I love to ski. Love it. So much so that if I could live my life over, I would convince my family to move to the mountains so I could have a shot at being an Olympic skier.
Every year, I try to make it out west so I can hit the slopes. Every year, my mom makes the same request of me: “Be careful!” And every year, I refuse her request, because I believe that skiing safely is a guaranteed formula for getting hurt.
When I’m in the bumps, I’m not thinking of the safest route down. When I see a rock jutting out from a thin patch of snow, I don’t worry about it. And if I’ve got a tree to my left and another one to my right, I don’t focus on them. Never. I don’t see the obstacles. I see the path.
I focus on my line, on the pitch of the mountain, on how likely I am to make my next turn, and on the space between the trees. I see where I want to go and feel myself going there. I concentrate on keeping my shoulders square to the bottom of the run; on my hips torquing–but not too much–and on the flex of my knees. On the pitch, roll, and yaw of my feet, on the line of my shoulders relative to my knees… and my hips to my ankles; on the condition of the snow, on my speed, and on the size and shape of the next bump and the next one after it. On the torque through my waist. I watch how my skis flex around the turns, the color of the sky, where the other skiers are, and I listen to see whether I can hear anyone above me. I listen to my breathing, feel the sting in my legs, watch for where my next pole plant should go, and talk myself back into form after a missed turn. I devote brainspace to finding a landing area for that little kicker a few turns away. Backscratcher or daffy? I sense my weight and think about shifting it just a fraction of a centimeter further out over my skis through the turns. I remember the last time I skied that particular run and the best time. I watch myself skiing as if I were standing below me, above me, and beside me. I note the quality of the light and feel how much of an edge I can grab before my skis start slipping… My mind is on all this in every moment… and yet the whole time down, my mind is clear. Empty. It holds nothing at all. No lessons, no worries, and no fear. When I ski, I am the skiing. When I get to the bottom of a run I can usually remember every last detail from top to bottom, including the cloud formations I noticed when I stopped to take a breath halfway down. As I write this, I can put myself on any one of a number of runs and tell you whether the jacket zipper was scraping my chin the last time I skied it.
“Be careful?” There is no space for that. I used to ski that way: concentrating on my technical form and repositioning myself away from turns I wasn’t sure I could make. That was back when I used to be a much worse skier than I am today.
The lesson here is very simple. If you want to fail, be careful. If you want to succeed, take care, master your desired craft, and then focus on success to the point where you become what you do. Choose passion over fear. If you can do this, you won’t need to be careful anymore, because when you transcend doing into being, you find there is more than enough stuff to occupy your mind, which naturally keeps you within your limits.
Chevy Chase gives this advice in Caddyshack with his immortal line, “Be the ball, Danny.” Ben Kingsley offers it to a young Josh Waitzkin in Searching for Bobby Fischer when he slams the king down on the chess board and tells the prodigy, “This is you.” Michael Shaara’s Billy Chapel embodies the feeling when he tunes out the world while pitching a no-hitter in For Love of the Game.
Sorry, Mom, but careful gets you hurt, because “careful” gets you focused on danger. And that’s the last thing a success-seeker should be focused on!
Jason Seiden is CEO of Ajax Workforce Marketing. Ajax amplifies brands by aligning employees' online messaging.