Life is will always bring us challenges and frustrations, at what often feels like the worst possible time. That is a guarantee. “S#!T will always happen. It’s how we experience the “S#!T” that matters.
Just this week I had the opportunity to ski at Whistler for two days with a good friend of mine (Ted) who had worked at Whistler for about 10 years teaching skiing. What an opportunity! Ski with a retired ski pro and my own personal guided tour…this was going to be fantastic!
The day is picture perfect. Completely crystal clear blue sky, a balmy -3 degrees at the bottom of the mountain and a sharp -16 degrees at the top. The snow conditions were great and we were two hours into the first of two days when “S#!T” comes up from the bottom of a colouir (a.k.a. an extremely steep, mogul infested short hill) that Ted had decided to ski down. You know, one of those runs where you look at it from the lift and say “are those people nuts!”. I had a hard time looking over the edge even, never mind skiing down that puppy. But for Ted, this was just fun. A highly experienced skier and in his glory, he jumped off the edge, two skis first with a big smile on his face to conquer the run.
He landed the jump but fell slightly back and into the mountain twisting his knee that he had hurt about 4 years earlier in a ski race. Nothing too serious, just enough that the day was done. The only skiing left for Ted was to get him down to the gondola so he could get a ride down the rest of the way. He injured his left knee which meant he could only use his right leg to snow plow down, ever…….so…….slowly.
Ted was crushed, disappointed, angry at himself. You name it, he felt it. He had not been skiing at Whistler for 9 years and was so excited to be back. He didn’t know whether to cry or scream.
We started to make our way down the hill, and then it started. I could hear him in front about every 5 seconds saying “F#@K”. “F#@K”. “F#@K”. “F#@K”.
I have to admit, my first reaction was “really dude, its not the end of the world”. And I could feel myself getting a little frustrated. Not because skiing was potentially over, but because of his reaction. I was frustrated with his frustration. My self talk went like this….”Hmmm two frustrations don’t make a right. You know reactions are a choice…that’s what you preach…so what reaction do you choose?”. Right, this is his frustration, not mine to own. Don’t own it, don’t catch it and definitely don’t embrace it. That won’t help him or me.
That’s when I started to giggle. The look of Ted, cursing himself all the way down the hill became very comical. People doing a double look as they heard him curse and swear at himself. Some didn’t know if they should ski faster, or faster to get past him. And then my self talk kicked in a gain. “hmmm, yes this is funny for you, but is it funny for Ted? Your world hasn’t ended but for him, the opportunity to ski in his Mecca has just come to a complete halt and even the rest of the ski season. A potentially long road to heal his knee could even mean two ski seasons could be toast. Perhaps “funny” is not the best response in this situation either”.
Crap, 2 strikes, pick again. What is the most appropriate reaction? How about empathy (dumb ass – that was my own self talk again). Feel their pain, stand in their shoes, and let go of my own ego, even for a brief moment. “You must be so frustrated” I said to Ted. “Oh Mel, you couldn’t even know. I feel like I have ruined the two days for both of us, I was so excited to be here and can’t believe I was so stupid. I just feel so bad”.
It was at that moment that Ted was able to acknowledge his own emotions, begin to process and then became open to seeing that one door closed can mean three more are open.
He had every right to be frustrated, angry and upset with himself, and it was really important for him to be able to express that emotion authentically for himself (although it really did look funny).
The lesson for me was loud and clear. Feel their emotion, and don’t get attached, AND don’t own what’s not yours (even if it is your kids).
That simple, yet hard step can help anyone not get attached themselves. And to do that step, we need to be the Spectator of ourselves.