I just got back from attending the first ever Epicurrence Montues event. Epicurrence is a design non-conference by Dann Petty aimed at getting creative folks out of their offices and into inspiring situations in nature.
For this particular event, we filled our days with skiing and snowboarding. Initially, I approached it with some hesitation, as I’m nearing my thirties and have somehow circumvented ever taking part in either activity.
After asking around, I quickly realized there were lots of other first-timers. We all agreed we’d support each other in this new endeavor.
The first day on the mountain, a group of us newbies met early and strapped into our boards. As we repeatedly tumbled and fell together into the powdered snow, we bonded over how terrible we were. We gave each other tips and learned together, all the while sharing smiles and words of encouragement through the bigger wipeouts.
Since that day, I’ve been thinking about how much these new experiences relate to the everyday struggles and situations of career growth.
Growth comes from allowing yourself to be uncomfortable and vulnerable in new situations. Especially real and memorable experiences can unfold when this sentiment is felt across a large group.
“Growth comes from allowing yourself to be uncomfortable in new situations.”
To get more comfortable or gain new skills, I believe you can apply a few of the same principles I embraced in my first snowboarding trip. I’ve compiled a few of these tips here to apply outside of snowboarding in my career as a product designer.
1. Look in the direction you want to go
When you first strap into a snowboard and begin unnaturally sliding down a mountain, your instincts are to look straight down at your feet. Your mind attempts to will the board under its control while your direction continues at random, generally leading to an abrupt crash.
It’s interesting how our mind seeks control by looking down at the source of movement. I liken this to focusing on the details of a problem while concurrently missing out on the bigger picture. Without intent in your direction, you won’t get where you want to go.
“Look in the direction you want to go.”
As a new snowboarder, I quickly realized that I needed to look up and out instead of down at my feet. Once I approached my direction in this way, my run-ins with others and the stubbornly immovable trees ended.
Simply pointing with conviction and looking outward in the direction you intend to travel allows your body to make natural micro-adjustments necessary to get you there.
The same holds true with career goals. Define your direction and head there publicly and with confidence. You may have your career goals internalized, but they could still never be realized until you’ve pointed directly at them.
“Without intent in your direction, you won’t get where you want to go.”
Looking forward towards your career goals will undoubtedly get you there more quickly. Another trick: be ruthless about your goals. Be selective in saying yes so that you’re able to accomplish the core of who you want to become.
2. Move forward with confidence
When you’re snowboarding for the first time, everything just feels wrong. You’re sliding out of control down a massive, slippery hill and the only way you know how to stop is to crash and burn.
The trick I realized at this stage was to fake it. Feel it. You’ve witnessed how it looks to be in control and successful, so emulate this mindset and allow yourself to naturally adjust to the flow of things.
Once I began to emulate confidence on my snowboard, I had my first complete run down the “Big Easy” starter run without faltering. I even slid into the staging area and stopped without losing my ground. A big win on my first day. My next move was to fall flat on my face, but that’s beside the point here.
“Define your direction and head there publicly and with confidence.”
The same can be true in your career. You never know how to do a new task until you say “yes” and figure it out. Move forward into the unknown with confidence and allow the solutions to come.
In fact, most of my career’s growth has come through doing just that. Simply being bold and saying, “Yes, I can do that” is a powerful and underused tool. Put your fear aside. Nobody knows how something is done until they’re doing it or have just done it. Challenging yourself like this is a surefire way towards personal growth and new skills.
3. Surround yourself with folks better than you
There’s no better way to set yourself up for massive growth than intentionally placing yourself in a situation where you’re way out of your league. Humans are sponges, especially in unfamiliar circumstances where the return on investment is high.
I learned more quickly than ever on my little rental snowboard after asking some of the more seasoned event goers their tips and tricks. Our first-timer group received some great instructions from an advanced rider, and we grew in bounds on our next run.
“Folks have been where you are in your career—ask them how they got there.”
You’ll always uncover similar interests and discover new friends when you put yourself out there. Folks have been where you are in your career—ask them how they got there. What do they recommend you do next? Where do they draw inspiration or learn from? What was one tip they got that helped them to excel?
This continues on the theme of getting outside of your professional comfort zone and faking it until you know it. If you’re the most skilled person in your group, ask more questions or put yourself out there and find another group where you’re grasping at straws to keep up. You will grow—quickly.
4. Get up more times than you fall
We’re all destined to fall or seemingly fail when trying out something new. Realize going into it that such is life. Failing is how we learn and adapt. Failing is good. The best and brightest people have failed more times than most people. The only difference is that they stood up and continued to forge ahead, applying their learning.
Snowboarding left me sorer and more physically exhausted than I’ve been since I can remember. That said, I wouldn’t trade these bruises for anything, as they come with an entirely new skillset and a new outlet for adventure and good times. Not to mention the memories and new friends I made out on the mountain. Irreplaceable.
Again, this lesson of getting up, saying yes, and trying again proves true in career growth. Look back just 2 years at who you were and what you were doing compared with today. It’s amazing how quickly we can grow when we put ourselves out there! It’s good to remember that the work you’re doing right now will be paying dividends 2 years from now.
So fall. Then take a deep breath and grow using your faults as a lesson. The next time I’m out snowboarding I’ll have so much more experience than I did that first day—and I’ll have even more on my next excursion. Skills and knowledge quickly compound and, dare I say, snowball as you learn new things and are forced to immediately apply them.
Falling is learning one more way to not do it right. Iterate!
“If you’re the most skilled person in your group, ask more questions.”
5. Move up the mountain before you’re ready
This relates to the previous point of surrounding yourself with more talented people than yourself, but manifests on a more personal level. Fear can be a powerful deterrent, especially when you’re outside of your comfort zone and trying a new thing.
It’s important to realize that you’ve already decided to try the new thing. You’re there. You’re in the snow pants with the boots and other snow garb required to do this thing. Each opportunity in life is unique, so you may as well forge ahead—go all-in on the experience at hand.
You may even realize that the bigger problems are easier to surmount than the small ones you’ve been chipping away at. There’s usually more room to play around on bigger projects and much more room for forgiveness when you do make a mistake. So, get up those big lifts sooner rather than later in life and get on the slopes. You’re just psyching yourself out by putting it off too long. Be bold.
Nothing is more fear-inducing than looking downwards at the black diamond slopes surrounding you. I’m not saying do something dangerous, but if you can handle the bunny hills with any notion of relative ease, move on up to a green slope.
I found that the scariest part of even the blue slopes was the lift itself. That takes some real getting used to, swinging high above the tree tops in a little metal bucket covered in heavy snow gear. Breathe deep—thousands have done it before you with no issues, and you’re just not that special.
So get out there. Stand. Slide. Fall. Repeat. Go try something new.