How Will You Get Down the Mountain?

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantAbout five years ago, some friends and I went on a trip to ski at Mt. Bachelor, one of the "premier ski destinations in Oregon." With something like 70 trails, many of them black or double black diamond, this place is for people who are serious about enjoying themselves on the snow. I am not a skier.

I have skied, but most of my experience was left behind after fourth grade, and apart from a short stint of trying to snowboard in high school, it had been nearly a decade since I'd tried to glide down a mountain. I figured it could still be fun, though - who doesn't want to be one of those cute snow bunnies who lounges in the lodge sipping on hot chocolate after a hardcore day of shredding?

So, I went and paid whatever ungodly sum of money it takes to buy a lift ticket and rent skis, and my friends and I were on our way. Up, up the lift that takes you to the summit, where the views are spectacular and you feel small and inconsequential and it's lovely. Until you realize you have to get yourself down the mountain.

Once I'd taken in the views, I fervently looked for the big green trail sign that says, "Come this way - it will be easy and fun and you probably won't fall!" I found it, thank goodness, and skied wobbly but pleasantly down that run - I think it was called "Marshmallow" for good measure - a few times that morning.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantBy the afternoon, I was ready for something different but equally easy, so I went with some friends to a new part of the mountain. Feeling a little more sure of myself, I let them talk me into trying the next level of difficulty - a blue trail - which, they promised, was "just like a green!"

It was not like a green.

It was nothing like my fluffy Marshmallow trails from before. It was horrendous - steep, fast, with these deep holes where I guess people do jumps or some shit. Within about five seconds, I was in a panic about how I was going to get down this trail, back into the safety of the lodge. Here are some things that ran through my head:

Can I fake an injury and call ski patrol to drive me down?

Can I crawl back up to the ski lift and beg them to let me take it down?

Will I die?

How the f*ck am I getting down this g*ddamn f*cking mountain?

The only viable option was to try to ski down it, as miserable and scary as it was going to be. Other experienced skiers were flying past me, annoyed at my beginner-ness, I'm sure, and my friends were long gone. I had to do this on my own.

I'd cautiously ski side to side for about thirty seconds, gain some speed, freak out or lose my balance, and fall. I'd clamor for a footing, pull myself back up, look around just in case ski patrol was nearby, and, when no help was available to me, slide forward again until I'd fall. Up, down, up, down, up, down.

For about half that time, I was swearing up a storm and spitting vitriol all over the "good" skiers around me. I was so angry that I was probably melting the snow beneath me every time I landed hard on my ass.

By the time I was halfway down this devil of a mountain, though, I just couldn't help but laugh at the ridiculousness of it. I was so humiliated and exhausted that there was no sense being angry anymore - it was just hilarious! I figured that I probably wouldn't die - I'd break a bone at worst - and someday, this might be a funny story to tell.

I'd take a little longer to rest when I'd fallen so that I could soak up some of the beauty of the snow and the dark green pine trees. A few times, I was alone on the trail, and the silence was so deep and kind that it assured me I could keep going.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantSo with a smile on my face - and another quick scan for ski patrol - I hoisted myself back up dozens of times and inched down that mountain. My friend Chris (who is now my hubby) was looking for me at the base of the trail and told me later that day that when he saw me from afar, he thought I was waving to say "hi" every couple of minutes. What he actually saw was me thrusting my ski poles up to support my limp body as I tried to stand after another hard fall. I had no idea he was even down there witnessing my pathetic misery.

Finally, finally, I got down that mountain. The treachery was over, and despite my every attempt to avoid having to get down it myself, I did. That day, I earned my adult hot chocolate next to the fire in the lodge.

What is your mountain today?

Maybe it's a project you have to get done, or a tough decision you're facing. Maybe it's a relationship that's ending or a really difficult loss you've experienced. We all end up on trails that aren't the right fit for us sometimes, even when we've planned or intended for something better.

No matter what trail we end up on, or what mountain we have to get down, we always have a choice in how we interface with the challenge ahead of us. Will we scream and fight and look for a way out, or can we stop resisting and work our way down - laughing, reflecting, and soaking up the beauty around us?

Know someone who's at the top of a difficult mountain? Consider passing this along to them!