By Dana Sturtevant, MS, RD
I’ve been very aware of how shame and vulnerability show up in my life after reading Brené Brown’s work. I especially like her TED talks and her book The Gifts of Imperfection. So when I stepped out on the ski slopes with some good friends this weekend, I wasn’t surprised that vulnerability showed up. But I didn’t expect my experience to contain so many lessons about how vulnerability interferes with learning a new skill.
I was the only person in the group who wasn’t an experienced skier. In fact, it had been six years since I last skied, and that was my first and only other time doing it. So as the time got closer to heading to the mountain, I noticed a strong urge to bail. Thoughts like “you don’t know what you are doing,” “you are going to slow them down,” “the boots are so uncomfortable” and “you’re going to get hurt” filled my head. I also found myself thinking, “it’s expensive” and “you have work you could do.” But my desire to be adventurous and spend a beautiful day on the mountain with my friends overruled. Brené says,
“…our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage… the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.”
If I had allowed my fear to take over, I would have missed out on an amazing day with my friends.
After gearing up, I stepped into my skis and headed outside. My heart started to pound as I looked around at all the competent skiers and snowboarders who seemed to fly down the mountain fearlessly. I made my way to the bunny slope and practiced stopping – the first thing you need to know how to do to feel comfortable skiing. Then I took my first lift up to the top of a short, not too steep, run and felt the vulnerability set in again. “Holy #@%*, am I really going to do this?” “What was I thinking?”
But my friends were encouraging, telling me I could do it, that I would be okay. I just thought “Are you crazy?” When I was finally ready, I started down slowly, turning this way and that, practicing the “pizza” move with my skis to slow down and come to a stop.
After getting only slightly more comfortable, my friend John thought I was ready to head up for a longer run. As we were heading up the lift, I was gratefully in awe of my surroundings AND terrified at how high we were going. From the lift, the slopes looked so steep. I asked my friend, “Are you sure I can do this? Did you not just see me down there? I’m pretty bad at this.” And he said, “In the 20 years you have known me, have I ever steered you wrong?” I thought about it for a minute and replied, “Nothing comes to mind but if I think long enough, I might come up with something.” Laughter always lightens the mood!
We got off the lift and I practiced turning and stopping, turning and stopping. My confidence increased a bit. And as I leaned into my extreme sense of vulnerability at the top of this mountain, I began to trust my coach and believe in my ability to do it. As the day progressed, I got better and better. The vulnerability hung around all day though. When I got to the bottom of this first big run – a run that takes experienced skiers less than five minutes to do but took me an hour, I noticed a strong desire to bail. But I knew that the only way I was going to build my confidence was to go back up and do it again. So I did it two more times before turning in my skis.
Learning a new skill, like intuitive eating, means facing down vulnerability. Brené says,
“Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.”
Here are some insights from a courageous day spent learning how to ski:
- You have to really want it. If you don’t, you will have a hard time resisting the urge to bail.
- You cannot learn to ski without getting on the skis and doing it. Just like you cannot learn to eat intuitively by reading, thinking and talking about it.
- Learning a new skill (like skiing) takes a lot patience and practice. Think progress, not perfection.
- Leaning into vulnerability is difficult but being uncomfortable is the only way to learn. I stared down vulnerability for four hours on that mountain and I survived. I kept thinking of this image:
- Looking too far down the hill at what was to come (into the future) made doing it harder. Staying in the present moment and taking it one turn and one stop at a time is what worked.
- My thoughts were my biggest obstacle to learning how to ski. So I just noticed my mind and thanked it for sharing.
- My lack of trust in my ability to do it was the #1 reason I fell. Almost every time!
- When you fall down, you get back up and do it again. And it gets better every time you stand up.
- Doing it every six years is not the ideal frequency to learn a new skill. Consistency over time is what works best.
- Someone believing in you and encouraging you along the way helps! A LOT!
“When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice our relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time. Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience. We must walk into the arena with courage and the willingness to engage. Rather than sitting on the sidelines… we must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen. This is vulnerability. This is daring greatly.”
-Excerpt from “Daring Greatly” by Brené Brown, Ph.D.
I certainly enjoyed my margarita to celebrate my courage at the end of the day!
Dana Sturtevant is a registered dietitian, certified yoga teacher, and self-proclaimed foodie. She especially enjoys blogging about mindfulness, yoga, Intuitive Eating, Health at Every Size®, and the Slow Food Movement.