on giving up,

published at 2:02am on 02/21/11

I am a terrible snowboarder.

This past weekend I departed the city with some friends of mine an headed north for a weekend of hurtling down a mountain[1] for fun and recreation. Having tried snowboarding once before, and having remembered it as being not quite as terrible an experience I had expected, I boldly rented boots and a board and proceeded to spend the majority of the day falling down on my elbow[2].

With some pointers from a friend I was able to make my way down the mountain in one piece, but it was slow going, and rather painful. I would have moments of clarity where I would start to feel at one with my board, where I would lean into a turn and feel completely at ease on my board. Other times I would sit up from a fall and, forcing my heart to slow, relaxing my muscles and clearing my head, I would say to myself “I will make it down this mountain.” I would stand back up on my board, and for a second I would feel all of the pieces come together immediately before tumbling head first into an icy snowbank.

In the end, though, I made it through four runs that day. By the end of it, as the pain medication had kicked in and I was lounging on the sofa back at my friend’s house, licking my wounds, I declared: “Tomorrow, I will ski.”

Part of me wanted to stick with the snowboard. There was a part of me that told me not to give up. Told me that the second day would be better, that I would regret not giving it another chance. That it takes practice to become good at something, that there are things that I am not going to be good at right away and that if I just gave it a chance, I would become better. Part of me told me to not quit, to not give up.

But give up what, exactly?

I like to try new things. I like to learn things, learn facts, learn skills. I like to do things, and get better at them, sometimes to help me with my work, sometimes for myself, and sometimes for no reason at all, for the sheer joy in the experience of trying something new. And once I try something, then I would like to get better at it. After all, anything worth doing is worth doing well, right? And so I sat with that decision after our first day, and I thought about this idea that this thing, this snowboarding that I decided was going to be the thing I was going to do over the weekend, was a thing that I was going to give up on. Just walk away from it and say “this thing, this is no longer worth doing.” Was it just too hard for me? Was I just giving up? Not willing to put in the effort to learn how to do something well?

Again, what was I giving up? As it turns out, I’d forgotten about my goal to begin with. My goal for the weekend was to have fun. This, in itself, is a worthy goal. And I decided, based on past experience, that the way for me to accomplish this goal was by snowboarding. And when I found that snowboarding was not actually helping me to accomplish my goal, I gave up on it. This, it turns out, is actually ok. I was not giving up because I was bad at snowboarding, and I was not giving up because it was too hard, or because I was hurting myself. While all those things were true, it was the fact that snowboarding was not going to lead to fun for me, this weekend, that led me to give up.

I returned to the mountain the next day and I did trade my board in for a pair of skis. The first run out, I managed to make it down the mountain in one piece, and I had fun doing it. Just because I started the weekend snowboarding did not mean I needed to stick with it. In fact, sticking with it would have prevented me from achieving what I actually wanted this weekend, which was to have a good time with my friends.

Often, the clearest moment comes when you just take a step back and ask yourself “why?”

1. It is very difficult to, with a straight face, call anything in the northeastern part of the United States a “mountain,” but that’s the designation we’re going to use for now.

2. Interestingly, I did not spend as much time on my ass as I was led to believe I would, after an entire day of snowboarding. The bad news, of course, being that I spent most of the day bouncing my elbow off of the icy runs, which makes doing things like “moving my arms” more difficult than not. Also, the number of times I ended up bouncing my noggin off of the ice means that my neck is still sore some two days later. It’s not until you injure parts of your body that normally don’t get any pain-time that you realize just how many of your neck muscles you actually use when trying to stand up from a couch.

Filed under: Observations, Personal

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