I stood at the top of Marx, a wryly-named double-black-diamond expert ski trail at the peak of Big Sky’s Lone Mountain, over 11,000 feet above sea level. I had worked myself up to this over a week of skiing with my 25-year-old son Max and a couple of his friends, but now that I was up here, I was having second thoughts. This trail was long and steep: it plunged almost 2,000 feet down, with a pitch of about 40 degrees in spots, before leveling off to more benign terrain below. The view was spectacular, ringed around with 10,000-foot-plus jagged peaks covered in snow, and the air was thin – I was breathing deeply, trying to stay calm and to pull in enough oxygen to stay alert (and upright). What the hell was I, a 57-year-old husband and father of two (who ought to know better), doing up here?
Over the course of the past two years, since I decided to rewire myself after selling my consulting business, I’ve been experimenting with my life, pushing myself to try new things, revive old interests, and create new goals and opportunities for myself in physical, mental, spiritual, social, and financial domains. My wife, Suzanne, is similarly adventuresome, and we’re on this journey of reinvention and rediscovery together (I’m not gonna lie: it really helps to have a devoted, trusted life partner). Over the past two years, we’ve
– Sold our house in suburban New York and moved up to our vacation house near Woodstock, in the beautiful Catskills region of the state
– Finished a Half-Ironman Triathlon (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and 13.1-mile run) in Old Orchard Beach, Maine
– Traveled to Italy, Belize, and various points in the United States
– Trimmed expenses and added income-producing assets to our investment portfolio
None of this has been easy: it took a lot of planning, attention to detail, and perseverance as one obstacle after another presented itself (it is not fun, for example, to have severe cramps in your calf muscles at mile 4 of a half-marathon, nor to have tenants in a rental property who decide to trash the place). Primarily, though, our adventures have required three things of us:
– The courage to experiment and to try something new
– The willingness to fail if necessary
– The perseverance to keep going even if it doesn’t look like things are going to work out
These three traits are typically what people associate with “being outside the comfort zone” – where all growth and change happens. However, it does not mean being foolhardy or trying things that are completely beyond one’s abilities – that’s the “panic zone,” and should be avoided! Rather, you want to be somewhere between your “comfort zone” and your “panic zone,” in your “growth zone,” and that’s typically accomplished one step at a time, by challenging yourself just a little bit each day and exercising your three traits of courageous experimentation, a willingness to fail if necessary, and perseverance. Over time, you’ll find yourself living more and more outside your comfort zone and solidly in your growth zone, while your panic zone gets smaller and smaller. It’s a great place to be.
Which takes me back to the top of Marx, that really high, steep ski trail off the peak of Big Sky. In the week leading up to my big adventure, I had been exercising my three growth-zone traits by skiing with my son Max and his friends on trails I wouldn’t normally ski by myself (or with my wife). As the week progressed, I found myself getting more comfortable with steeper trails, larger mogul fields, and skiing in the trees – as each new challenge was met, it laid the foundation for the next one. Finally, on a lovely bluebird day with not a cloud in the sky, it was time to take on the peak and enjoy a final challenge before heading home. As I stood there, surrounded by snowy peaks, looking down the trail, and breathing calmly and deeply, I knew I could do it. It was time: I tightened my boots, adjusted my gloves, tamped my ski poles into the soft snow, pointed my skis down into the trail, and took off into one of the best ski runs I’ve ever had – not because I had suddenly become an expert skier, but because I had consistently challenged myself over the course of a week and grown just enough to take one more step on a continuing journey of learning and change.