For a very long time now, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with skiing. We started skiing as a family when my kids were young, and it was glorious, wonderful, hilarious family time.

I’ve never really loved it though. Skiing as wonderful family time became less true as my kids became much better skiers – better themselves and way better than me. There were moments of beauty beyond belief and a huge swell of joy and pride when I’d manage a tough run or feel the exhilaration of swooshing through powder as if I knew what I was doing.

But it was always love-hate. Because even with those moments of beauty, I also had moments of fear (I hate going fast and feeling out of control) and tension (I hate not being able to do something even as I’m learning to do it). Skiing brought out some of my “worst” tendencies and irrationalities.

But I kept skiing for my family. I didn’t want to “let them down.” And I’m stubborn and never wanted to admit how hard it was for me and that maybe skiing was something I was better off not doing. I learned – and blogged about – many leadership lessons from my skiing. Including taking care of yourself and moving through the fear and being gentle with yourself when you hate that you can’t do something that you can’t do yet.

And then I skied into a tree.

I remember thinking, “How does anyone actually ski into a tree?” It happens. As you ski toward the side of the run and decide to just go around one tree…only as you approach the tree you see only ice and lose all control…and hit that tree with your head and your heart.

And end up diagnosed with a hairline fracture of the sternum and a mild concussion.

Fast forward three weeks, and there’s another family ski trip planned. I’m here, at a beautiful mountain, and I’m clearly NOT skiing. Which is a funny experience – to look out the window all day and much of the night at people enjoying the mountain, to hear the stories of the glades and the slopes and the powder from my family, to sit much of the day – me, being someone who doesn’t often just sit (or at least doesn’t often sit without a purpose for sitting) – and nurse my head and sternum.

Perhaps needless to say, I learned some leadership lessons:

  • It’s okay to say no – I was told I could not ski this trip. Neither my fractured sternum nor my mild concussion have healed. I can’t risk another fall. (I even get nervous as I walk on the slippery sidewalks. I really, really don’t want to fall.) And yet there’s still a voice inside me that wishes to call me a wimp and a wuss for not skiing. There’s still an urge inside me to push through the fear and prove how strong and capable I am. I’m not the only one with that irrational voice and urge. I see it in our clients. I may have been forced to say “No” this time, but I’ve realized that Thoughtful Leadership includes opting out at times and realizing that, in many ways, you have nothing to prove. That voice and that urge can push us to actions that put ourselves, our teams, and our organizations in “danger.” True leadership can be saying, “No.”
  • Self-care is the first priority – Again, I was told not to ski. I was told to only rest and heal. And, again, I can still hear that ludicrous voice that judges me for that. Why do we have such a hard time caring for ourselves? Why does that powerful – but laughable – voice tell us that taking care of yourself is selfish and weak? So many of our clients push themselves beyond their limits. So many of our clients feel – or “know” – they don’t have time to take a break, to eat lunch, to pause…to use the bathroom! But, as the saying goes, “Put on your own oxygen mask first.” As I coach myself and my clients, if you don’t take care of yourself, you’ll have nothing left to give to others. We need to make time to rest, to rejuvenate, to say “No” when we have to, to think. Only when we care for ourselves, so we’re at our strongest, healthiest, and most whole, can we effectively care for and lead others.
  • Be in the moment for all it’s worth – I did not see the gorgeous vistas from the top of the mountain this trip. I did not push through the fear – for better or for worse – and I did not have the moments of joy and pride. I didn’t have the stories of the moguls and the glades and the powder and the accomplishments. But I enjoyed myself nonetheless. I found beauty in my moments and ease in my healing. I spent moments in meditation and reflection and caught up on some work. (I even wrote this blog post.) I made the most of what I had, instead of wishing things could be different. And that, also, is a huge Thoughtful Leadership skill. It’s so easy to let our minds wander to how things should be or how we should be or what should be happening. Thoughtful Leadership is about being in the present, acknowledging what is, finding the way to let that be okay, and making the most of it.

I may never ski again. I have not forgotten the fear of seeing that tree in my path and knowing I was going to hit it straight on. I don’t know that I can do it again. (And besides, someone who loves me dearly has promised to find a gun and hunt me down if I ever put skis on again.) I haven’t made that decision yet, and I’ll let myself be okay with whatever I decide.

But either way, skiing or not, there is much to be learned and ways to be Thoughtfully present, aware, and leading.

What has been your latest learning about leading and leading Thoughtfully?
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