Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Fear of Falling

A few weeks ago, the family decided to trek out to New Mexico for Spring Break. It was a welcome break for me, in the light of heaps of craziness at work and our usual share of frenzied activity at home. The trip's highlights included sightseeing in Santa Fe, skiing in Taos and exploring Carlsbad Caverns, a magnificent experience of natural beauty. As much as I enjoyed those stops, I may have found the greatest joy in family conversations and laughter during the long drive across West Texas and making and sharing Texas-shaped waffles at the Fairfield Inn. It might be cheesy but true, the best part of my vacation was simply being with my family.

Skiing was interesting. It was the first time for every member of the family and predictably, the kids were far faster learners than the adults. As I had been warmed, my wife and I didn't enjoy ourselves much the first day (though some of that could be attributed to the oxygen deprivation at the higher altitude, leading to a wicked migraine my first night). By the second day, we were maneuvering passably well on the beginner's slope, not without an occasional fall or two. What I did conclude was that skiing really isn't that hard - it's stopping that's hard. Or put another way, it's pretty easy to glide fast down the side of a mountain. Trying to to traverse and make wide turns to slow momentum - that's tough to do.

As I watched my son glide down steep hills with verve and ease, I couldn't help but consider the broader lesson being revealed. Everyone had accurately predicted that our kids were going to pick up skiing faster than we would. The conventional wisdom on why kids pick it up faster is not simply because of their reduced weight and lower center of gravity. What primarily makes kids better skiers is their lack of fear. Instead of the instinct which causes one (namely, me) to over-rotate a turn in a panicked and desperate attempt to slow myself down before I break the sound barrier, my kids will simply turn without missing a beat. Yes, the mass and center of gravity thing give my kids an advantage and perhaps that helps mitigate any fear they might have.

So it is in life. There is a weight in my decisions which can paralyze and create mountains of anxiety. When I make decisions, I am prone to considering the downstream implications. What will this do to my career? How will this impact my wife? How will this impact my children? What if this decision is completely wrong? What sort of contingencies can I make in case plans go awry? By then, it's entirely possible that I've psyched myself out of a rational and confident decision because of a fear of making the wrong decision. In many ways, it's fear, not lack of ability, which causes failure.

Here's where I would do well to emulate my kids and their skiing approach. Without fear they see the turn and make the turn. They react without fear, not over-analyzing or being paralyzed by hypothetical scenarios. And while it's true that they can do so because they have so little to lose (and will softly fall), it's worth me remembering that faith, not fear, is what will most enable me to get down that slope in one piece.

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