This winter I took my family on a long-anticipated ski trip. Everyone was excited because it had been four years since we skied as a family. My boys were only 8 and 5 at that time, and they remembered how much fun it was to ski with their mom and dad.
On the first day, my boys, now 12 and 9, took a full-day lesson and learned quickly. The next day they were eager to practice and have fun. As an experienced skier, I felt responsible to stay close. However, the moment I put on my gear and stood in the snow, I felt heavy and clumsy. I couldn’t even keep up with their walking pace. As I took the chairlift to the top of a beginner’s slope with my 9-year old, I was scared and completely forgot what I was supposed to do.
My son recalled how I skied with him, nestled in my arms, fast on an intermediate slope during our last vacation, and he was very confused by my reaction. As I was huffing and puffing and afraid to move ahead, he looked at me with empathy and asked, “Mommy, are you okay? Should I wait for you?” I sheepishly told him to “Just go ahead.” His mommy was “Going to take it REALLY slowly.” What made me even more skittish was that I remembered falling on the ice four years before and could still feel the pain in my shoulder. I had only one thought in my mind– Don’t fall! I started moving cautiously using all my energy to control my speed. The slope was not very long, but it took me forever to get to the bottom. Even though I managed not to fall, I was completely wiped out by the end. I thought to myself, Geez, this is what four years of aging and weight gain did to me! Skiing is too hard a sport for a middle-aged woman! Disappointed, I quit and went back to the lodge. As I was resting, I saw quite a few grey-haired men and women happily skiing, making it look like a piece of cake.
Soon, my 9-year old found me and asked, “Mommy, would you like to try it again with me? I promise I will stay with you and protect you.” I didn’t want to let him down, but I was nervous. If I tried again, I may fall and even break my bones, but at least I was changing the story of the day: I am not a quitter.
This time, standing at the top of a slope, I took a deep breath and confronted my fear. As we made our way down, I began to relax and started moving faster. Along the way, I engaged in positive self-talk: Linda, you can do this, you did it before, just trust yourself… just relax, you’ve got it! Muscle memory started to come back. I began to handle turns with control. I gained confidence and began to feel more at ease. All of a sudden, I realized I was skiing, just like before. Now I could enjoy the beautiful scene and the fresh air. I even chatted and laughed with my son. What a triumph! From this point on, I went on many more runs with my sons until the end of the day.
The next day, I was sharing the lift with a man in his 70’s and asked him how he managed to ski comfortably. He said, “you don’t need to use that much energy if you know how to ski with the flow of the snow and the mountain.” His comfort had everything to do with his sense of ease! When I was driven by fear and anxiety, focusing on not falling, I used so much muscle strength and emotional energy, I could hardly enjoy the experience. However, as soon as my confidence returned, I was at ease and did well.
Confidence is what drives performance and success, not fear.
This epiphany reminded me of other aspects of my life, such as running my business. When I became a business owner two years ago, I tried really hard to control everything, afraid of making mistakes, even about things I had no control over. Much of my energy was wasted unnecessarily because I was driven by fear. We all have expectations and goals for ourselves and work hard for certain results. But when we are so focused on what could go wrong, we don’t stay present. Being present breeds confidence and the realization that small, targeted efforts lead to optimal performance.
This lesson is especially useful for people going through major life transitions such as divorce and loss of a spouse. In such vulnerable states, it is common to have tremendous fear and anxiety over the next phase of life, to feel wiped out and even frozen. Giving ourselves self-compassion, remembering how we overcame past challenges and surrounding ourselves with people who are willing to support us are all essential to getting our confidence back.
At Silver Oak, we guide clients through difficult life transitions, taking on the role of navigating partners in the complicated financial landscape. We celebrate our clients’ strength in light of traumatic events, helping clients build confidence and resilience necessary for optimal new normal. Research shows that people have a lower base of financial confidence after a major life event because they underestimate what they are capable of. So here’s your reminder:
Confidence is a choice, regardless of your prior experience, knowledge, and skills. Trusting that you can get to a new normal with confidence and ease, is among the best decisions you can make today.
It’s an honor to be on this journey with you. Have a prosperous 2020!