What skiing taught me about self help

I love self help books. I’m a strong believer that people should invest in reading at least one or two a year, as a direct contribution to self care. Self help books get a bad rep because common perception tells us that you only buy them when you’re alone and broke and addicted to snorting orange Cheeto powder.

“YOU read self help books?” My parents gawk, sensing no immediate emotional breakdown or orange-powdered nostrils. To be fair, my parent’s unconditional love for me may veil my crazies, but you also don’t have to be on the verge of a life crisis to seek advice on how to live meaningfully. You just have to be a little self-conscious, slightly unsure of the future and completely filled with potential. You know, human.

And, for the most part, self-help books are all pretty much the same. Whether they’re written with the goal of making buttloads of money, finding your soul mate, or living in a tiny house, they generally follow the same layout. They motivate you to take risks, teach on meditation, encourage positive self-talk, have at least one “Live-changing trip to India” anecdote, discuss faith and ultimately come around to the importance of loving oneself.

As I read, I do what I always do: compare everything to skiing. Turns out, everything self-help books want me to know, I’ve already learned from my experience as a skier. I’ve encountered pretty much everything through a race, a long ski alone in the woods or a teary-eyed meeting with my coaches. In our wild, irrational, but incredibly meaningful journeys, we seem to hit all the major points.

  1. Going for it.
    Self-help books are often written for an audience in a rut. Many sentences start with references to dead-end jobs or uninspiring relationships with the final point being a “envision the life you want and get off your bum and freaking do it already!” sentiment. Considering that our culture functioned on the mantra of “All-In” for several years, I can’t think of a better example of taking a chance and going for it than who we see on our full-time racing circuits.

    Sometimes you just gotta fly forward and hope your poles will catch you.

    For most of us, we’ve thrown ourselves into a life of travel, spandex and outdoor exploration with small chances of making big bucks but plenty of passion to make up for it. We exemplify what self-helpers wish to inspire in their readers: people who know what they want, don’t care what others think of what they want, and work their little tushies off to get it, no matter the chances of their outcomes.

  2. Being zen, yo. 
    Several coaches, through no uncertain terms, have taught me that the key to a good race is skiing the hill/flat/descent that you are on, rather than thinking about that which you just finished or the one that is several turns ahead. In other words, ski in the moment, be present, live in the now, brother.

    “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future If you are at peace, you are living in the present” -Lao Tzu (as quoted in You Are a Badass)

    I know a ton of skiers who have picked up meditation to treat their race anxiety, plenty who turn to yoga, and others who revel in those quiet moments before the gun where you can’t be anywhere but here, now. I also know that some of my worst performances were the ones where the “big hill” haunted my thoughts through all of the parts of the course where I should have been concentrating my attention. Put another way, you can’t think yourself through a race, and if meditation is the absence of thought, I’d say a good ski race is pretty damn close.

    blending in: meditation amongst chaos
  3. Positive self-talk
    Because no one ever stood on a podium by saying “I can’t do this” at the start wand.

    A little “I belong here” goes a long way. Photo: flyingpointroad.com
  4. The life-changing trip to India
    Does Kazakhstan count? Whether it’s our first Junior Nationals, Scando Trip, World Juniors or OPA cup, American skiers revel in the pilgrimage of racing at a level higher than any other we’ve seen before. Experiencing “ski culture” is life-changing.img_8583
    Seeing my first World Cup led me to dramatically change my life, leave school and pursue skiing full time. Racing in Norway gave me massive hope for my own potential and belief in what I could do while competing in a World competition both humbled and motivated me. While self-help books often refer to cultural exploration as a heart and mind-opening experience into the good lives people live, our version opens our hearts and minds to what humans can achieve. Seeing that in person, and knowing the champions on a human level, gives us the knowledge that we can do that too, if we (and the universe, coming in the next section) will it.
  5. Faith
    At one point or another, pretty much all self-help books reference the importance of believing in some higher energy (or whatever you want to call it). We, as skiers have a special way of acknowledging it.
    So much of our sport is left up to chance. Snow conditions, wax choice, and other skiers are all out of our control. The chances that any single skier will stand on top of the Olympic podium are slim, and yet we have to maintain the constant, unwavering belief: I can do this. This goes beyond positive self talk (which, ultimately, is glorified faking it) into true, bonafide belief that the fickle, cosmic universe juices are ultimately flowing in our favor, regardless of rapids. When you take the chance of pursuing ski racing, you have to believe that you can succeed. When you start a race, you have to believe that you’ve done the work to cross the line first. And when you don’t cross the line first (hello from 23rd place), you have to maintain faith that things will come together at some point, in some way, in your favor.
    Whether or not they are reasonable, whether or not you actually will, the thought that you can’t reach your goals is a lethal one, and a loss in faith.
  6. Self Love. 
    Obviously, the whole point of self-help books is to find within yourself enough respect and trust that you can get up off your bum, wash the orange crust off your face and get onto living your life already. What ties together the motivation, zen-ness, perspective and belief is believing that you’re good enough to succeed, that you deserve what you’ve worked for.Five years ago, this was probably the thing we, as Nordies, needed the most work on. Particularly in the US, conversations about domestic skiing revolved around self-deprecating jokes and comments about not being good enough, not developing correctly, or not having a “real job.” I, as much as any other, am guilty of this obstruction (and, admittedly, have completely overused spandex jokes). In addition to not talking nice about ourselves, we also spoke poorly about our competitors who were still skiing, maintained love/hate relationships with our governing body and uncomfortably dodged discussing issues like disordered eating, body dysmorphia and doping.

    Kristen, our SVSEF junior coach, just loving it.

    Today, we’re getting somewhere. While the urge still exists to question the social validity of the Nordie life, there are several examples of athletes who have made profitable careers of skiing full time professionally. Thanks to the brave voices of several athletes, coaches and journalists, our negative eating culture has been met with positive discussion, while the sheer competitiveness of the domestic circuit has proven that the people standing at the top of the podium earned what they won. We still have some ground to make up in the whole loving yourself department, but if World Cup medals and mutual support on the circuit show anything, it’s that we’ve made progress.

So what do I take away from it all? That while skiing can provide a great deal of anguish and hardship and existential crises, if self-help books have any authority whatsoever, we’re kind of already living the good life.





Also, for your reference, some fantastic self-help reads (of which I have a couple that I have yet to read):

Sicero, Jen. You Are a Badass  (my most recent read)

Harris, Dan. 10% Happier

Jay, Meg Phd. The Defining Decade 

Branson, Richard. Losing my Virginity (it’s both everything and nothing that you think)

Gilbert, Elizabeth. Big Magic. 

Chodron, Pema. Fail. Fail Again. Fail Better.

Duhigg, Charles. The Power of Habit  

Rhimes, Shonda. The Year of Yes. 

2 thoughts on “What skiing taught me about self help

  1. When I see your post in my email, I always smile. I so enjoy your writing. You are inspirational and encouraging. Love ya, Doni

    Sent from my iPad


  2. I read the Dan Harris book a recommend it to others without an iota of embarrassment. I admit to very sheepishly buying an F. Scott Peck book about 20 years ago and not opening it because it would only confirm I was a delicate flower. Actually I listened to the Dan Hartis book. He narrates it and is probably much funnier then the reading voice in my head. What appealed to me was the 10% part (and the skepticism). Reading the advice of a prophet or a monk who has spent their life in a monestary is helpful but also has a tinge of the ridiculous. I’ll look into the others-though let me know which ones are funny. Thanks for the post.

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