I saw this sign this week and I keep thinking about it. It’s a warning at Park City Ski Resort–“Don’t go where you don’t have the skill to get off the mountain” and it should be heeded. But…is anything meaningful easy? Is it better to stay on the safe paths for the rest of our lives and never get better or try something hard? In skiing, at some point, you have to venture onto a steeper mountain, because the bunny hill gets so boring after a while. All of the following experiences, once a certain point is passed, there is no easy way to be successful at it. It all takes a lot of work:
A job-showing up every day
Moving to a new city
Launching a child from your home
Starting a new business
Many of us get afraid to actually venture off the safe path, so we stay at a job we hate, or put up with our shaky financial situation and never try to find solutions or change our experience. I appreciate this quote by Eric Grietens in his book Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life, who addresses this idea of actually experiencing things, risking failure, instead of living vicariously through other people’s experiences:
“A carpenter does not come up to you and say, ‘Listen to me discourse about the art of carpentry,’ but he makes a contract for a house and builds it . . . Do the same thing yourself. . . . Get married, have children, take part in civic life, learn how to put up with insults, and tolerate other people.”
He is saying, “Participate and plan on experiencing life, instead of just thinking about it happening some day.”
Mary Oliver, the poet, asks at the end of one of her poems called The Summer Day,
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Do we think of our lives as wild and precious, with unlimited possibilities that are only hampered by our imaginations? Do we understand that we, not our parents, not our boss, or the government is going to make our life magical, thrilling, worth living and meaningful?
I remember distinctly one of the first times my mother handed the responsibility of my life back to me. I was in the third grade, and I had come to her and said, “Nobody wants to be my friend. Nobody will play with me.” I remember her looking into my eyes and telling me she couldn’t make other children be my friends. She said, “Suki, (my nickname), you are the only one who can make friends for yourself. Watch other people and see how they treat each other. When you are nice to someone then they will want to be around you.” I remember being grateful that she would tell me the secret of friendship–kindness and thoughtfulness. I also watched my mother be generous and funny with people. She taught me to notice all of this so I could be a participant instead of an onlooker, wondering what the rules of the game were.
My mother taught me to fish instead of giving me a fish everyday and finding friends for me. She was teaching me that if I wanted friends, I needed to learn to be a friend, and to attract friends. My mother was helping me realize that only I could make my life wonderful. She was teaching me early on, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.”
We can try and fail miserably, and know that we can try again. I have seen people scooting down a steep mountain on their rear ends. I applaud their willingness to try– so much courage is being shown! Learning to ski when you are an adult is terrifying! The miracle is people try everyday to make their lives better and more satisfying. There is no easy way. Anything that will make our lives rich and meaningful will require a lot of hard work. The more we can teach our children that there is no easy way, that working hard towards something will help us be happier and more satisfied, they will become participants, instead of on the side lines, looking on.