Thing #14 – Skatership

When we first threw out the idea of ice skating, it seemed like a fun, albeit terrifying, idea. The last time Gina was on skates was in 4th grade, and up until last year, it had been nearly that long for me.

We knew we’d be bad at it, which was precisely the point. For two people driven to excel in work and life, we welcomed the idea of putting ourselves in a situation where we’d be laughably bad at something. We embraced it, chalking it up to leadership development. What better way to learn the critical leadership trait of “humility” than face-planting in public?

Nothing about ice skating feels natural to me. Strapped into sweaty, ill-fitting shoes, balanced on a metal sliver and appearing graceful – nope. Within ten seconds of stepping onto the ice, confidence drained from my body and I considered how easy it would be to return the skates and go home.

It’s slippery and wobbly, children are zooming past you, 40-something dads are showing off their high-school hockey tricks. But with most things in life, if you have someone by your side who’s in the same boat, it becomes a thousand times easier. (Leadership Lesson: Find your people.)

The first lap was brutal. We clung to the rails, scooting our way around the short side of the rink, silently fuming at people hogging the rail space. We owned our inexperience and persevered. In fact, Gina had a tentative smile on her face the entire time. Even in her uncertainty she was zenned out. (Leadership Lesson: Stay calm through the storm)

After a couple laps, I started getting more confident. I was zeroing-in on the motion I needed to propel myself. I was doing it! I was skating! I stopped trying so hard and just did what felt natural. (Leadership lesson: Be authentic)

Just when I started to feel comfortable enough to do a triple lutz, a muffled announcement instructed us to make way for the Zamboni. We waddled toward the benches, indulging in a much-needed sit. Taking our Leadership Ice Capades assignment seriously, we reflected on the leadership lessons we learned in those two laps…

  • Don’t compare yourself to anyone else! Everyone is at different levels with different styles. (Sidenote: In general, comparing yourself to others is fastest road to unhappiness. Stop it, please.)
  • Things get easier when you loosen up.
  • It’s ok to have support, but trust yourself to do it on your own.
  • You’ll often surprise yourself at what you can do.
  • With experience comes confidence.

After the break, we strapped on our leadership lessons and got back on the ice, more confident than ever! This time, there’d be no rails, we’d loosen up and push ourselves to the next level with smiles on our faces. Not because we’re women and the world expects us to smile, but because life is better if you’re not taking yourself so damn seriously.

Work (and life) is a series of unknowns coming at you all day. Some good, some bad. Many of which you can never anticipate. Leadership is how deftly you respond to and bring people through those unknowns.

When you’re a leader, sometimes all you want to do is lean against the rail or hunker down on the bench. The thing that makes leadership sucky is that everyone EXPECTS you to stand tall on the ice, balancing on those little blades. Even when it’s slippery, you’re feeling wobbly and you’d rather be somewhere warm.

My leadership philosophy is that it’s often ok to wobble. It’s ok to be imperfect and vulnerable. I would argue it makes you a more inspiring and respectable leader – but you’ve gotta get on the ice and do the hard work.

In our post-skate wrap-up, Gina was so earnest in her observation, “You know, it’s so good to put yourself in situations like this because it makes it easier to do other scary things.” While my supervisor may not accept “ice skating” on my list of professional development activities, deep down I’ll know all that wobbling was for the greater good.

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