Tag Archives: Adversity

What a Year of “Meh” Taught Me

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Last weekend, Crystal Mountain closed for the season. While its always a little sad to see it all end, this season my heart wasn’t nearly as heavy as usual. This time it was almost a relief.

Bill Steel Cartoon

Dreaming of Snow. Cartoon by Bill Steel

In a word, this season was “weird.”

But it wasn’t just the snow–or lack thereof–that was weird for me. On a personal level, it’s been a difficult year and a half. After my father passed away last year, fate or circumstance or maybe just my own personal luck went rogue. In the past several months, my husband’s mother passed away, our house was broken into (and the few remaining physical memories of my father were taken), and our best friends got a divorce.

Not one to shy away from adversity, I’ve tried taking these challenges head on. But really, it’s been an exercise in letting go. Just let go. That’s such a cliche though, right? Anyone who’s been through a string of hard times knows what I’m talking about. When the chips are down, the last thing you want to do is relinquish the emotional baggage that you’re clinging to for dear life.

That’s the beauty of getting older, I suppose. Experience (and when I say experience, what I’m really saying is loss) teaches us what truly matters. My father’s stolen watch, or the heart-shaped necklace that he gave me on my 30th birthday, will not bring him back. Nor will my husband’s grandfather’s antique fly reels bring him closer to his ancestor. Our memories and our experiences are what cleave us to one another. Objects are just things–just mementos imbued with meaning. Emotions can be glued to any old object.

Same for our hopes. We can pin them on snowfall or weather or that elusive powder run we dream about all summer and chase all winter. They can be dashed against the gravel on a season like this when the lower half of the mountain was so bare that grass starting sprouting in March.

Sometimes you just want to bury your head in your hands

Sometimes you just want to bury your head in your hands

Or we can connect to the chances we are given. A stingy snow season taught me to enjoy even the runs I would have considered merely “meh” a few years ago. Since so much of who we are depends on the stories we tell ourselves, I’m choosing to rewrite history. Instead of the past year and a half being the worst ever, I’ve chosen to see it as an opportunity. Thanks to that home invasion, I have fewer possessions weighing me down. With fewer snow storms, I never took a single turn for granted. Now that I’ve experienced the fragility of life and relationships, I’m living my own life with more purpose and attention.

Many readers have asked why I haven’t been posting as much. In part, it might be that I’ve been preoccupied with these life lessons. Mostly however, I’m working on another book, which is hoarding much of my writing mojo. The novel about a ski area will soon be with my agent, and I’ll keep y’all posted on its progress.

Why Adversity is Good For You

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Hardship is underrated. Last night, while my husband watched Deadliest Catch and I tried to concentrate on reading in the next room, I was drawn to the melodrama of the television. A young man had “quit” the job of deckhand on the crab boat and spent the remainder of the ten day trip in his bunk watching movies while the rest of the staff slipped on the icy decks, hauled in crab pots and spouted expletives for the camera. I wasn’t impressed, but John was intrigued. “It’s just like a ski area,” he said. When the going gets tough, the weak fold. And the weak ones are usually the young ones.

I know what he meant.

Kurt Hahn, educator and founder of Outward Bound, believed in hands-on, challenging experiences as a means to build character. I worked for several summers at Outward Bound, teaching teenagers to face difficult trials in the mountains, and saw his philosophy perform wonders. The human spirit needs challenge in order to grow. We need hardship. When life gets tough, we rely on our past experiences for solace; we can tell ourselves “I’ve been through tough times before; I can make it through this.”

Sisters of Laya, Bhutan

More often in modern society, we blame others for hardship. Whole lawsuits are built on this phenomenon. Adversity is something to be avoided at all costs. But, as Kurt Hahn claimed, “there is more in you than you think”.

When we alleviate all our discomfort, looking always for the easy way, we fail to grow in important ways. Tough situations carve out a deep well in our psyche, to be filled later with growth and reassurance. We call this “depth of experience”, and without it we are shallow hot-house flowers that wilt at the first sign of heat.

When I visited Bhutan a few years ago,

Layap Children at Play

I was impressed by the hardiness of the people. What would take us Western trekkers three days to walk, the Bhutanese traveled in a day. Living in a rugged, high-alpine environment with only trails and yaks to carry their burdens, the children could still break out with heart-melting smiles at the prospect of a game of soccer. Hardship seemed to strengthen their joy, not diminish it.

This is even more important for kids, who thrive under challenge. As parents, it’s tempting to smooth over the rough edges of our kids’ lives. And while safety is always crucial, parents can do too much to save their kids from failure and hardship.

John recently told me that he doesn’t worry about physical pain anymore. When he was sick, he described his daily pain as 10 out of 10. Occasionally it would dip to a 9 or even an 8. An 8 was a very good day. This went on for the better part of a year. Pain meds didn’t help, and he refused to take serious drugs. He told himself he could get through it, and he did. Fifteen minutes at a time.

I, too, learned resilience and fortitude. These aren’t lessons anyone wants to learn, but you don’t have to wait until your husband is on his deathbed either. Small discomforts and daily challenges carve out deep trenches that we can later build foundations upon. It does us good to invoke challenge.

So go try something new. Work through a frustrating project. Practice patience when you want to walk away. Go camping in the rain (not too hard to do if you’re anywhere near Seattle this month). Give something up. Serve someone else.

How have little hardships helped you? What service have you performed or expedition have you endured that helped you later in life? What is your philosophy on adversity?