A lesson in failure on the slopes

It depends on how you measure


Vanessa Gallman

a year ago | 2 min read

Uploaded by Jaron on Unsplash

When I was in my late 20s, I signed up for a one-day bus trip to the mountains to get basic skiing lessons. It ended, however, in a real education about my limitations and how to manage them.

I don’t like cold weatherand I struggle to even make graceful turns around a skating rink. But somehow I envisioned myself gliding across a winter wonderland. The fallback plan was to sip hot chocolate before a roaring fire.

The first part of the day focused on learning to maneuver on the bunny slopes. I was doing OK, about in the middle of the pack among my travel group. But something I ate for lunch left me bent over in pain for hours.

By the time I felt well enough to put skis back on, everyone seemed to be shushing down the mountain like pros. Despite needing to relearn the morning lesson, I craved an aerial view of the mountain. I asked someone whether there was a way to ride the ski lift back down. The response: There had to be.

When I reached the top of the mountain, I was shocked to discover that I actually had to ski back down. Tumbling off the lift, I fell flat. That set the pace for the afternoon. I never made it more than a few feet before hitting the ground again.

Meanwhile, people skied past me, rode back up and skied down again. Several times. Even children. A few compassionate souls stopped to give me tips but realized I was a too-slow learner.

This was the first time I had ever been “the worst” at anything. I struggled to control embarrassment, resentment and envy. I thought about just walking, but the snow had turned to ice. I would still end up on the ground.

So, the only achievement within my grasp was to make it down still standing on my skis — no matter how pathetic I looked.

The sun was setting by the time I reached bottom. The crowd erupted in a round of applause. I’m sure a lot of it was out of sympathy. But by the time I had finished, I needed no one’s endorsement. I had won my own personal battle by no longer comparing myself to others.

Self-help gurus insist that success is always about reaching lofty goals and besting competition. I have followed such advice many times during life’s ups and downs. But this time, readjusting how I measured myself allowed me to tap into a well of self-assurance I did not realize I had.

In the end, this failure was not deflating. It was empowering. And it also reinforced that sipping hot chocolate before a fireplace is my preferred response to snow.


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Vanessa Gallman

Experienced journalist, educator sharing political analyses, personal essays







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