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Life Lessons I learned when I tried Snowboarding

Dear Friends,  

Picture this: a forty-something, slightly overweight, Asian woman from the tropics snowboarding for the first time in her life. 

Not a pretty sight, right?  


Yes, that is precisely what I chose to do on the first day of 2019:  to snowboard at Chestnut Mountain Resort in Galena, a couple hours away from Chicago. Thankfully, I can now laugh about this experience with the benefit of hindsight. While I took home not just a bruised ego but also physical bruises, I also took home some life lessons that I will share with you.

1. Just like everything else, snowboarding looks a lot easier than it really is

There is a human tendency to underestimate how hard something is, due to our inherent nature to have a higher opinion of ourselves that what we really are.  That is why most people will say that they are above average, even if only half of the population can say that they are. In fact, if you see yourself more realistically than most people do then, you display the symptom of “Depressive Realism”, which also means you are clinically depressed.


In 2011, Malcom Gladwell shocked the world in his book Outliers: The Story of Success,  about the 10,000-hour rule.  The 10,000-hour rule states: to be an outlier, the best of the best, the Tiger Woods of this world, you need 10,000 hours of practice to achieve that level of mastery.  This much touted theory of the 10,000-hour rule can be traced back to a 1993 paper written by Ander Ericsson, a professor at the University of Florida State University, called The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance.


While both the academia world and journalists/writers like Malcom can’t seem to agree on the exact contributing factors to greatness (whether 10,000 hours of practice can compensate for natural talent and deliberation of practice), one thing for sure: no one said that you could be an expert in snowboarding by doing it once or twice!

Dr Ander Ericsson also goes on to say that 10,000 hours wasn’t enough, you need deliberate practice. Deliberate practice means that the practice must be intentional, aimed at improving performance, designed for your current skill level, and it must be combined with immediate feedback and repetition.


I remain curious at why a relatively rational person like myself also falls into this trap of thinking that something is easier than it looks, even if I’m aware of the 10,000-hour rule. I think we are created this way as humans, to enable ourselves to even be willing to try something new or challenging. Imagine if we didn’t have this euphemism; there wouldn’t be inventors, entrepreneurs in this world making a difference.


Think of your own experiences, perhaps of your new business/venture; would you have still started it if you knew how hard it was going to be?


Nevertheless, what remains encouraging, is that whatever level we are at, it is not natural ability that will get in our way, but how much and how we practice perfecting our skill.

2. To get to your destination, look at the direction of where you are going.

The second lesson was taught by a young but jaded instructor during the group lesson. I don’t think I learned much from him, and that was possibly the one thing I did learn. He said that we need to look straight ahead at the direction we’re going, because wherever our eyes look, that is where we will end up. For beginners, there is a tendency to look at the snowboard and at the ground; so, guess where you will land too? And he was right!


This makes me think broader into our personal and business life. Where are we looking? Are we looking at the ground or are we looking ahead?  Or are we merely looking behind because we want our past lives back and are not willing to live in the present nor embrace the future?  Are we looking at the land of possibilities, or the minefield of problems?


What are we aiming at in life?


Everything in life works in real time. I do believe that we change the fate of things depending on where our eyes are focused on. 


3. Falling is painful, but the hardest part is getting up.

This was by far the hardest lesson for me: learning to get up after the fall. Getting up when you fall while snowboarding is physically hard because you need certain core strength and flexibility in your calves and thighs to pull yourself up. Imagine yourself on the floor and then try to pull yourself up with just your legs and with a thick ironing board strapped to your feet.


There is also the challenge of the mind.  When I started falling for the umpteenth time, I noticed that it became even harder each time to get myself up again. It was as if the body itself was anticipating the abuse and was asking my mind “why do you want to get up when you will fall again?”


An old expression come to mind: when the going gets tough, the tough gets going.  It seems as if the fear of falling was greater than the falling itself.

4. Give yourself permission to fall makes you fall less.

As I started to observe my own self-talk, I realized that I wasn’t enjoying myself as much when I looked down and kept sighing about how much I fell and beat myself up. But in the rare moments I did tell myself that it was ok and give myself permission to fall (and fall badly), getting up wasn’t as hard.


Whether or not you are on the ground is a fact and cannot be changed, but what you do with yourself after the fall is what matters. If you beat yourself up too much, you may get stuck or simply give up and stop trying.


After I gave myself the pep talk and thought less of myself and accepted my reality that I was a beginner and falling and getting up was part of the experience, I actually fell less! I followed the Nike slogan to just do it.

5. The Obstacle Is the Way!

The next day, with minor hints from hubby, I took a group skiing group lesson with Molly to see if I liked it better, since I had displayed no natural talent at snowboarding whatsoever. I had skied once in my teens. This time I did not fall. I managed to go down the bunny slope and stop rather comfortably. I was good enough to “graduate” on to the more advanced slopes.


However, something rather strange happened. Instead of feeling happy with myself and being soothed that I finally had a reprieve from falling, I felt bored. It felt too easy, and I wished that I was snowboarding again!


Yes, it was true that I enjoyed both the cool factor and the sensation of snowboarding better. However, more than this, I preferred snowboarding to skiing because it was more challenging and harder. The book by Ryan Holiday “The Obstacle is the Way” offers some insight into this. 


The premise of this book is based on one of the quotes of Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor from 161 to 180:

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

Marcus Aurelius



The idea of the book is that very often, obstacles in our lives are not the things that inhibit success, but rather becomes the means itself to achieve success. How we respond to difficulties and challenges in our lives becomes the way to how success can be achieved. The obstacle becomes the way.


I am not asking you to invent artificial obstacles to your life, as life itself is hard enough already. But I am asking you to challenge yourself to look at obstacles and things that are hard in a different light. If we embrace the challenges in our lives as the way to further our mastery of life, is there anything in the world that we cannot accomplish if we set our hearts to it?


So, my friends, what are you doing for the new year that will really challenge you? Remember the obstacle becomes the way.




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