culture & community travel

On Failing Well

by Christina — April 3, 2017

Taking up a new hobby like skiing is not all it’s cracked up to be. How can you turn lemons into lemonade and turn a fail into failing well?

My family (including my handsome husband and my sweet baby boy) just got back from spring break in California, a lovely week that began in the snowy mountains of Squaw Valley, and ended in the glorious vineyards of Wine Country. I have my rosy wind/sun-burnt cheeks to show for it.

I skied for the first time ever last Christmas, and decided that I liked it enough to get the gear and do some lessons. So, with my new everything-proof jacket and ski-pants (trousers), I joined 3 other ladies for a beginners class on Wednesday.

“If you’re not falling, you’re not trying!” says my husband, Rob, as he sends me on my way.

Let’s just say, I tried REALLY hard.

I don’t remember being this bad the first time round. While the other ladies were starting to practice turning, I was still having trouble stopping. They’d sashay their way to the bottom of the slope, while I’d still be fumbling and bumbling (and tumbling) at the top of the slope.

It was frustrating, and I could feel myself getting stroppy.  “Come on, now,” I’d say to myself. “It’s all about failing well.” It’s a phrase Rob uses with his students a lot, and one that I often think about when trying to make the most of a screw-up.

But as the class went on, it became increasingly clear that I was not failing well. I could feel my head closing in. I started turning the instructor out. I was seriously suspicious that there was something wrong with my skis. I was rapidly coming to the conclusion that skiing clearly wasn’t for me and that I’d probably never ski again.

Dave, the instructor, was very sweet about it. He held his poles horizontally in front of me and told me to hold on as he skied backwards down the slope with me, which was very helpful. “Why do I keep sliding?!” I cried out in exasperation at one point. “Well, sliding is part of skiing,” says Dave. Mmm. I thought that was quite profound.

By the time lunch came around, I seemed to be finally making some headway. Right! I thought. Shake the morning off, take a break, make some friends, enjoy the view (we’re at the top of Squaw mountain for crumbs sakes!), and SHOW THIS SNOW WHO’S BOSS!!!

Well, within 30 seconds of being out in the snow again, I was back on my bum, hurtling at an alarming speed towards the edge of a–for lack of a technical term–snow ledge. Luckily I crashed into a ski rack just before the 2-3m drop.

By this point, it was clear to Dave that I was really quite challenged. He guides me down the slope to the ski lift (I still manage to crash into a fence on the way – whatthefudge?!?!), and explains to us how we must jump on and off the chair as it comes round.

“Christina, you sit next to me (since I clearly cannot be trusted). Tell me, what are we going to do when we get to the end?”

In as chirpy a voice as I can muster, I repeat his exact instructions like a good student: “Place skis in parallel position, tilt them upwards slightly, then as they reach the ground, rock forwards, push off the chair and stand all the way up.”

You can guess what happened. I somehow ended up on the ground, skis flailing, completely discombobulated, trying to crawl out of the way so that the ski lift behind us wouldn’t whack me in the head. The whole thing was straight out of a Bridget Jones movie.


Dear Dave tells me to stay put, practice some turns, and he’ll be straight back once he’d led the girls to their next slope. Apparently he has chosen a nice flat area for me. Well, I appear to be slipping and sliding, no matter what direction I face and no matter how big a wedge I try to make!

By this point, I’m getting so exhausted, and kerfuffled, that I can’t even get my foot back in my ski. So I give up. Teary and defeated, I take my skis off and just stand there in the middle of the mountain as all these superhuman skiers zoom past me.

“I think you’re done skiing for the day,” says Dave when he finally returns, and he sends me home early. As I descend the mountain in the ski tram, I’m still trying to wrap my head around what an epic fail the whole thing was and I don’t think I was failing well.

OK, so how can I fail well? Fail forward? I keep asking myself.

Well, first, I allowed myself to be mopey for a bit.

Then I had a good laugh at the hilariousness of it all.

Then I tried to talk nicely to myself.

Then, I made a littlefailing well, ski, skiing, ski goggles, woman skiing list of the things that I learnt (like, create a wedge by turning heels out, not toes in) and the few things that did go well (apparently when I wasn’t on the ground, I was turning alright towards the end).

Then I asked myself, why am I doing this? Is it worth putting myself through all this again?

I thought about how exhilarating it must feel to fly down a mountain, and how lovely it would be to ski with Rob and Bailey some day, and how I DO want to say yes to adventure and freedom and breathtaking beauty.

And finally, I decided that as long as I was OK to be a bumbling beginner for the next 10 years or so, I could some day experience all of that. I do my best to turn “failing well” into a long term investment. Because, as Churchill so aptly put, “success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”



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