Monthly Archives: February 2016

Baby Steps Toward A Better Life

DSC_0941“But trust me on the sunscreen.” –Mary Schmich, Chicago Tribune, commencement address

Hello friend,

My wife had a rough second half of last year. A college administrator, she finished the school year by winning a major award for her distinguished and very valuable work. Shortly thereafter, she accepted a new position at her school, hoping it would make a positive impact on the campus community while also removing some stress and granting her a more “normal” schedule for time with me and the kids. Well, she got one out of three!

While she was clearly making a positive impact at her work, the benefits stopped there. She was completely stressed out, going 90 miles per hour all day and burning the candle at both ends. It was eating her up. Even when she was home, her mind was not. Her body was showing the signs, too: headaches, big knots in her shoulders, poor sleep, missed meals. She was winning great battles in her new job, but the job was clearly winning the war on her way of life and her happiness. Burnout seemed inevitable. Something had to give.

Never one to give up on a new commitment, the job wasn’t going away any time soon. During the semester break, though, she did some soul-searching and realized that, even if her basic circumstances weren’t going to change much, she needed to do a better job of caring for herself and bringing a better mental approach to her world every day.

As often happens, the Universe honored her new resolve by dropping a gift in her path. She discovered something called “The Miracle Morning” by Hal Elrod, whose basic concept is that, even amidst your crazy-busy life, you can manage to carve out a handful of minutes just for yourself at the very start of the day, and those precious minutes can get your mind in the right space to create the best possible day. The idea is to spend a minimum of one minute on each of six tasks in this order:

  • Silence (or Meditation)
  • Affirmations (Reminding yourself what is good about you and important to you)
  • Visualization (Imagining how you want your day to look and how you want to feel)
  • Writing (A Gratitude Journal)
  • Reading (Preferably something inspirational)
  • Exercise (e.g. jumping jacks or push-ups)

After months of rebuffing my suggestions that she take some time to go to the gym a few times per week to relieve some stress—making the time seemed impossible to her—I was thrilled to see her latch onto “The Miracle Morning.” “Even I can take 10 minutes for myself,” she said. And she has, for more than a month now. Every morning while I am at the gym and the kids are still sleeping, she takes her ten minutes (adding a few extra in the Reading and Exercise categories).

What a difference it has made! Though her outer circumstances are much the same as they were last semester, this tiny change has made her a different woman. At the breakfast table, the dark cloud that I could almost see over her head before is gone. She is more clear-headed and optimistic about the day. She is more present. She is more aware of the need for self-care during stressful times. The best part: she smiles more.

My wonder at this fabulous turnabout has really caused me to look at my own little world in a new way. After all, I am the guy who is always prodding you to examine your biggest dreams and the deepest calling of your soul. I keep saying, “Follow your Bliss! Show us your Light! Make your life extraordinary!” I ask you to move your biggest rocks. Shake up your world if it is not authentically you. Change jobs. Change relationships if you must. Rock your world if it will bring happiness!

I think what I usually fail to see is that most people are more content than I am. Even though I am wonderfully happy, I am also deeply dissatisfied with a big part of the life I have created. I want to do more with my passions, achieve career success in my dream fields, and more. There are big rocks I must move in order to be content. Because of that, I often assume that everyone else is the same way. I am probably wrong about that.

More likely, I think now, is that most people are more like my wife. Not so dissatisfied with themselves and antsy to make huge changes in their lives to feel fulfilled. More open to subtle changes to give a little boost to their happiness, minor adjustments to their schedule to make their lives a bit easier and their burden lighter. I am guessing that most people aren’t interested in climbing their Mt. Everest today, but maybe they would climb the little sledding hill next door to their house if they thought the ride was going to make them a little bit happier and healthier. Hmmm…..

With this new realization dancing in my head and my wife’s “Miracle Morning” as my example, I am in the process of brainstorming some tiny ways that might help me and you feel a little happier today and every day. Knowing that you probably feel as busy as I do, I want things that will take little or no time out of my day and don’t require a lot of props or travel. We are talking baby steps here, friend. They should be easy, right? Well, here goes…..

  • Hug a loved one.
  • Say “Please” and “Thank You” more.
  • A “Gratitude Jar” to fill with scraps of paper—one or two a day—holding the things you are most thankful for that day (then, when you need a reminder, open up the jar and have a look).
  • Pray.
  • A five-minute (or two-minute or ten-minute) tidy-up at the end of the day so you don’t have to wake up to a mess each morning.
  • A “Song of the Day” that you give yourself permission to take in uninterrupted (or better yet, dance to!).
  • Find a reason to compliment one new person each day.
  • Find a new reason to compliment yourself each day (and mean it!).
  • Keep a picture of your “Why” (your kids, vacation destination, dream job, etc.) on your phone or at your desk or wherever you will see it daily, a reminder to keep plugging away.
  • Take a walk around the block, either alone or with a loved one, depending upon whether it is more important to re-connect with yourself or that person on that particular day.
  • Some simple exercises (e.g. squats, counter push-ups) in the kitchen while you cook.
  • Give a real greeting and farewell every day to your partner rather than just shouting “Bye!” and slipping out the door.
  • Sign up to a daily email or app that sends you an inspirational or thought-provoking message or quote each morning.
  • Use regular events of your day (e.g. stoplights, other people’s phone’s ringing, waiting in line) as “bells of mindfulness,” reminders to stop your busy mind and center yourself in the moment.
  • Write in a journal (of course!).
  • Say “I love you.”
  • Strike up a conversation with an acquaintance who intrigues you.
  • Admit to someone that you could use some help (whether that help is a hug, a loan, some advice, etc.).
  • If you are a Facebook or Pinterest person, find one positive post to share each time you are on (if you can’t find anything positive, change who you follow and what you subscribe to).
  • Drink an extra glass of water.
  • Smile!

Wow, this is fun! I didn’t realize that it would be. The options are endless, and they can all be the first step in the right direction. This is so good for me! Onward!!!

How about you? What simple, quick steps can you take in the direction of a better, happier you? Open up your journal and start your list. What is the simplest step of all for you, the one little thing that you know will make you feel even just a little bit better? Why isn’t that a habit already? As you build your list, is there one area of your life that seems to be the most fertile ground for easy improvement (e.g. relationships, health, self-awareness, gratitude)? Which simple practice is something that you know is important but always seem to fall out of the habit of, only realizing it later? When your list gets really long, does it start to feel overwhelming, even though the tasks are so short and simple? If you had to pick just two little things from your list that most appeal to you right now, what would they be? How much time and energy would they cost you? What would you stand to gain from making them habits? Are you willing to try? I would love your feedback on this one, as I could certainly use your help in building my list. Leave me a reply and let me know: Which baby steps make your life a little sweeter? 

Love the wonder that is YOU,


P.S. If the list has you thinking, pass it on. Let’s grow together! Many leaves, one tree.

Love Your Country, Not Its Leaders: The Worst Election Year EVER!!!

DSC_0640“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” –Groucho Marx

Hello friend,

Last week’s death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia ignited yet another political firestorm in this country and gave the average American another reason to be disgusted with our representatives in Washington, DC. Before his body was even cold, the Republican leaders—and most vocally the Presidential candidates—began popping off about how they would filibuster or even flat-out refuse to hold hearings for anyone nominated by President Barack Obama (a Democrat), seeing as he has only about eleven months left in his term. Ted Cruz, currently running a solid second for the Republican nomination, seemed to shout the loudest, demanding that we “let the American people decide,” ignoring the fact that we already decided by electing Obama to his second four-year (note: not three-year) term.

President Obama, for his part, finally shot back and said, in essence, that he would do the job he was elected to do until the end of his term.   Of course, everyone on the Democratic side had been saying that since the moment Justice Scalia’s death was announced.

The lines were drawn exactly as they always are these days—“All Republicans over here! All Democrats over there! Now chant your party’s anthem and close your ears to theirs. Go!”

In this case, I think the Republicans look like the petty ones, and the Democrats look like the ones fighting for the just cause. But make no mistake, if the shoe were on the other foot and we had a Republican President in his final year, I am sure that the Democrats would take their turn and be no less petty. It is as though neither side knows any other way to operate anymore without being labeled as a traitor to their party. No matter what noble intentions they may have entered politics with, at this point, it is very difficult to find one person who is not just playing the party power game. Independent thought—not to mention the notions of cooperation and compromise—have gone completely out the window. These characters just cannot seem to get out of their own despicable way.

Ahh, the perfect time for a long campaign for the Presidency!

[Full disclosure here: As I have mentioned before, I am very liberal. And though I have no interest in joining either major party in this country, I admit to having a nearly-violent physical reaction against the thought of being represented by most of the leading Republican candidates. However, I like to think of myself as a fairly objective consumer of Presidential politics. It completely fascinates me—both sides–and I typically have strong opinions about each candidate and what each party should do to be more successful in the race.]

After watching all of these characters intently for months of debates, town halls, and stump speeches, it is clear that this is a pretty ragged bunch of Presidential hopefuls. Each of them has issues that make for a less-than-ideal candidate. If you combine that with the poisonous political climate in America—and even the sad way us regular folks have become so accustomed to ruthlessly tearing our leaders down—my conclusion is that, no matter who wins the upcoming election, our next President is a one-termer. I just don’t see any of them lasting.

I want to think each party has some knight in shining armor that is going to ride in and save the day as an appealing candidate. Of course, it is too late for that now—we are stuck with this motley crew—but a few months ago, I was really thinking that rescue must be imminent from both sides. I was sure the parties would not allow such a sketchy and unelectable bunch to go through this thing unopposed. But in the end, the best they came up with to invite were an aging Vice President (Biden for the Democrats) and the guy who lost the last election (Romney for the Republicans). And even they declined! It was then that I knew we were in big trouble.

The 2016 election always seemed to me destined to be an easy prize for the Republicans. In my adulthood, the Presidency has moved back and forth between the parties, with only the first Bush not winning a second term. Still, it had gone Republican (H.W. Bush)-Democrat (Clinton)-Republican (W. Bush)-Democrat (Obama). With that pattern, this is the Republicans’ turn. Also, as I noted about the particular brand of viciousness and lack of cooperation that has become the norm in Washington, as well as the convincing story the Republicans have been able to sell to their base during these past seven years—lots of folks really hate President Obama—it has always just seemed destined to me that a Republican would be our next President.

With that, I have been on the lookout in recent years for those few—or even one–golden candidates that would sweep up the hearts and minds of the Republican base the way Obama did for Democrats eight years ago. I have been looking for the next Democrats, too, of course, but more the Republicans, figuring their golden child was my next President. Surely in all this time, someone could be groomed for such a sure-thing role, an obvious nominee to produce an obvious victory. Right?

Apparently not.

I am not going to go through each of the leading candidate’s foibles and why they so plainly should not be our next President. I just think that when the Republicans—in this, their year of golden opportunity—get to nomination day and name their guy, they are then going to look at each other in horror and say, “Oh my gosh, we just crapped the bed!”

Fortunately for them, I think the next thing they will say is “Ha! So did they! Game on!!!” That is because the Democrats–who probably began this process thinking their chances were slim amidst the anti-Obama sentiment, but then got their hopes up when they saw who was doing well in all of the Republican polls—have failed to produce a golden child of their own. Even though in my private political thoughts, I can see ways in which I would be excited to see either of the Democrats elected, in my objective look at how each is generally perceived—fairly or unfairly, depending upon which of the two you are talking about—it is obvious that either one is going to be a tough sell to the American people in November. I am pretty sure the Democrats will have their own “We just crapped the bed!” moment as well.

What the heck have we gotten ourselves into????

If you are anything like me, you have recurring fantasies about blowing the whole system up and starting again with all new parties and definitely all new politicians, only to wake up to the ugly reality of our current situation and the feelings of powerlessness to stop it. But then again, maybe that is what the voters are trying to do right now—blow it all up, I mean—in the only way that they see available to them: by voting for Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, one who isn’t a native of the current system and the other who most rails against it. That is the only way any of this circus makes sense to me!

How about you? What is your take on the current state of American politics? Open up your journal and join the fray. This one is fun, because you can go at it completely subjectively and unpack why you support your favorite candidate and party, and then you can try to look at both parties and all candidates objectively and try to understand their appeal and their weaknesses.   It’s a HUGE topic, so you can journal for days and days on the various characters and issues on the stage. The other fun thing for a journal writer on this topic is its ever-changing nature. So, dive in! How loyal are you to one party? What drew you to that party in the first place? Have you switched party allegiances during your lifetime? Are you officially a member of the party, and is that important to you? Are you proud of the way your party handles things (not just which issues they support, but how they actually carry on the business of politics)? On which issues do you have some agreement with the other side? On which issues do you wish your party would compromise more? Of all the candidates from your preferred party in this year’s Presidential race, do you think any of them are excellent, can’t-miss prospects? How many on your side have no business leading this country? Objectively, which one would do best in the November election? Is that the same person you think would be the best President? What about from the other party? Which of their candidates is more palatable to you and why? Which one from the other party do you think would do best in the national election? Does anyone from the other side NOT make you think it would be an awful four years with that person leading the country? What is the worst case scenario for you? Okay, now think about some polling questions for all of the candidates. Who is the most trustworthy? Least trustworthy? Who seems to most represent your values? Least? Who would do best with the economy? Worst? Who is best with foreign policy? Worst? Finally, in order, rank the candidates from most likable to least likable. Do you seem to vote more on likability or more on who actually lines up with you best on the issues, whether they are likable or not? Do you wish we could start over with politics in America, perhaps with new politicians or more parties or only publicly-funded elections? How would you set it up? Have you ever had any desire to throw your hat in the political ring and see what kind of change you could make? If there were more people like you in politics, would it work better? Do you know someone who would make a good President? Is there any way out of this mess???? Leave me a reply and let me know, What does your dream candidate look like, and why are they so hard to find?

Be grateful for Choice,


P.S. Even if you disagreed with every word I said, did reading this letter help you clarify your preferences? If so, please share it. Let’s get better together!

What Will You Regret?

DSC_0963“I regret that it takes a life to learn how to live.” –Jonathan Safran Foer

Hello friend,

Almost 20 years ago, my soul was on fire. I was in the midst of a spiritual revolution, and out of it came so many passionate ideas and opinions about how I could save the world. My heart and mind literally felt like they were bubbling over—sometimes even exploding—every day. I was a force! Thankfully, this surge of idealistic passion came at the very same time I became a daily journal writer.

I had owned a journal for a few years, but entries came only very sporadically, sometimes with many months in between. Finally, though, it became obvious to me how much the journaling helped me to process all of the mind-blowing shifts that were happening inside of me. So, I made it a part of my daily routine. It wasn’t long before it became the most important part.

The journal was essential to me, because it acted as a depository for all of these new fantasies I had about making the world a drastically better place. I wanted to show everyone how to see their lives and their Universe with a new set of eyes. I knew that if I could just get them to see what I saw, to feel the way I felt, then everything—everything—would change in an instant. I was absolutely sure of it. All I needed was the means to share my vision. That is also where my discovery of the journal became crucial to my plan.

In my continuous flow of passion, I was filling up pages and pages in my journal every day, so much so that I needed a new blank book every handful of weeks. I was, as I said, totally on fire. The unexpected result of all of this writing was that it gave me the first notion, the first glimpse of belief, that I had a book inside of me that needed to be written. All of the journaling was also giving me a little boost of confidence that perhaps I could string a thought together with words and that I might be able to put enough words together to make a real book. I was mostly a science guy in school—never English or the arts–so getting myself to even consider the idea of writing a book was the result of quite an internal revolution.

Despite my initial shock at the presence of these new thoughts, I could not deny how exciting the prospect of being a world-changer was. The thought of sharing my ideas with the people of the world and opening their minds to the beauty and grace of our Universe absolutely thrilled me. I was giddy about it. Looking back through all of my old journals from those years, I see not only those impassioned ideas but also the occasional fantasies about writing books. Although I still really wasn’t clear about “what I was doing with my life” at that point, from this perspective all these years later, it seems obvious that I was headed toward becoming a writer. Still, I never came out and said to myself, “I am a writer. Period. Now let’s write that first book!”

 No, despite being aware of my desire to get this message out and start changing the world, I held back. Sure, some of that stemmed from my lack of complete belief that I was a real writer, but I think my hesitation had much more to do with my belief that I needed to learn more about what I wanted to say before I could say it with enough conviction that people would take it to heart. I wanted to be legitimate before embarking on my authorial debut. My entries from that period are littered with mentions of me needing to read this book or that book on a certain topic so I could gain more expertise. My required reading list was hundreds of books long, and though I was cruising through them at a torrid pace, each one always seemed to suggest even more books that I should read to become completely prepared. The translation in my head was basically this: “I’m not ready yet. Just a little while longer.”

 But during all of that waiting and preparing, LIFE happened. I started back with some more formal education, which helped my preparation in some ways but ended up distracting me from the passion and purpose that had been my True North for so long. I was not reading and writing for myself any more, but rather for professors. Then, into the mix came the woman of my dreams (read: MORE DISTRACTION). Before I knew it, the window of time that had been strictly designated for my personal improvement—my beloved “Season of Enrichment”—had closed entirely and left me with the ordinary life of everyone else I knew: the job, the relationship, the complacency.

Years later, here I am, trying to dig back into my dreams. My purpose seems clear again, which is amazing, but carving out the time to make it happen is increasingly difficult around the obligations that have become essential components of my journey. The specifics of my world-saving passions that would have filled a few books in my twenties have morphed into new and different ideas at this age.

My philosophy of action has changed, too. At that age and with perfectionist tendencies, I kept telling myself I needed to learn more before I was prepared to write for others. I needed to be sure I was ready. You can see where that got me! Today, I remind myself often: “Start before you are ready!” Journal of You was started long before I was ready. I thought the posts would be just old journal entries of mine, fodder for you to realize how simple it is to get in the journaling habit. I was wrong, and I am glad I was wrong. But if I had waited until I was sure about the format, confident in my writing ability, and certain that I had enough hours and energy to write this frequently, I would still be waiting today and you would not be reading these words.

I regret not writing a book when my soul was on fire.

Regret it horribly, I mean. No, I don’t allow myself much time linger on the topic—I have too many things to do today to worry about yesterday—and I don’t let the regret consume me, as I know it has the power to do. But if you force me think about, if you make me answer the question, “What will you regret?” you can bet those impassioned days in my twenties and the absence of a book to show for them will come instantly to my mind. I believe I delayed my calling by two decades because of it—which I find personally tragic–and denied the world of an important piece of work that could have done a lot of good. Frankly, this really stinks to think about.

On the other hand, my regret can be even more motivation to seize the day—this day–to do the things that stir my soul when I think about them. I never seem to regret the things that I do, the risks that I take, even when I fail. No, I regret the things I don’t do, the chances I haven’t taken, the moments I have not seized, and the Truth I have not told. I have regretted waiting until I am ready. And I have regretted not being exactly who I know myself to be.

But that is what TODAY is for. TODAY I get to start over. TODAY I get to choose again. TODAY I get to honor my purpose and my vision for my life, no matter what I chose before. I will never get my yesterdays back—though I really would love to read that book by the 26-year-old me—and I know that tomorrow is never guaranteed. But I get TODAY. That is all, and that is enough. I am going to seize it this time!

How about you? When you look back on your life, what do you wish you had done differently? Open up your journal and your soul. You might have to open up some old scabs and scars for this one, too, but there are lessons to learn from each. Do you have a flood of different regrets, or mainly just one big one? Is it an entire period (e.g. a few months or years) that you wish you could have back, or was it a single moment? What is it about that moment or period that makes you want to do it differently? Is it regrettable only because of what followed, or would you do it differently no matter what was to come? If someone had pulled you aside in the midst of that moment or period and said, “What would your bravest, best self do right now?” do you think that would have changed your decision? What else might have changed your decision? Imagine how differently your life would have gone had you acted differently in that moment. Write out a new autobiography for yourself, starting in that moment and going forward to now, based on how you wish you would have acted in that situation (my vision involves lots of writing, speaking to large crowds, and changing lives for the better—it’s a beautiful thought). Does your vision for the way your life has gone differ widely from your actual history? Is the change more in your outer circumstances, or is it more about who you are as a person and how you feel about yourself? Do you dwell in your regret, allowing it to eat at you, or do you leave it all behind? Is there anything you can do today to “fix” your old regret in any way (e.g. an apology, a reconciliation, etc.)? Is regret a good motivator for you? What is one thing in your life right now that you know you need to do but that scares you, but, if you don’t do it, you know you will regret later? Have you fully committed to doing it? I dare you! Leave me a reply and let me know: What will you regret?

No day but today,


P.S. If you are so moved, I would greatly appreciate you sharing this letter with friends and family. We could all stand to be our best today. Cheers!

Slasher Films, Heights, & The Principal’s Office: What Scares You Most in This World?

DSC_1155“Don’t be afraid of being scared. To be afraid is a sign of common sense. Only complete idiots are not afraid of anything.” –Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Angel’s Game 

Hello friend,

It was a perfect afternoon for Spring skiing in the magnificent mountains of Montana. It was the early 80s, and I was a boy of no more than ten. Every year when I was a kid, we would load up the family truckster and cross the flatlands of North Dakota to those beautiful mountains, one state away but feeling like a whole other planet to me. By the time that fateful day came around, I had been on skis for several years. I was an intermediate—not better—but I had fumbled my way down some pretty serious terrain with my daredevil older brothers and our mountain companions.

We usually shared our family trips with other families—a couple of crews jammed into a condominium down in the valley by night and spread out all over the mountain by day—and that year’s trip was no different. My partners for the day were my brother Jacques and our friend Mike, both a year or so older than me, and both fearless. They would go full-speed over the biggest of jumps and then zip through the woods to find more of them. They never worried about getting hurt and never minded breaking the rules in their search for fun and adventure. In this way and more, I definitely proved to be the odd man out in that young threesome.

I was the scaredy-cat of the group. When they threw caution to the wind, I made sure to catch it for them and keep it safe. But that had always been me. I was the kid who took every warning and cautionary tale to heart. Although I came by it naturally, my worrisome mother put the fear of many things in me, including such things as motorcycles and snakes. She was sure the “loads” smoking in the alley across the street from the middle school were big trouble, and I became obsessively frightened of them as a little kid. I was terrified of Mr. Medalen, my elementary school principal (and every principal thereafter). I remember being in his office when I won the school spelling bee, and I was still sweating bullets thinking he was going to grab my ear for some offense I didn’t know I had committed. I was—and still am, I must admit–that way around police officers, too. I also never liked scary movies (though perhaps that is because I shouldn’t have been watching “The Amityville Horror,” “Friday the 13th,” and the like as a second grader), and I always feared hurting myself if I went fast on bikes, skis, or skateboards. I guess caution and fear were just in my nature. So, it’s no surprise I was not the leader of the pack with my brother and Mike that day on the mountain. Oh sure, I followed them off the same jumps and through the same woods, but I did it with less speed and more fear than they did. They were older and cooler; who was I to argue?

That is how I found myself, on that loveliest of mountain afternoons, scared completely out of my wits. It all started with mischievous Mike, who had skied the mountain the day before we had arrived and claimed to know where the best trails were. He led a large contingent of us—adults included–on a beautiful, untouched powder run earlier in the day. Of course, the only reason it was untouched was that we had to ski under the out-of-bounds rope to get to it. This, of course, terrified me. I was just sure we would be discovered and banned from skiing at the resort ever again. I could not believe my parents were allowing it to happen. I was the youngest from both families and powerless to say anything. I was nervous the whole way down, certain of our imminent capture and punishment. To my great relief, we made it down and back inside the ropes without incident.

Later in the day, though, as closing time rapidly approached, the three of us youngsters split off from the group, and the real adventure began. Mike said he knew about one other special run for us. As we casually cruised down one of our usual runs, suddenly Mike—with Jacques right on his heels—darted to the right and under the out-of-bounds rope into forbidden territory. Dread instantly consumed me. The run behind the ropes was called “War Dance.” I was familiar with it, as each morning as we drove up to the mountain in the family van, I could see its imposing moguls, steepness, and especially its “cliff” cutting right across the middle of the run. It looked like the last place I belonged on that mountain. Since it had a name and a rating (definitely black diamond), I assumed it had been open at some point in history when there was enough snow to cover over the branches and rocks of the cliff that bisected the run and had to be navigated to make it to the bottom alive. But I had never seen it open and had no plans to visit if it ever did. Clearly, Mike had other plans.

With my heart in my throat, I ducked under the rope and raced to catch up. The top of the run was much flatter but full of deep powder from lack of use. My adrenaline was fueled by the potential for capture, the dangerous cliff and steepness that I knew were up ahead, and finally, a race against the clock. It was the end of the day, and by taking that turn under the rope, we were headed to the back side of the mountain, where the only chairlift was about to close and there was no other way back to the lodge and our families. We needed to get to the bottom alive, without getting caught, and fast!

As we drew to a halt at the top of the cliff, we were all stumped as to how to make it down to the next tier. The snow just stopped, and in the ten or fifteen vertical feet before it began again, there were only rocks and twisted branches. I was as scared as I had ever been. I skied side-to-side from one tree line to the other, trying to find an opening, a path that would not lead to death or dismemberment. Finally, seeing no way to ski around it and knowing we were almost out of time, I made the fateful decision to take my skis off and carry them on my shoulder as I climbed/slid down the cliff. Shaking with fear, I inched my way down, then watched as my companions abandoned their fears and skied right over the tangled branches and rocks, both miraculously making it without breaking a bone or a ski.

Feeling some relief that the cliff was in the past, it seemed like all that was left was an all-out sprint against the clock. Unfortunately for me, my troubles were only beginning. On the steep face of a mountain that was covered in deep powder, getting my skis back on proved to be a nearly impossible endeavor. While Jacques and Mike made their way over the moguls and finally a beeline to the long catwalk that led out of the woods and toward the lift, I fought with my equipment to get the snow cleared just enough to get my boots clamped in, however tenuously. Sweating profusely and hearing the clock ticking in my mind, I finally got them on and did my best to catch up.

As I pulled out of the woods and caught sight of my partners approaching the lift up ahead, something was eerily missing from the scene. People. No one was there. Our side of the mountain was closed for the day, and even the lift operators had gone up the mountain. Terror filled my heart as I drew nearer to the base of the lift. Our one salvation was that it was still moving, carrying its hundreds of empty benches up the mountain. For a brief moment, I thought we might get off scot-free. We hadn’t been killed on War Dance, no one knew we were out of bounds, and now we were going to make it to the top so we could ski down the other side of the mountain and see our families again. Hallelujah!

As I poled my way toward the lift, Mike tried to jump on quickly, but in his haste, lost his balance and fell off immediately. As he collected his equipment and put it on again, Jacques hopped on to the next one. Nearing a fear-induced coronary, I eventually made it to the line. Just as I was hopping on, Mike clicked into his ski and made a leap in from the side to join me on my chair before it ascended. He just made it, but he knocked me off in the process. In a desperate panic, I gathered myself, reassembled my skis and poles, and climbed safely on a chair.

And that is how we rode: Jacques way up ahead, then Mike in the middle, me in the distant rear. We could hear each other by shouting, but no one was in the mood for banter at that point. After all of the drama, at last we were on our way to safety.

And then, the lift stopped dead.

My heart felt like it stopped right with it. It was my worst nightmare. Gripped by fear, we all started shouting for help, hoping desperately that someone on top of the mountain—someone far out of our sight—would hear our calls and start the chair again. We yelled and yelled, but nothing happened. The chairs just sat there, dangling from their cable high above the ground. I was in shock and disbelief. Could we make it through the night in the cold? What if I fell asleep up there and slipped off? Might the Ski Patrol make a final sweep of the mountain and rescue us? Were we going to be banned or arrested? The only certainty seemed to be that if we survived, our parents were going to kill us.

When we finally gave up our shouting, there was an eerie silence over the mammoth mountainside. Not a soul in sight except for Jacques and Mike, a couple of kids dangling high in the air above the frozen earth. Trapped. I felt so small and powerless. And afraid. I was really, really afraid.

As I poured over the dangers in my mind and prepared to settle in for the toughest night of my life, Mike, ever the impulsive one, yelled that he was going to jump. Jump??? He was the highest up of any of us, and it was absolutely the worst idea ever. Even with all of these years to think about this, I am still fairly certain that he would have been killed by the fall. At the very least, he would have broken both of his legs and other bones in the fall (with skis and ski boots on, remember). I looked on in horror as he let go of his poles, imagining him about to take the same long, slow fall to the hardened snow far below. He turned sideways on his chair, shimmied one leg and cheek off the edge, and…..

The chair started moving.

I heard the breath finally come out of my lungs. My friend’s life had just been saved, and we were going to get to the top of the mountain that day! Relief does not even begin to describe what I felt. Of course, I was still scared to death of the consequences facing us at the top of the mountain from the resort staff, and at the bottom of the mountain from my parents. But that was so much better than the fear of seeing my friend jump to his death or freezing on a chairlift all night. I learned on that fear-filled day that there are degrees of awful.

As it turned out, we got off easy on all fronts. The lift operators stopped the lift three times before I finally touched the ground—once before each one of us got off at the top so each guy could dangle there one last time and be bawled out individually before they set us free. None of us said a word as we skied down the other side of the mountain. When we finally made it to the lodge at the bottom, we found our parents in their usual spot at the bar, having hardly noticed that we were late.

My nerves were shot. My body was all knots. I was traumatized. As I listened to Jacques and Mike re-tell our tale later that night to our older siblings, I was amazed at how they were able to make it sound like a fun adventure that they would happily repeat. Their bravado astounded me. It was just another great story in their growing catalog of daring-dos. Not me. The thought of getting into more trouble or risking my life only brought back all the feelings I had lived through that day. I don’t need any more memories like that. That one has never stopped haunting me.

How about you? What scares you most in this world? Open up your journal and your memory bank, and write about your most frightening life experiences. Which events jump out at you? Are they from childhood or adulthood? Are the details vivid in your memory, or do you just remember being very scared at the time? What are your big ones? Physical pain? Punishment, like my fear of the principal? Heights? Snakes or bugs? Dogs? Confined spaces? How do you do with horror movies? How much of our fear is innate and how much do we develop through negative experiences, especially as children? Overall, how much of a scaredy-cat are you? Do you wish you were more or less fearful? Can you think of times when your fear has helped you? Is fear mostly a waste of energy, like worry? Like most things in life, it’s complicated and different for all of us. How does it fit into your life story, both past and present? Leave me a response and let me know, What was your scariest day? 

Own your story,


P.S. If my story made you think of your story, share them both with someone. Boo!