I’m flying down the Powderline from the top of Bald Mountain at the White Grass Ski Touring Center and I’m going faster than I’ve ever skied before. Conditions are perfect and I’ve thrown my usual caution to the wind. About two thirds of the way down my exhilaration (mixed with a little fear) turns to panic as I see a skier to the side who is stepping backward into my path. I am too out of control to stop or turn.
“Watch out!” I yell to her and she jumps forward, fortunately out of my way. My heart racing I whizz past and down the mountain. But I am definitely on the edge and way past my comfort zone. My first thought when I am finally able to stop (using the flying buttocks arrest) is that I never want to climb back on that horse, if you know what I mean.
Finding the space where people can best learn is a challenge for coaches, for leaders, for anyone who wants to help others (or themselves) get to a new level of competency. If things are really comfortable, it means you aren’t learning. To learn you have to be in that uncomfortable place of not knowing.
When I ski and I know I’m totally safe, I’m not skiing to the edge of my ability. The heart’s got to beat a little faster to test one’s limits and see what new adventure might lie beyond.
But if our hearts beat too fast, learning is compromised as well. Our bodies and minds start focusing on survival and our responses become automatic. That’s what happened on that slope for me. It took several more days of skiing before I was willing to take another risk.
On the next to the last day of our trip, my husband, Mike, and I were climbing up a steep trail. I’m looking at the slope thinking there would have to be a lot of snow on that trail before I’d ever ski down it. Then we saw two couples skiing down this same terrifying slope. They probably fell three or four times while we were watching and each time they’d laugh, brush themselves off, and keep going down.
They were having so much fun! It reminded me that one person’s terror is another person’s good time. For anyone who facilitates change, this is an important lesson to remember. Speaking up for myself is easy for me, even fun. For someone else, it’s skiing out of control.
Our challenge is to help people find the edge of their comfort zone and step beyond it just far enough for them to see what’s possible outside their current limitations without going too far over the edge. My job as a coach is to help each client find that edge and trust them to know how far to go past it. Each time I’ve pushed, the results haven’t been good.
Our last day at White Grass, the snow was slow and we decided to try some of the more advanced slopes. Yep, I felt that edge of fear and I fell a lot. But I made it to the bottom and I skied a slope I never would have tried the day before. The best part was getting to the bottom and knowing I’d done it. The lesson I learned is to find that edge and move just a little beyond it and to trust I will know when to stop.
Plum Cluverius, PCC is an executive coach with over 30 years experience in leadership and professional development. She lives and works in Richmond, Virginia.