I’ve historically been loathe to question, let alone buck, rules and regulations. If the sign says “must be this tall” and I’m not, I’m out. If it says you need these qualifications, and I don’t have them, I pass (this is a big mistake, by the way). And when something warns me that what lies ahead is hard and not for everyone, I assume that everyone means me.
As a result, I have given other people’s judgments more clout than I should have. I assume someone else knows better. This has been the great awakening of my adult life: When I realized that nobody knows shit. Not really. And that I know just as well as any of them.
This came to light for me recently when I went skiing for the first time in 15 years. I had been a nervous intermediate skier in my teens and 20s, and when I passed beyond the age of annual school ski trips, the sport fell off the radar for me.
But when a good friend got three free nights at a luxury resort in Lake Tahoe, how could I say no. So I went! And within an hour on the mountain, I had my ski legs back (except for the knees; the knees did not come back). I felt reborn—and, interestingly, less scared than I’ve ever been in skis in my life. This I credit a little bit to yoga and a lot to age. I’m simply less afraid of things than I was.
When at one point during our clear, sun-filled day, my friends suggested we pass on Logger’s Loop, the blue intermediate trail, for the Chute, a black diamond, I girded my loins and prepared to be scared, which I’ve spent my life doing. But when I looked over the edge, I thought, hmm. Is that “really” a black diamond? Is it? And then I thought, who cares? What if I didn’t know what level it was at all, and I just…went? It’s not like the sign was the only thing I saw: The slope was right there in front of me.
Which made me realize this simple truth: I’ve devoted way too much time heeding warning signs instead of just taking on whatever trail is in front of me. The signs are meant to instruct, after all, not rule your damn life! It occurred to me that this mountain had been here long before anyone took a pair of skis to it, or started labeling it green or blue or black. That’s simply a human assessment of the trail. And guess what? Some are crappy assessments!
So down I went, slicing smoothly through the snow. I loved it. I managed perfectly fine and felt like a rock star. And it dawned on me that this wasn’t just about skiing. I have spent the better part of my life looking for signs that I couldn’t or shouldn’t do a thing, that it would be too big, too advanced, too hard: the black diamond college course, the black diamond job, the black diamond relationship.
(Side note: I was actually invited into the honors program at Boston College after my freshman year, which they never do, and I turned it down because I assumed they probably had it right the first time. It was probably too hard for me. I was wrong, and I regret it.)
It’s worth asking yourself where in your life you’re avoiding a bigger challenge because you assume someone else knows better, or worse, are busy enforcing your own self-constructed limits. Caution has kept me alive, to be sure, but it hasn’t helped me grow in ways that matter.
The only time I’ve really achieved anything I was proud of was when I challenged the limit or questioned the rule itself, and chose to do the thing that intrigued, thrilled or even scared me a little. That’s a black diamond moment. Seek them out. Take them. Because nothing compares with the rush you feel when you reach the bottom and look up at just how far you’ve come.