“Baby steps count, too, as long as you’re moving forward.” – Chris Gardner
At times it may seem as if the world is falling apart around you. How many crises can people endure at once? In the waning days of the pandemic, the media onslaught of new variants attempts to keep those embers ablaze as politicians cling to their precious authority like Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. Massive inflation not seen for more than the last 30 years means less and less of your take-home pay is making it under the Christmas tree. Marxist race wars are still being waged by corporations and the press and you can hardly turn on your television without being inundated with naked bigotry dressed as inclusivity. How does a person respond to all of this?
I took my first trip west of the Mississippi River when I was twenty-eight. My wife had a job interview to attend, and so we decided to make a vacation of it and took our first ski trip together to the Alta Ski Area in Salt Lake City. The only problem with this was that I grew up in the South. The white fluffy stuff is largely just mythological there. The only opportunities for ski trips were to man-made snow resorts in North Carolina or West Virginia with church youth groups. Perhaps it was best to not make my first attempt at strapping six-foot boards to my feet and sliding down a hill at a world-class ski hill?
When we arrived in Utah, I had to purchase everything one might need to look the part of a skier. A jacket, gloves, ski pants, and goggles, I brought nothing with me. The gear went on easy enough, but I’m pretty sure that the grown man waddling like a fawn taking its first steps gave me away as a tourist.
As I limped my way onto the lift, my wife assured me that she would teach me everything I needed to know. My first lift dismount looked a lot like my first attempt at standing up. After some time and effort, I found my way to the edge of the ski hill. Why had I signed myself up for this? My wife’s sage advice was “make a pizza”, which was her way of telling me to wedge the tips of my skis together in order to slow myself down. Then she took off.
What proceeded next was two hours of misery as I rolled and contorted my way down the mountain, each time bailing out to stop myself from meeting an end face first in the rocks and trees. At one point, I thought I had the skiing thing figured out. When my pizza failed to bring my two hundred and thirty-pound frame to a halt, I once again bailed, sliding many tens of yards down the hill face-first and losing my skis along the way. When I finally did come to a halt, a small boy whom I assumed was coming to my aid proceeded to spray my twisted body with powder and yell “you suck!” as he sped by. I threw in the towel and took ski lessons for the rest of the day.
I eventually did get the skiing thing figured out. My wife got the job she was interviewing for and we relocated to Salt Lake City. As a graduate student at the University of Utah, my wife and I both got discounted season passes to Snowbird. I skied the bunny hill for two weeks straight getting my bearings and that persistence eventually paid off. When it came time to transfer those same skills to the top of the mountain my wife provided more sage advice that was actually helpful, and that was this: “you don’t ski the whole mountain at once, you only ski the hill in front of you.”
When you are skiing, one of the hardest parts is often making the initial commitment to pick a line and turn downhill. If you are too busy staring at the totality of the mountain, you may begin to feel overwhelmed and lack the confidence to tackle the obstacles immediately in front of you. There is a temptation in life, just as in skiing, to absorb the totality of your circumstances and to attempt to reach resolution all at once. Just as in skiing, you cannot. If you focus only on the hill in front of you, you can begin to tackle life’s challenges one at a time. Before you know it, you will have reached your destination.