March 11, 2015

Ski Lesson #3: Don’t Lean Back; Lean In

Between some new exciting things at work, plumbing issues with my townhouse in New York, difficulty getting vendor bids for work on my new house in Colorado, and a lot of travel (friends visiting me + me visiting friends)… it’s been nutty around here. As a result, my routine has been completely thrown off and I haven’t made the time to get a blog post up. I am just proud of myself for at least throwing together Sunday’s links I love, even if it was a little bit late! However, I now have a lot to say, and still not a lot of time to write it in… so rather than try to catch up, let’s just dive in with this weekend’s ski trip.

Some of my coworkers and I get together every year for a women’s ski/snowboard trip to Park City, Utah. This was actually my second trip out to Park City this year, having gone there two weeks ago for training, and as luck would have it, the snow has been better in whatever state I wasn’t in for the last few weekends! This weekend was definitely more about the skiing than the networking, but I actually ended up being pretty happy with how the skiing turned out anyway.

I had booked a 6am flight on Friday morning to get out there, which meant waking up at 4am. Yikes! Unfortunately, I probably should have gotten up even earlier than that – because the doors to the flight closed one minute early, and I was cutting it so close that sixty seconds made the difference and I missed the flight. Oof! I was upset at first, but tried to focus on what a partner at my firm had told me a few years ago: if you miss more than one flight per year, you’re an idiot; if you miss fewer than one flight per year, you’re spending too much time at airports. Let’s hope this is my only flight missed for 2015 and I’m not an idiot! 😉

I got into Park City just a few hours later than expected, but since it would now be difficult for me to meet up with the group, I decided to head to a different resort and check out Canyons, where I had been disappointed by the snow two weeks ago. This time around still wasn’t great snow, by any means, but it was much better than before, and I surprised myself by getting in a lot of runs before calling it a day. Plus, Canyons is home to Cloud Dine restaurant, which is my favorite on-mountain restaurant ever. It’s definitely really pricey (think $15-18/entree compared to most ski resorts’ already expensive $10-13 meals), but the food is so good.

Asian Salad at Cloud Dine at Canyons Resort
Seared ahi tuna atop napa cabbage, grated carrots, sprouts, rice noodles, and edamame, with a sesame vinaigrette. So fresh and delicious!

After skiing and getting all cleaned up, I headed for dinner at High West Distillery with my coworkers and ended up having an awesome conversation with the partner next to me. We had met on these ski trips previously, but I hadn’t done a good job staying in touch in between, so this was the first time he had learned that I moved to Colorado. We talked a lot about the change, both from a personal and career perspective – and though I hadn’t stopped to think about it before, I realized the move had been just as beneficial for my career as it was for my personal life. Colorado doesn’t necessarily have more opportunities than New York did, but the opportunities that are here are perfect for me – and so I have a lot more confidence in stepping up and “leaning in” to those activities. Basically, I’m the textbook case of the female “if I’m not a perfect fit, I’m not going to waste their time applying for this” mindset – but I’m trying to get over that.

I know that Sheryl Sandberg’s book has now gotten so much press that it’s actually infamous – people are writing (popular) articles about how you should recline rather than leaning in! I read the book when it first came out and honestly don’t still recall all of the principles enough for it to be incredibly useful to me anymore on an everyday basis. However, there is a growing body of books and articles on developing confidence (many of which I include in my links I love), and I think “lean in” is a good, quick catchphrase to remind myself to focus on that.

I think that “leaning in” is a big part of why I’m so much happier in Colorado than I was in New York. In New York, I always felt judged for my choices (by whom, I’m not sure?), whereas in Colorado I definitely “own” my actions and thoughts much more. People are extremely accepting when I just say “sorry, this is how I am, and I’m doing XYZ” – and that really surprised me at first. This could be a difference in the people in each place, or, admittedly, it could just be a difference in my perception of what people might think – but either way, it’s a huge shift in mindset for me. As a result, I feel like it’s much easier for me to step up to new opportunities (even if it’s not a perfect fit), and have the confidence to “lean in” across a lot of different dimensions. And that strategy of “leaning in” is working out really well for me with new work opportunities, new personal opportunities (a house!), a new relationship… and on the ski slopes.

Which brings me to Saturday and Sunday, skiing Park City Resort with my coworkers. Saturday was a little all over the place, as several people had brought their children and we spent a good chunk of time on the bunny slopes offering pointers. (Okay, it was really the snowboarders who were offering pointers, not me or the skiers, as apparently skiing is not cool for kids to learn these days.) It was so cool to see how much improvement the kids could make in just a short time! But by afternoon, when the sun had softened up the icy slopes and I had a chance to go out on my own… my legs were shot. Oops! (I also blame my dumb decision to walk the entire 1.5 miles from the house to the lift in my ski boots.)

But in the few runs I did get in with the grownups on Saturday, everyone was much better and faster than me, so I was pushing myself hard to try to keep up. The result? To go faster, I was “leaning in” to the slope, putting my weight more on my toes than my heels, kind of like you’re supposed to do in downhill trail running. It wasn’t just making me faster, though; it was also making my technique much better, which in turn helped me be more confident.

Leaning in on the ski slopes
Crushing. It.

On Sunday, I continued to apply the literal principle of “leaning in” to an afternoon of skiing with two senior associates who… actually weren’t that much better than me? I had absolutely thought they were both far beyond my abilities and that I’d never be able to keep up, but we ended up making a nice little group, for both socializing and skiing/riding. We’d coordinate on the lift which trails we were going to take and at which lift we’d reconvene, and then as soon as we got to the top, I’d get a head start going down while my colleagues strapped back into their snowboards. I was very conscious that they’d soon be passing me, so again, I was leaning forward and trying to go fast – but it worked, as we usually all got to the bottom within a minute or so of each other. A few times, I even beat them down the hill! (Probably because they didn’t know I was racing them in my mind, or they could have easily beaten me.)

Treadmill Racing
This isn’t just me, right?

But the best part of the day was when I decided, with my colleagues’ encouragement, to attempt a black diamond run. It was short but steep, and I slowed to a stop at the crest of the hill to assess it before truly deciding whether to go down it. There was a big, tempting “Easier Way Down!” sign to my left, and the black trail in front of me looked steep… but I also recognized it was not icy and had no moguls. In fact, there was a ski school instructor leading a group down one side of it, and I totally eavesdropped on his instruction and heard not one word about ice or needing to be careful. So I leaned forward and started cruising down – tentatively at first, but then picking up speed till I felt like I was flying. It was amazing! I ended up going down that black once more on a subsequent run, loving the major improvement in my technique when I leaned down the hill instead of trying to lean back because I was afraid of falling.

TL;DR (I should really offer this for all my ramblings, huh?): Leaning back seems to be the surest way to do a mediocre job, but when I leaned forward, I was amazed to find that I surpassed my own expectations of my performance.


8 thoughts on “Ski Lesson #3: Don’t Lean Back; Lean In”

  1. I don’t want to be deliberately contrary….but, what is wrong with seeking the perfect fit? Career, House, Lover. … I have a blog post saved that I want to fill out on this topic.

    I agree we don’t want to recline (no tension), and we don’t want to be leaning into the mountain so far that our heels come off of our boots. There is a right amount of lean, or tension, that is preferable. In recline there is no tension (we are asleep or dead). Too far forward is too much tension – tunnel vision develops, overly aggressive and we miss key details, etc. But lean in, create that right amt of tension, yeah, that’s right.

    Nice proprioceptive cue on the slopes (re: lean in). Here are a couple more: head up and imagine your head/torso/hips/pelvis all have to turn together. Combined with “lean in” these proprioceptive cues (while possibly feeling awkward in the beginning) will make you feel more comfortable on the mountain by keeping your center of mass under your hips. Anyway, have you crashed lately? 🙂

    BTW, I liked the energy of this post. Informative and descriptive – but you also made a connection ‘lean in’ that was relevant across many disciplines. I wonder when it’ll happen again…

    1. That is SO cool – thank you!!! I have never thought about the biomechanics of it at all… I just kind of go 🙂

    2. Feel free to be contrary – I really like having my views challenged and then getting to think more on it. To your point, though, I think my views on that have been changing quite a bit lately. I don’t think you should constantly say no to everything that isn’t perfect, but I think it’s definitely worth making room in your life so that if the perfect something does appear, you can accept it.

      Thanks for the skiing tips! I haven’t crashed in a while, which probably means I’m still not being aggressive enough 🙂

    3. Sorry for being cheesy, but thank you, a big heartfelt thank you, for your enthusiastic thank you for the youtube video! Today hadn’t been bad, but sort of uninspiring, and even though it is just a simple comment you made…it made me smile – I needed to really smile about something! Again, sorry for the silly-ness, but I just wanted to let you know!!

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