Updated: Mar 11, 2021
When I was 12, I went on my very first snow skiing trip. I was excited, nervous, and praying that I wouldn’t fall and break my brand new glasses with the bright red frames. I was assisted in picking appropriately sized skis and boots and given a very quick tutorial on how I’d grab onto a tow rope for the bunny slope and, once arriving at the top, be shown how to snowplow down the teeny, tiny, almost invisible beginner hill.
Nervously, I arranged myself parallel to the tow rope as instructed, grabbed the rope...and promptly was jerked forward and fell on my face (glasses intact – hooray!). Not particularly accustomed to failure, I got back in position to try again...and fell again. People around me gave me instructions: “let the rope pull YOU...lean slightly backward and use a loose grip... ” as my cheeks burned with embarrassment and I blinked hot tears away with each unsuccessful try. This lovely game of “attack rope” continued for what seemed to be the entire morning, until I declared myself unable to ski and shuffled as fast as my very short legs could carry me to the ski lodge, where I prepared to sit, alone, for the remainder of the weekend. I was done and there was nothing I could do now but sip hot chocolate and wish death on the creator of rope pulls everywhere.
Eventually, one of our group leaders came in to check on me. He asked me if I was going to try again and I told him that under no circumstances would the snow and I EVER do that deadly dance again. He asked me what it was about the rope pull was so hard for me, and I explained that it was surely designed to pull arms out of sockets and not to aid novice skiers up the hill. He was thoughtful for a second, then said to me,“. You haven’t even TRIED skiing yet, you’ve only tried to use a rope pull. Clearly, that’s not working for you. Let’s go up the chair lift together. People think it’s scary, but it won’t pull your arms off and you’ll be up the hill in no time. Then you’ll actually be able to learn to ski.”
(Did he actually say that, exactly? Of course not... I’m 46 now and I'm lucky if I remember my Facebook password these days. But that’s how my brain remembers it)
I was flabbergasted (I love that word). There was ANOTHER WAY to get up the hill? Why had NO ONE told me this????? All those people yelling commands at me and NO ONE thought to offer Plan B? Dave and I (that was his name and although we think the worst in this day and age, he was wonderful and not a creeper in any way) got in the chair lift line. Standing next to me, he quietly told me what to expect as the chair came up behind us and scooped us up into a beautiful ascent up the ski hill. He explained what would happen when it was time to get off the lift and, yes, I most definitely stumbled on the exit. But it didn’t matter – I was UP the hill. The hard part was over. Now I could learn to ski.
We all experience life and learning in different ways. For one person, the challenge of skiing might be learning how to control their body and their speed as they navigate snowplowing down a tiny hill. For me, the challenge was not even ABOUT skiing – it was about figuring out how to GET up the damn hill in the first place. Many people tried to coach me out on the bunny slope. But one person realized that all those voices trying to “help” was the most mortifying thing that could have happened to a 12-year-old, uncomfortable, self-conscious preteen and that I just needed one person to quietly and confidently show me another way. Good – even great – teachers are like that. They notice. They observe. They analyze the situation. Most of all, they find the RIGHT WAY to help. Because the RIGHT WAY is different for every student, old, young, and in between, we can never rely on “just “ the bunny slope”, or “just” one particular musical curriculum, or just one tutoring style. A great mentor will find an alternate path, one that fits those they are serving. Dave learned something about me that continues to this day: I do far better if you just present me with the challenge at hand and coach me through it. Forget bunny slopes for me: take me to the top of the hill and explain how to get down. Don’t do it FOR me, and don’t get in my way – just snowplow with me until we make it to the bottom of the hill.
Discouraged in YOUR quest to start something new? Find a new way. Can’t grasp a concept? Choose a new grip. Want to become better at ANYTHING? Find a mentor, a teacher, a coach who will invest the time to take you to the top of the mountain and ascend with you side by side. Then be that person for someone else. I’m grateful to Dave for being that person for me, in that moment. Dave passed away several years ago, and I was never able to thank him for what he did. If someone has filled that role in your life, reach out and let them know.
P.S. I never did learn how to use a rope pull.
This is me when I was 12. Adorbs.
This Is Dave at some point in his life. That’s how I remember him.