When I was 20 years old, I ran off the side of a mountain.
I was backpacking across Europe with a close friend. We landed in Paris, bought a Eurorail pass, and made up an itinerary. We had a ticket to fly out of Rome 3 weeks later, and only tentative plans for everything in between.
Partway through the trip we were in Interlaken, a beautiful town in the Swiss Alps.
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This was the summer of 2000 — we didn’t have cellphones. Our parents received sporadic updates via international phone calls (and maybe an email from an internet cafe — remember those?).
We were not documenting every move in real-time on social media, and no one was buzzing in our ear telling us what to do, or more importantly, what not to do.
We ran across a hang gliding operation with the opportunity to run off a mountain. We didn’t have any Yelp reviews to check, or Google stats to look up the annual number of deaths by hang gliding.
So we did what any self-respecting 20 year-old college students would do. We went for a flying leap off a mountain side.
Nervous Nellie? Not Me
Most people who know me do not consider me shy or nervous — most would probably use the words stubborn or obstinate. There may be a bit of truth to those words.
I also like to think of myself as calm (apart from things related to sports or children fighting in my house, which unleash a demon from the Upside Down). There are a few things that may induce significant anxiety/nervousness in others, but which I’m generally pretty comfortable with. I don’t think the list is huge, but they are important skills. A few things that pop into my head:
- Public speaking
- Resuscitating a child in cardiac arrest
- Swimming (I know a lot of people know how to swim, but a lot don’t, and even out of shape I am comfortable in a pool)
- Conducting clinical research
Now, not all of these are enjoyable, my skill level does vary across these, and some are stress inducing. I do enjoy public speaking, and while I feel a bit of nervousness right before I start, once I’m speaking, it quickly dissipates.. However I’m able to remain calm and can induce stress even if I manage it well or do enjoy it):
However there are a few things where just the idea of them makes me a little nervous. They primarily involve putting things between my feet and the ground: ice skating, roller skating, and cycling. Yes, I’m terrible at all three (terrible may be an understatement).
While I love to play sports, and have reasonable balance on one foot based on my Daniel-san impersonations, try to put something directly between my feet and the ground and I do not do well.
This week I decided to try another activity that fits into that list — skiing.
Utah, Here We Come
In a couple of months I’ll be trekking to Utah with my wife and Rogue One for a conference — The White Coat Investor has managed to get us CME credit for his first ever physician wellness and financial literacy conference. He has arranged the schedule to allow people to go skiing during the day.
It’s been exactly 15 years since my one attempt at skiing — I spent most of my time falling over the tow rope as my friends (who knew how to ski) went on the real slopes. I have not had any real desire to try again since then.
My older brother and family came to town this past week, and their older kids have gotten the skiing bug through other relatives. They’ve also taken a couple of ski lessons while visiting here. We don’t have any mountains, per say, but we have some tall hills and a place that offers skiing (with fake snow when needed).
Rogue One and my wife went with them and took a lesson — it was his first time and her second time skiing — in anticipation of trying to ski in Utah. While the temperature was 0 and the windchill below 0, Rogue One asked me to take him back so he could ski again the next day.
I’ve been unsure if I was actually going to try to ski in Utah — lessons there are apparently outrageously expensive, and tearing my ACL or smashing into a tree while on a mountain in Utah would be suboptimal.
My wife had so much fun with her lesson I decided I needed to try. So we drove out there, I walked up to the booth, and told them I needed a lesson for two people: a 37-year old and an 8-year old. The man behind the window was a bit confused at first, especially as Rogue One was in the background yelling he didn’t need any more lessons because he was ready for the blue/green slopes.
However we sorted it out, and due to the temperature we were able to have a private lesson for the two of us at the group rate (~$50 total) for 1.5 hours!
If A Doctor Falls On a Hill
No tow rope at this place — they have a great conveyor belt for noobs like me to go to the top of the bunny slope. After going over a lot of basics, I put my lessons into action. I was nervous, promptly lost control, and almost wiped out.
I recovered and made it down the hill without hitting anyone or falling.
After that everything seemed to click, and soon enough I was flying down the bunny hill twice as fast as people twice as old as me, and almost as fast as people half as old.
We spent time going down the advanced bunny slope and practicing learning how to exit the ski lift to avoid riding in circles for an hour.
After the lesson we practiced about as much as one can practice on a tiny hill. We’re going to go back another day and try the more advanced slopes. I’m hopeful if I can do well on those it will equate to a bunny slope in Utah.
The Common Denominator
My experience skiing this week — enjoying it and wanting to go back — is a bit different from other “feet not quite on the ground” experiences.
The common thread between this and the list above? Teaching and mentorship. Every one of these I’ve been able to keep up with because I either invested in having someone teach me, or someone was invested in teaching me.
In 8th grade I had to memorize and recite the Gettysburg Address in front of our English assignment for an assignment. I stood up, spoke the first 2 lines, and blanked. I stood there, and could not recall a single word. Then I just sat down. The teacher liked me, so didn’t give me a failing grade.
I ended up taking acting classes throughout middle and high school, as well as speech classes in high school/college, as well as having multiple opportunities to practice public speaking. I’m a terrible actor, but I love public speaking.
One thing is clear — I am not a self-taught/self-made man. Just about everything I do well (or am passable at) I had a great deal of instruction, tutelage, mentorship, and advice. The entire concept of being “self-taught” is a bit hyped for most people — is someone who learns math from videos on Khan Academy self-taught, but someone who takes a class at college, but who still studies hours at a time on their own, not self-taught?
I love writing, and enjoy writing for this blog, but I am not yet a successful blogger. I’ve realized that to make this blog a success will also require learning more from others than I have so far — so if some of you out there reading this are succeeding, don’t be surprised if I come knocking.
And that mountain I jumped off 17 years ago? An instructor was attached to the hang glider, and he piloted it the entire way.