Two years ago, I needed a new pair of cross-country skis. I didn’t expect the decision to have such an affect on my life nor did I expect – or maybe even intend – to make the decision that I did.
I tried out two pairs of skis. The first pair were relatively short skis, making them very user friendly and easy to maneuver. I put them on and instantly felt like I was at home. My balance was great, I felt like I had excellent control, and it would be almost impossible to fall. That had a lot of appeal to me and I was happy. I was being assisted by Bill, the ski pro, who was a former competitive cross-country racer and, even though he was well into his sixties, could still ski like a machine. He was a little intimidating because of that and because he is a man of few words. Bill told me though that short skis are easier and maybe more comfortable at first, but they are inherently slower than longer skis.
The second pair were the longest, skinniest skies I had ever put on my feet. Frankly, I wasn’t even keen on trying them. But Bill urged me to at least try them. I put them on and instantly wanted to take them off. I had to work harder at my balance, I felt awkward as I was moving on them and when I skied up a hill, I was constantly worried about getting them tangled up, and, therefore, landing head first in a snowbank. But, as I skied on them a bit more, I started to at least not hate them.
When I finished the second demo, I told Bill that I wanted to take the evening to think about which pair to get. As we drove back to our cabin, Rick and I talked through the decision and I told him that I just felt so comfortable and safe on the shorter skis. He asked me if I thought I’d mind trading off speed, and I said that I really didn’t think so. I was content just finding a pair of skis that I could enjoy being out on.
When we went back the next day, Bill asked me, “So, what did you decide?” I gave him this long explanation as to why I thought the shorter skis were better. It was almost like I was rationalizing the decision to myself. He went on to tell me that he’d watched me ski on both sets and that he felt that while I still had some learning to do on technique, I had good balance and strength and that he thought I had done well with the longer skis. I thanked him and said that I still felt like maybe the shorter skis were better because I just felt so comfortable on them. He then looked at me and said: “You are better than that. Work on your technique.”
That phrase is how I ended up making a decision that I never intended: I bought the longer skis. And it turned out to be the absolute best decision. Within a week of getting the new skis, my love of the sport exploded into a passion that I never imagined was possible. Yes, occasionally my skis got away from me, but as my technique was building, so was my confidence and as my confidence built, I started tackling new runs that I had always thought were impossible for me. In fact, in the past, I would look at them and say, “No way will I even try them.” Now, I looked at those same runs and wondered: “Could I?” And, then I tried them. Ironically, the runs that I had feared the most are now my favorites.
At some point, I realized that the decision that I made – with Bill’s curt, but wise, help – was this: I chose the opportunity to learn and grow over comfort. The shorter skis would have kept me exactly where I had always been. There was very little, if any, growth that could have occurred with the short skis. Therefore, my experience wouldn’t really change all that much. I would have continued to ski the same type of runs that I’d been skiing for the past 8 years. By choosing the longer skis, I was choosing to step way outside my comfort zone and that decision opened up new worlds and a new passion for me.
Since getting the skis two years ago, I’ve thought about how it is such a good metaphor for life. When we make decisions that keep us comfortable, they tend to also keep us on the exact same path that we’ve been on, which may be good or it may not be. But, when we have the courage to embrace something that feels scary or risky or way outside our comfort zone, things tend to shift and change in new and sometimes unexpected ways. I think that this is when new paths and horizons are revealed to us.
This becomes especially important when we have come to realize that we are on a path that no longer feeds us or fulfills us. When that happens, we have to find the courage to make a decision that is different than our prior decisions. If we just continue to make decisions that are similar to the decisions that we’ve made in the past, then we cannot expect the results to really change. New worlds sometimes await just on the other side of a new decision.