people there knew me from my heyday in the sport. Kris LaPoint invited me back the next day and when he asked what I wanted to work on I looked at my feet and muttered, “I just want to get up.” “Are you serious?” he asked. I nodded. The next 5 minutes spent listening to an elite slalom coach explain how to get up had to be the most humbling of my life. But I listened, did what he said, and I got up. As soon as I did, Kris smiled and said, “you clearly know what you’re doing. Now let’s fix that off-side turn.” I was terrified. Very little felt familiar.

A few days later, I skied with Jennifer, Kris’ wife. She was also a pro skier, record holder and someone I really respected from my skiing days. After one pass, Jennifer said to me, “how are you not terrified.” “I AM TERRIFIED”, I said. I blurted, “I’m not comfortable at all. Nothing feels right.” Jennifer asked me to explain what I felt. I told her how I felt like I was going flying out the front, couldn’t get the ski to turn, couldn’t keep it on edge and didn’t trust it at all. I then said, I was so out of practice, but I never remembered it feeling like this. Jennifer looked at me and said, “has it occurred to you, that you are on the wrong ski?” “Of course not, I replied, it’s got to be me. I’m not going to blame the equipment.” At which point she explained that what I had told her was EXACTLY what she was seeing. She then asked me when I’d stopped believing in myself enough to discount what I knew to be true. I was shocked. She told me we were done and drove back to the dock. Before I could get out of the water, she had her husband working on finding me a different ski.

(On your way to finding the right ski, wasted energy will be noticeable. Listen here as Jennifer explains Ways to Utilize Discretionary Energy from one of her highly anticipated speaking engagements:

My new ski has been life changing. It is incredibly easier to get up on. In mid-July, I began to run the slalom course. Not at my old speed and rope-length, but running it nonetheless. Slowly, things are coming back. Skiing is starting to feel familiar and most of all, I am comfortable. There is still a long journey ahead, but I trust the ski.

So where in your life, are you on the wrong ski? Maybe it’s the employee you’ve got complacent with. Maybe it’s the process you’ve jerry-rigged to work when you know it doesn’t. Maybe it’s a relationship you need to move away from. Maybe it’s a piece of equipment that just doesn’t do what you need it to. Maybe it’s something else. My journey has taught me a lot, but nothing more important than if you’re going to go anywhere, you’ve got to be on the right ski. If I had trusted my gut, I wouldn’t have a scar on my face and countless other frustrations. I wouldn’t be mad at myself for the time I wasted. Where are you wasting time and energy on the wrong ski?  You see, in this life, there ISN’T time to waste. Get off of that ski, get rid of it, and move on. Find one that works for you.

***Don’t forget to check out Jennifer’s recent article Even Great Leaders Need a Coach as she explains more on why you sometimes need that extra push to get you over “the Edge.”

***If you want help building leadership strategies that get you and/or your organization on the right ski, call us. It’s what we do.