Slow Learning

 

18 months ago, I moved to the mountains. We gave notice on our rented cottage on the edge of Chester in the UK, placed our belongings into storage, and moved to Innsbruck with our 1 year old child. It wasn’t on a whim, although typically last-minute, and the purpose was to launch my husband's start-up business in Germany and Austria.

Having worked since I was 14, two things dawned on me. One was the terror of not earning my own income, and secondly was the knowledge that I would have to find a new way to make a living. And so, not for the first time, I quit my job in sustainability to seek something new, and to broaden my life experiences.  

This felt different from previous transitions. I don’t speak German, and definitely not Tirolean (to me it’s the Glaswegian of German dialects), and I didn’t have any childcare when we arrived ankle deep in snow in 2017. In the ensuing year of working to find my family’s fit in this new city surrounded by beautiful mountains, I felt simultaneously exhausted by the newness of everything and also totally charged by it. So, after I met a group of mums and established a little yoga teaching business, I started learning to snowboard.

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I had already tried snowboard before becoming a mum, and now divorce loomed if I didn’t take this opportunity to join my husband sliding down Alpine mountains. I knew it would take time to find my confidence, to get my head in the right place, but it didn’t know that would mean both mentally and physically. That first winter was painful and terrifying. One particular occasion stands out where the winds closed the cable cars on top of Patscherkofel, and my only way down was gripping onto a friend’s hands as I leafed down the Olympic runs to the bottom of the mountain. I was being encouraged to try harder and faster, but I knew that slow learning, finding that sweet spot where passion and grit meet ability was the only way to find your fit on the mountain.

The following winter I ditched the weight of expectations, got my own snowboard, and spent time each week with friends who wanted to help me create a kinder learning environment, with more feedback. I wanted to learn before I turned 40 this January, increasing my range of skills to greet this milestone age. I learned to look where I wanted to go, to stand face-to-face with the mountain and quiet my fears. Every time I stopped looking-up at where I wanted to go and stopped listening to the feel of my board I panicked, lost my edge and hit the deck. I’ve got some almost poetic videos of me tumbling over myself and my board, head slamming down, and bum covered in snow.

Approach your personal voyage and projects like Michelangelo approached a block of marble, willing to learn and adjust.
— David Epstein

Each time I turned my board down the mountain, I would tell myself to breathe, look-up ahead at where I wanted to go and feel assured that I could always find my edge and slow down. I used my knowledge as a yoga teacher, my past experiences of being fearless and many hours riding and falling-off my bikes to learn. I used to think that being on the edge was a place of failure. I heard society saying that you have to be at the top of the pile to succeed but actually, I’ve learned that vulnerability is an ability. It’s the ability to look up at where you want to go and find your position on the edge, with others, that is most rewarding and where real learning takes place.