Getting a Grip on Expectations

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This past weekend a few friends and I ventured down to Southern Utah for a weekend recharge filled with camping, mountain biking and a bit of climbing. Winter in Park City has been lack-luster - limited snowfall has everyone down in the dumps and my knee has officially made its protest to skiing. My normal weekend adventures of skinning and climbing up a giant mountain, then skiing down it, got replaced with couch and computer time. I suspected it had taken a toll on my fitness but was hopeful that there would be some semblance of my former self when I hopped on my bike. Regardless, making the 5 hour drive south for a dose of vitamin D, was exactly what the doctor ordered.

If you've never ridden mountain bikes in the desert before, the riding can be quite challenging. Rugged, punchy terrain, comprised primarily of grippy burnt orange sandstone, littered with varieties of cacti and complemented by loose sandy dirt.  Spring riding in the desert is always a litmus test for where your fitness is at the end of the winter. The short yet steep bouts of uphill will bust your legs and lungs and the relentless technical terrain will test your patience. The first time that I rode outside of St. George, I grew enormously frustrated. The fun I was having rapidly dissipated as I watched my more experienced friends ride off into the horizon. Over the years, the frustration morphed into obsession, but every year I raise the bar for how I believe I should perform.

Heading down south, I knew I'd have to come to terms with my fitness level. While I had set an expectation that my cardio might not be superb, I also expected that my technical skills and abilities could overcome it. Unfortunately, that was not the case as my performance fell short of the expectations that I had set for myself.
Sections of trail that I once easily powered through, I meekly walked up pushing my bike alongside me. Feeble attempts to sneak in one last pedal stroke ended fruitlessly. I figured things I could ride before might seem more difficult, but not impossible! The inner critic started sounding off. You've let yourself get so weak. Why don't you set your priorities better? How could you sacrifice your health and fitness for your career? No wonder your jeans are fitting tighter... You might never be able to ride this again. You'll probably just have to accept that.

ex·pec·ta·tion

ekspekˈtāSH(ə)n

noun

  1. a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.
    • "reality had not lived up to expectations"
  2. a belief that someone will or should achieve something.
    • "students had high expectations for their future"

Expectations. They can either serve to lift us up or they can pull us down a rabbit hole of self doubt. I've been sucked into this narrative before and have fortunately learned to combat it by shifting my perspective. While it's important to acknowledge where we are in life so that we can find areas to improve, we need to learn to acknowledge without judging critically. The reality was that I was not powerful enough to ride certain sections of steep punchy terrain. Instead of criticizing myself, I can use this opportunity to set an intention for my life to create meaningful change.

3 things to remember when reality doesn't align with your expectations:

1) The only moment that matters is NOW.
You've heard it before: "it is, what it is," or "you are, what you are." It might drive you crazy to hear, but it's true. The only moment in which we can impact our lives is through the present one. You can only improve your life by choosing to do so NOW. Lamenting and complaining that things didn't go as you expected won't actually get you anywhere! “Always say “yes” to the present moment. What could be more futile, more insane, than to create inner resistance to what already is? What could be more insane than to oppose life itself, which is now and always now? Surrender to what is. Say “yes” to life — and see how life suddenly starts working for you rather than against you.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
2) Your "expectations" were never real.

We created expectations to manage the source of many of our fears: the unknown. Writing the script for our future can provide some comfort. It makes us believe that we have a plan, that we know what's going to happen and provides us a sense of control. Expectations are the adult version of "make-believe." We've gotten so good at make-believe, that we experience complete disarray when reality turns out different. Remind yourself that your expectations were a fabrication, that there are always unforeseen, uncontrollable forces at work. All we can do is adapt.

3) Expectations can become intentions.
Failing to meet expectations is like shining a flashlight directly at an area of life we wish to improve. If we haven't met our expectations, we're most likely not prioritizing that part of our life or are being unrealistic about the amount of time we're able to dedicate to it. This is a great opportunity to look at your life and ask yourself what's most important. You may find you were holding onto old ideals that no longer serve you, therefor you've created unrealistic expectations. Or, contrarily, you've set achievable expectations, but haven't shifted your time spent to accommodate them. You can simply turn these unfulfilled expectations into intentions or goals for your future.

What expectations have you set for yourself? Are you spending all your time living in the future imaging what may happen? What fears are you trying to alleviate by creating these expectations? What goals can you set for yourself to get you closer to making your reality match your expectations?

Learning to Let Go

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It’s the last day of 2017. Though we are free to make fresh starts at any point in the year, January 1st certainly nice ring to it. I recently moved into a new home that my husband and I have been tirelessly working on over the last year – built from the ground up. This whole process involved shoving our stuff in storage for 2 years and cohabitating with my mother for the last 8 months (bless her heart for putting up with my three messy boys and me)… The whole process of packing & unpacking our belongings led me to purge A LOT of stuff. Items that had been in storage for years that I hadn’t even thought about, clothes that hung in my closet that I never wore, trinkets and gadgets collected at various events that never got used. This was the easy part. It felt good to let it all go – cleansing – allowing only the possessions that continued to serve me to find a place in my new home.

I also uncovered photos from my past, cards received after my father passed away, a wallet full of receipts from the last 2 weeks of my father’s life: spin class, hospital food, funeral dresses. These things were more difficult to say goodbye to. It seemed there was a part of me still clinging to an alternate destiny, denying the outcome of his illness. But amidst those things, I found a Christmas card that I wrote to my father 3 years ago – his last Christmas. Though at the time of writing it, I had no idea it would be. In the card, I encouraged him to do something that he always encouraged me to do: LET IT GO.

Let go of your expectations, let go of your ego, let go of what was, let go of what could be… LET IT ALL GO. Anytime I’d have a result that wasn’t favorable, a challenge with a sponsor, jealousy of another athlete’s “opportunities” this would be his advice. I used to not understand it. I couldn’t recognize that within “letting go” you could still yearn for greatness, seek improvement in your life, and achieve excellence in your field. I thought “let it go” somehow meant “giving up.” But, it does not.

Letting go is learning to live with an open heart. It’s learning to strive without attachment to the exact outcome that you want. It’s about being immersed in the moment you’re currently in, accepting all the gifts and lessons that are being offered.  When I wrote that card to my father in December 2015, I had just gotten back into a halfpipe for the first time after tearing my ACL going into the 2014 Winter Olympics. At the time of tearing my ACL, I thought my career was done, that I would never compete again, that I’d never ski to “my standard” again and therefor didn’t want to waste any time doing it. Fortunately, as the snow fell and the competition season started, my desire to be in a halfpipe and to compete again took over. That contest in Copper was liberating. I finally understood what my father was telling me all these years. By letting go of all the bull, I was able to just enjoy skiing. I didn’t pressure myself to perform at any level, just invited myself, my soul, and my body to ski a halfpipe and express what felt true.

For my father, the treatments for Leukemia were taking a toll. A toll that we thought he would persevere through, a toll that we assumed had an end that didn’t involve the end of his life. He had so much edema in his body that wearing shoes (let alone ski boots) would cause immense pain and rupturing of surface tissue. For those of you who don’t know, my father is the one who taught me how to ski. He LOVED skiing. As far as sports go, this was his favorite. And in the winter of 2015, he didn’t think he’d be able to go.

So, we bought him the gift of a sit-ski lesson through the National Ability Center at PCMR. We encouraged him to let go of how he used to ski, of what his body used to be able to do, and we got him on snow. Without letting go in that moment, this experience wouldn’t have happened. My sister and I wouldn’t have that memorable, final run with my father. Lucky for us, he was willing.

 

In 2017, I’ve been reminded of this lesson more than once, though I didn’t realize it until I found that card. The hidden gifts that the universe has in store for us began to appear this year. A perfect example of this was the opportunity to compete on The Amazing Race. This was a full-circle gift returned from not getting my “desired” outcome in other situations.

In 2014, I applied to be on the show Survivor. I made it quite far in the casting process, but ultimately, they decided I wasn’t a fit for the show and I wasn’t invited out to finals casting in LA. The casting director told me that maybe I’d be a fit for another season or another show, but I was certain she was just letting me down softly. I was bummed, but I let it go. Instead, I planned a solo mountain bike road trip on which I met my now husband.

Fast forward three years. My husband and I built our relationship around adventure and in our wedding vows agreed to be one another’s adventure partners for life. When I got an unexpected invite to go on a mountain bike sailing trip in Iceland, it was met with great resistance by Chris. It was a financial burden and a trip that would use up precious vacation time that I couldn’t later use for an adventure with Chris. This was a major point of contention for us. I felt like I was missing out on a great opportunity by saying no, Chris was convinced that there would always be opportunities coming my way. So, I let it go.

Instead of Iceland, we planned an epic trip for some bikepacking in Alaska – a trip that both of us could experience. Another couple months later, on a random Friday evening in July, merely 6 days before we were supposed to leave for AK, I got a text message asking about my interest in competing on The Amazing Race. *($(*^%(@$&*@&$*#&(*$%&*?!?!?!?!? Seriously? Seriously. To make matters even more interesting, the day I received that text was the day that I would have been on a plane to Iceland had I said yes to the biking/sailing trip. Had I held on to my belief that Iceland was going to be the last and best and biggest and greatest adventure that I’d ever have the opportunity to experience, had I continued to dig my heels in with my husband, had I not let go, I wouldn’t have even seen that text until it was too late.

What are you cheating yourself of because you just couldn’t let something go? By focusing on what “should have been” we’re denying ourselves the beauty of this moment. By staring at a closed door, we’re feeling to see the three others that just opened in front of us.

I’m sure, like me, at lot has happened for you in this past year. There are always lessons to learn and carry forward, but there is also a lot to let go. I invite you to let go of what didn’t go your way in 2017, hold onto everything that went well, and carry that into the new year. Be present and patient with your journey – there are often gifts hiding that you cannot yet see.

2018 mantra: come what may.

Happy New Year, everyone! As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts. All the best in 2018!

Finding Contentment & Resetting Priorities

How to find contentment in your life by examining your priorities and values, so you can find time for life's simple pleasures.

Ever find yourself muttering things like, “I wish I had time to read a book” or “I really admire people who can send out holiday cards,” then later wondering how you could be more like those people who do those things? I certainly do. I have an aunt who remembers everyone’s birthday, sends out handcrafted cards and considerate gifts for every occasion. There’s part of me that wants to simply dismiss this – who has the time for that?! – however, I’m always moved by her thoughtfulness. I love the way these cards & gifts makes me feel, even if the gifts are sometimes hit-or-miss. (Know what I’m sayin’?)

Lately, when I’ve had these thoughts, I’ve found myself doing a deep dive into them. Asking myself why, if I want to be like those people, I am not. I’ve been following up on such thoughts with a very important question: What needs to be in place in my life for x-y-z to happen? Take the book-reading example. What is missing right now, that keeps me from reading a book?

Possible Answer 1: Time

The obvious reason that I am not able to read more books, despite wanting to, is that I don’t have enough time. Okay, well Jen, if you magically had more time, would you choose to read a book?

Hmmm, maybe not, I’d probably have other things I’d need do with that freed up time. Clearly, I don’t have enough time because I’m prioritizing other things in my life.

Possible Answer 2: Priorities

So, what would it take for you to prioritize reading a book over the “other priorities” in your life? Complete and utter boredom? No, not exactly. I’d need to feel that things are settled; that my projects and to-do lists are handled; that the other things that I’m striving for in life, that I’m trying to achieve, are being attended to. So, to be able to use my time to read a book, I need to get through all the stuff on my to-do list? Here’s the real problem: MY LIST NEVER GETS SHORTER! Does yours? For every item that I cross off my “to-do” list, I add 2 more. In all my years, this has been true. Which leads me to another question: WHY?

After taking a good hard look at the conundrum, it’s quite simple. Throughout my daily existence, there is an underlying essence of needing to do and be more. I feel I am not enough. I am not good enough, smart enough, strong enough, stable enough, settled enough, accomplished enough, successful enough to deserve to sit back and read a book. So, what is missing right now that keeps me from reading a book?

Root Cause 1: A sense of contentment

I long to sit and read a book. The thought of cozying up in a window seat, overlooking the aspen trees on my property, with a fire roaring in the corner, a hot cup of coffee in one hand, and a great book in the other, brings me a sense of peace. To be able to do this, I need to find contentment in my life before-hand, even if it means I’m leaving some things partially undone.

One of the downfalls of being a highly ambitious (insecure?) person for whom where they are, what they are, and who they are, is just never quite enough is that we don’t allow ourselves to do the things we merely want to, because we’re too busy doing all the things we think we need to. But the reality is that there will always be another need-to-do that sneaks up on you. That is life. Some of the items on our “need-to-do” lists might never get attended to and that might be just fine. Because, as it turns out, you (and I) are already enough. Where we are today is not a permanent representation of where we will be in 5 years, and where we want to be in 5 years won’t manifest overnight.

I’m not saying that you need to abandon your drive, ambition, and complete to-do list, but simply to reflect upon it. Are your ambitions in line with your values? These are two distinct things and don’t always support one another. If you don’t know what the root cause is to your lack of follow through in a certain area of your life, you’ll never be able to change it.

I haven’t quite cuddled up with a hot cup of coffee and a book just yet, but I did mail my holiday cards. One of my most important values is making those whose lives I’m a part of feel loved. So, this weekend, my writing took a backseat to my loved ones. Today, I’m back to writing.

  Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don't.
― Steve Maraboli 

Social Media - The True Cost & Value

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Before I get into this, I want to say something. YOU ARE LOVED. I know sometimes it may not feel that way, but it is true. Not only are you loved, but you have immense value to this world. And, you’re really cool. Seriously.

7 weeks. I went 7 weeks without a single Instagram post. Hardly anything on Facebook over the same amount of time. Twitter? Forget it. I’ve been opening my Instagram for the last few weeks, somewhat scrolling through my feed, blankly staring at my profile, pondering ‘what will I post, when will I post, if I post? What am I doing right now that is interesting, that people will like?’ Because, honestly, my desk job is quite boring (as far as Instagram is concerned). And I haven’t wanted to do much since I got back from the-trip-that-I-can’t-tell-you-about-for-a-few-more-months…I’ve been inside mostly. Or working on the house that my husband and I are building and helping my mom recover from knee replacement surgery. And working. And trying to get my website into a functional state, and trying to write my bio to appropriately reflect where I am (who I am?) at this stage in my life. And none of it is interesting in photographical form.  I could post an old photo, but what’s the point of that? That’s simply me trying to sell you on some part of me, which is only A PART of me, but not who I wholly am. But who am I wholly? Who are you? And who cares? I do.

The value of social media is something I’ve always debated. There is value and power there, but is it a value and a power that aligns with what I want in life? Does is support me and my loved ones in a compelling way? As I’ve taken a step back from social media, its “importance” has become more vivid. It is folded into our daily lives in a truly incomprehensible way. It is seemingly necessary. But why? It also became apparent, in my 30 days without a phone, that social media’s primary purpose is selling other people on something. Yes, even you are trying to sell someone on something. Yes, even me. If you’re not selling something, whether it be a product, an opinion, or a value, your post feels meaningless. But is it? At the very least, it doesn’t feel impactful. And if it isn’t impactful, who’s liking it?

If people will only “like” the most interesting and exciting parts of our lives, if we are constantly filtering our posts to show only those aspects of our lives, we are reinforcing some TERRIBLE patterns. We are reinforcing that we are only valuable if we are interesting, if we are fighting for some just cause, if we are daring, and bold, and beautiful, and edgily strong, and outspoken, and kind. But fuck that. WE ARE ALL VALUABLE. Even when the most interesting thing you do all day is add cream to your god damn coffee, YOU ARE VALUABLE. Hell, maybe you don’t even drink coffee. Guess what? STILL VALUABLE!

I’ve heard the argument that social media is a great way to connect people, to spread the word about (ahem, sell) a great cause, to make people aware of differing perspectives, to tear down barriers, to share, because as you know, there’s strength in numbers. But I’m just not so sure. After a month without a phone, I realized that there is more power in connecting with people around you. There is more power in connecting with a stranger, because they, most likely, will have a different perspective than you; at least more so than what shows up in your Facebook feed comprised of your friends or however their algorithm decides to show you information…

But I have returned. And why? I guess now I’m ironically trying to sell you on the perils of social media by using social media...such a hypocrite. Sadly, one of the first substantial things that I learned since returning to social media, is that one of my dear friends took her own life. I knew she was fighting an inner battle, had been through some rough patches, but from everything I saw on social media, she was winning that battle. Smiles, horses, dogs, bikes, friends, travels. These were the highlights in her reel. And no matter how many likes she got on these posts, no matter how many words of support and encouragement and love, it wasn’t enough. Suicide happened before the advent of social media, but the dichotomy that exists between what is inside and what is outside is far more transparent now. Not to mention there are scholarly articles written about the link between extended social media use and depression. Even more so than simply time spent online. We seem to be poisoning ourselves.

So, if there is one thing that I’m trying to sell, that I want to sell, it is this: please think about how you connect with people. Think about who you’re connecting with and how, think about the time you spend on social media and the true value behind the interactions you’re having, think about how you feel when scrolling through your feed. Does it bring you immense joy? Okay, then proceed. Does it make you feel down about where you are in life? Do feelings of envy or jealousy arise? Does it happen after seeing a specific person’s posts or when looking at most of your feed? Do you get stressed out thinking about what photo to “share?” Then maybe some changes are needed. Please, I beg you, unfollow someone if you experience negative feelings every time you see their posts. Even if they’re family, or a supposed close friend. If you want to punch in me in the face after you see my posts, then please, unfollow me! It’s not worth it.

Beyond how social media makes you feel, ask yourself how you feel in your own life, with your real friends who you see in physical form. Perhaps you don’t spend much time socializing with people in person. How does that make you feel? Content and happy? Excellent. Lonely and sad? Maybe this is an area that needs some work. Reach out to someone. Express how you’re feeling. Ask for someone’s time. We are all busy, but we all have time for a friend in need. It’s not that people don’t care, it’s that we’re all in this juggling match called life, trying not to drop any balls, and prioritizing based on fragments of information. We don’t have the whole picture. Until someone says, ‘I’m feeling down and could really use some quality time with you,’ it may not make the cut. And instead of putting the onus on the hurting, try to reach out to someone today. A friend whom you may not have spoken to in a while. Let them know they’re loved. In Tricia’s words “be kind.”

It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start.

― Mother Teresa 

 

Conquering Mountains - SheLift Retreat Aspen

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Self-acceptance and body confidence is something with which most women struggle. Popular media bombards us with images of “perfect bodies” and, more recently showcases the perfectly smooth and proportioned “full-figured” body. Yet, the polarity of this spectrum neglects most of the population. To say that these images convey an inaccurate picture of what our real bodies look like, would be a massive understatement. And people with physical differences, for example, missing limbs or bones, are becoming more alienated than ever.

Sarah Herron was among them. Born missing the lower half of her left arm, she struggled to find anyone she could relate to. Wanting to find love, Sarah signed up to become a bachelorette on ABC’s The Bachelor in 2013. Though she didn’t find love on the show, she realized, that before all else, she needed to love herself. Over the course of several years, Sarah started to push her physical limits through skiing and hiking. Sarah states, “I soon realized that with each new run I came down faster and better, my confidence skyrocketed. This confidence translated into a new-found self-acceptance that didn’t come from anyone else’s approval or acceptance of me, it was 100% self-made.” So, after hiking the 782 vertical feet to the top of Highland Bowl with skis on her back, she decided she needed to share the power of this experience with others. Shortly thereafter, SheLift was born.

Our Mission

“Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”  ― E.E. Cummings

SheLift’s mission is to help young women and girls realize their own worth and to generate self-compassion through outdoor adventure, so they can boldly step into the world as their authentic selves. This mission is built around four foundational concepts. First, to provide a safe supportive environment for girls to connect with peers facing similar life obstacles. Second, to motivate one another to try things that take us out of our comfort zones to grow and overcome personal insecurities. Third, to bridge the gap between girls and influential mentors who can change their lives. And finally, to create a more accepting society that inspires young women to live authentically and be proud of their bodies.

The Retreat

On March 18, 2017, a group of seven women stepped onto the tarmac in Aspen, Colorado for the first time. Near strangers, brought together by their physical differences and united by Sarah Herron’s courageous vision to challenge the status quo, would partake in the inaugural SheLift Retreat. For four days, they would connect, reveal their deepest secrets and greatest insecurities, and conquer personal mountains by taking on the challenge of learning to ski or snowboard. 

Upon arrival in Aspen, the SheLift ladies ventured to the Strafe Outerwear storefront at Highland Mountain to hand-select their ski clothes for the weekend. This all expense-paid trip, was designed to remove any barriers to participation including the financial burden of getting all the gear. Strafe is “inspired by a dedication to living life in the mountains” and their vision fits hand-in-hand with that of SheLift. They were generous in donating their top-of-the-line Cloud Nine Jacket and Pant to each of the women.

As for skis, Icelantic Skis’ founder Ben Anderson, graced the group with his presence, sharing the company’s vision. “The Icelantic community is an inclusive gathering of those seeking connection, exploration and innovation in all aspects of their lives.” With that in mind, they equipped SheLift with a quiver of Maiden 101 skis with custom graphics, so that this experience could be shared for years to come.

On The Hill

“We don't know who we are until we see what we can do.” ― Martha Grimes 

When we face challenges, we often surprise ourselves. So much of our fear and doubt is self-created because of things we do not understand. Once we take on learning a new skill and realize that it was within our abilities, it opens-up a world of possibilities. If this is possible, then what else can I do? By giving these young women the opportunity to overcome the challenge of learning to ski, we open them up to the power within themselves. A force that cannot be stopped.

By partnering with Challenge Aspen, SheLift paired each girl with an instructor of her own, dedicated to her unique needs and learning style. The staff was hands-on in taking each girl through a steady progression. Starting on one ski, feeling how it glides and moves across the snow, learning where the edges are and moving on from there. By the end of day two, every girl had progressed to riding the chair lift and descending a full run, but that’s not to say it was without difficulties.

Every girl crashed at some point during their experience. For Kimberlee Johnson, who lost the lower part of her right leg as infant, being on skis required the use outriggers and the learning curve was slightly harsher, but her perseverance was astounding. Or Catherine McCain, who took a big hit on day two, despite a rapid learning curve her first day was reminded that not only are we capable of more than we often realize, we’re also a lot more resilient.

The Revelations

 “If you begin to understand what you are without trying to change it, then what you are undergoes a transformation.”  ― Jiddu Krishnamurti

When the girls arrived in Aspen, they didn’t know what they were getting into, but they certainly had expectations about the experience. Perhaps they wanted to rid themselves of self-doubt, shame, or body-image issues or perhaps they simply wanted to learn how to ski. Undeniably, they were looking for change. What likely surprised them all, was that this retreat wasn’t so much about changing who they were, but realizing who they already are and embracing it.

Though this retreat was built around skiing, most of the connection happened at the house over home-made dinners and fireside snacks, as the ladies reflected on their day. To be introduced to one another in an all-accepting space allowed for instant bonding. Conversations flowed effortlessly from pop-culture and body-image, to how to cut vegetables or curl your hair with one hand. Witnessing the growth and transformation of these women in an environment that simply encouraged them to try new things, without fear of judgement or worry of failure, was awe-inspiring. As Kim Jozefiak reflected, “The retreat encouraged me to live authentically, be kinder to myself, and not be afraid to share my story.”

As the week progressed, not one woman in the house had spoken without tears in their eyes – mentors, Sarah Herron & myself, included. Hearts opened, and the most confident seeming among the group began to shed layers to reveal that even they have self-doubts. Sarah prompted conversations to get each girl to think about what makes her feel the most confident. For some, like Alexis Graham, it was perfecting the art of makeup, for others like Lillian Martinez, it was going hiking. The SheLift retreat was a reminder to do what makes us feel most alive, regardless of what societal or familial expectations may be.

What’s Next

“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”  ― Brené BrownDaring Greatly

Despite feeling separated because of their differences at home, their differences were the one thing that brought them together in Aspen. In the end, these women were united by their physical differences and learned that underneath it all, we’re all seeking the same thing: a sense of belonging, love, and acceptance. Michelle Polanic shares that “this retreat taught me that I am worthy of love, beautiful inward and outward, and that I can move mountains.”

We are not who others say we are. We are not our bodies, nor our minds. We are not made simply to live and to die, but instead, to give and receive love. As SheLift rolls into its second year as an organization, these 7 women will become foundational to our future efforts. Going back to their homes, across the expanse of North America, they will become pillars of support for younger women facing similar challenges. The grass-roots initiatives of SheLift will be integral for the continuation of our efforts and are at the core of changing the world for the better. We want more young women and girls to feel as Chris DeLeon does; “I now have a new found confidence, a new passion for snowboarding, and a group of lifelong friends that I can depend on to continue to push me to grow and encourage me to love myself everyday.”

Want to empower young women and girls to conquer their personal mountains? Click here to donate or share this link and spread the word! To read about our inaugural retreat attendees and their experiences, click here.

“Often, it’s not about becoming a new person, but becoming the person you were meant to be, and already are, but don’t know how to be.” ― Heath L. Buckmaster

  teeki

Finding Purpose In The Little Things

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In 1955 a young girl named Susie Williams asked her friend Billie Jean King to play tennis. Billie responded, "what's tennis?" 17 years later, Billie Jean King championed the effort to get Title IX approved so that women in an educational institution could have equal opportunities to play sports; a year later, she beat Bobby Riggs in the infamous tennis match dubbed "The Battle of The Sexes;" and a year after that, Billie founded the Women's Sports Foundation. Billie had purpose. Billie Jean King

Living on Purpose

Fall used to be my favorite season.  It's a transitional time that used to represent all my hopes and dreams and now just represents all my short-comings. Maybe that's a little harsh, but it's how I feel. Over the last year I've struggled to make the transition away from life as a professional athlete. I miss my skiing career. I miss doing something that I feel I was born to do, I miss challenging myself, pushing the limits, living my purpose and exploring my potential. I miss it. All of it.

My insides ache for flexibility that once defined my daily existence. It aches to live a life that I was meant to be living, to live my PURPOSE. In attempt to fill that void that skiing so adequately filled, I started taking on a million small projects. I've been attempting to add more purpose to my life. So, I've been mentoring young girls in mountain biking, sitting on the board of another non-profit, fundraising for a third non-profit, finishing my college education, getting a "big-kid" job in an office from 9-5, racing professionally in a sport other than skiing, taking on freelance writing assignments, and helping my husband start a custom teardrop trailer company. My days have become so "full" of intention and purpose that they leave me depleted.

How Did I Get Here?

When my dad died, I reflected a lot on the quality of life that he lived. The delicate balance that he struck between work and play. My dad was brilliant, ahead of his times. Got his master's degree from MIT in one year, taught computer science at Yale for 32 years, and wrote a progressive computer programming language. My mom is brilliant in her own right. Valedictorian, got a perfect score on her SATs, and went to Yale School of Management for her master's degree. Oh, and don't forget about my sister, she was no slouch either. She gave the class-address at her high-school graduation, got a PhD in clinical psychology and now helps kids and families live better lives.

You see, when I was skiing, I felt okay being so different from the rest of my family, because I was making a difference in the world. I had a purpose! But now that I've made the attempt to "transition" out of it, I'm confronted with the reality that at 30 years old I'm supposed to start over at an entry-level job while I juggle trying to finish my bachelor's degree and maintain my 3.8 gpa, while still living a life of PURPOSE by making a difference in the lives of others. It's a heavy burden to carry.

Finding Purpose

For some reason I've felt that I'm only worth what I'm contributing. That at the end of the day, if I'm not making a massive difference to someone somewhere, then I have no value. The little things don't ever feel like enough.

I began this post with a story about Billie Jean King, but the story was really about the young girl who first asked her to play tennis. The world doesn't know Susie William's name in the way it know's Billie's. Yet, without Susie, Billie never would have found the sport of tennis, become the first female athlete to earn a six-figure income, broken more glass ceilings than we can count, and created one of the most influential non-profit organizations for female empowerment: The Women's Sports Foundation.

Susie was 11 years old when she asked Billie to play. She wasn't overanalyzing her actions or trying to force her life's purpose out into the world. She was simply following her heart, doing something she loved and sharing it with someone else. This action had a powerful ripple effect.

I've spent the last year trying to leverage this next phase of my life to make a massive difference in the world, but perhaps that's not my role. We can't all be the Elon Musks, Billie Jean Kings or Mark Zuckerbergs of the world. But we can help them flourish. It takes all types of people to make this world go round.

As I continue navigating this transition, I'll be mindful of how my small actions may have unforeseeable effects. I'll feel good about doing what I can and stop worrying about whether it's enough.

I always love to hear your thoughts! Let me know where you find purpose in your life and how it has changed for you over the years!

Monte Cristo Directissimo- The Mountains Are Mirrors

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My head spins with irrational fear. The weight of past mistakes, falls onto my shoulders, collapsing my core. I feel vulnerable, scared, but I'm lying safely in my bed, tucked under my down-comforter as my fiancee changes out of his work clothes before crawling in beside me. He's suggested our route for tomorrow: Monte Cristo Directissimo. In Andrew McClean's The Chuting Gallery: A Guide to Steep Skiing in the Wasatch Mountains, he cautions against getting stuck on this route too late in the day, as warming can cause wet-slides which could quickly turn a skier into a "corpsicle." We'd made that mistake just a year before, narrowly avoiding such a dreadful fate, and the thought of choosing to return, was daunting.

Sweet Dreams

I slept surprisingly well that night, albeit only for 5 short hours. Sometimes I feel that my dad visits in my dreams. I think he came to see me that night to remind me that these experiences are what life is about. Have many of them, as many as possible. And he's right. You can be safe, you can calculate your every move, and you could still be gone tomorrow, without ever having left the house.

My mind seemed to settle at rest, to sort out fact from fiction (or fear). The day would be cool, not likely to be above freezing until noon and there should be some cloud cover for most of the day. Last year we were inexperienced, and naive to dangers outside of a typical slab avalanche. Wet slides caught us off-guard, but we've learned so much since then. We know our route, are aware of the snow conditions, and have the proper gear. Not to mention, my lungs are screaming for some extra blood flow and my legs feel strong and ready for use.

So, I rolled out of bed to get ready for our day. My morning routine can't be altered even if I have to leave the house before dawn. Breakfast- a balance of carbs and protein, coffee, with a little cream, and a LOT of water before piling into the car. I used to strongly dislike the drive from Park City to LCC, but now I embrace it. I know that I'll feel good once my ski boots are on and I start the ascent.

Panorama of Alta & Snowbird across from Mt. Superior.

The Approach

The sun was beginning to rise when finally got our skins on and started our approach. There were about 10 other skiers on similar programs that morning, but we all found our own rhythm and naturally spaced out. As we worked our way up to the south edge of Toledo Bowl, Chris and I wondered if we should have brought our ski crampons after-all. Cross-hilling was challenging as there was a small dusting of loose snow atop a bullet-proof layer of ice, but we pressed on.

We reached the ridge in due time and after another 30 more minutes of precarious skinning, we started the bootpack. This is probably my favorite part of the ascent. For some reason skinning feels like torture, but bootpacking on a knife-edge ridge and stair-stepping to the top of the universe somehow feels fun...

The Summit

We reached the summit around 11:30 am and were content with our timing. We could take a moment to enjoy the summit, but still had enough time to descend before temps would become dangerously warm. There is nothing quite like standing atop a mountain like this. It's not huge in the grand scheme of alpine terrain, but Monte Cristo still rises over 11,000' and with views down to the Salt Lake Valley floor, the 7,000' visual drop feels significant.

It's the smallness you feel while standing up there that is compelling. The city seems small, the houses tiny, and the people microscopic. Our problems: nonexistent, yet we so often let them rule our lives. Somehow we all co-exist, not always harmoniously, but seamlessly. We push and pull, lift and drop, hope and dream, and the world turns.

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Slide for Life Skiing?

We settled in about 10' below the summit to shelter ourselves from the wind while we ate lunch. I couldn't eat much, my shoulders were tensing up and my bladder was extremely full. All I could think about was the descent, which was shrouded in a cloud, making visibility a challenge. The variable conditions began to concern me. We would we now be on slide-for-life ice above a cliff that we need to rappel down? My nerves started to fire rapidly, uncontrollably, [somewhat] irrationally, once again. This is where I'm grateful for the man I'm marrying and why we all benefit from a solid life partner.

"Jen, let's just take it one step at a time. If we don't like the conditions we can divert around. We're still a long way above the rappel. Besides, this open bowl is so wind-blown, the couloir is more protected and won't be this bad."

Chris has a way of simplifying things, sometimes too much so, which is what got us in trouble last year, but I tend to overthink things. We allow our dialogue to continue in this push-pull manner until we arrive at a safe and probably very rational decision to ski. Chris went first and found an island of safety below some rocks (not that a slab avalanche was remotely of concern today, but it's good practice to reinforce the right habits). I proceeded to ski into the couloir and nestled behind a large cliff at the start of a separate couloir that would divert around the rappel, should we decide not to complete this route. Once I was safe, I called to Chris. He skied down to the top of the first cliff to set up our initial rappel.

As I sat there, I could see and feel the wet slide that took place just over a year ago in that exact location. We didn't know exactly where we were (fail #1) and got caught out too late in the day (fail #2). I had skied all the way down to the top of the first rappel when I realized we were cliffed-out. Chris was above me, trying to see if we had another option out. He watched as a wet-slide powered through the couloir down the exact path that I had skied only moments before. I was fortunate enough to be able to tuck behind a small rock outcropping while the slide moved through, but I was out of Chris' site. For all he knew, I'd been swept over the cliff...

"Jen!"

Chris' voice snapped me back to the present moment.

"We're good. You can come down to me."

No wet slides today. No confusion. No thoughts of nearly losing someone you love. I carefully skied down to Chris and clipped into the anchor.

Rappelling With Skis On My Back...

There are fixed anchors on this route, which made our setup pretty straightforward. Chris descended first. I watched him ease over the edge and waited until he confirmed that he was secured to the next anchor before I maneuvered the rope into my rappel device. Now it was my turn.

I always loved climbing as a kid. My dad and his colleagues were avid rock climbers and I was fortunate enough to tag along on many of their adventures. A few of my favorites were climbing out of a canoe somewhere in the Gunks, working my way up the [former] Old Man of the Mountain and climbing one of my first multi-pitch climbs in the Las Vegas Red Rocks when I was 12. Rappelling was always one of the most enjoyable aspects for me. A celebration of completing a physically demanding feat, you could spring your way down the wall.

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While rappelling with skis on your back and ski boots on your feet is a bit more awkward than the rappels of my youth, it still felt celebratory and fun, and it's certainly easier than climbing with skis on my back! Once I rejoined Chris at the foot of the cliff, we prepared for the second, larger rappel. This one topped out at about 100' and gave me a few butterflies (the good kind, the kind where you know you're safe, but it's exhilarating anyway).

Halfpipe Couloir!

My feet planted softly on the melting snow and I sank into the upward pull of the rope to get some slack. I unclipped from the rope. We had made it down two pitches and we now had the remaining drainage to ski back to the road.

The couloir fills in in a halfpipe-like manner, making for a playful descent and oddly familiar terrain. Some roller-balls were forming due to the predicted warming temps, but a smile found my face and a full-breath filled my lungs. The mountains are mirrors for what's in our hearts.

This is life. This is what we're here for. Small progressions to move past previous limitations, comparing yourself to no one other than who you were yesterday.

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7 Tips for Making Your New Year's Resolutions Stick

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Happy New Year! New Year's Resolutions are notoriously hard to keep. I don't know about you, but 2015 took its toll on me; my lifestyle changed dramatically, grief and depression initiated some bad diet choices that eventually became habits (excessive sweets, lots of cheese and more fried foods than I'd care to admit). My strong-willed days of working out for 4+ hours a day and following the WHOLE30 Program seem long behind me, buried with my hard-focused goal of becoming an Olympian. But, I've sacrificed too many of my good habits, and I refuse to let my rough past year defeat me. Thank God for the New Year.I am welcoming 2016 with open arms.

Last year was a roller-coaster of a ride for me and though I don't doubt that 2016 will have its fair share of challenges, I'm feeling very optimistic about the year ahead. In the past, I haven't been the biggest fan of New Year's resolutions because I was consistently motivated and didn't need a kick-in-the-butt to get me going. This year, that's not the case, but my years of goal-setting for skiing have helped me strategize how to become the best version of myself in 2016.

So on that note, here are my 7 tips for making your new year's resolutions stick!

#1: Focus On the "WHY"

This may sound obvious, but if we set a goal or a resolution about something that we don't truly value, our motivation won't help us push through the sacrifices in order to attain it. Do you really want a rock-hard body and a 6-pack, or do you want to wake up feeling energized and strong? Dial-in on the WHY behind what you want (i.e- I want a rock-hard body so that I feel good about in my body) and begin focusing on the latter part of the statement- feeling good in your body. Sure, weight-loss and dieting goals are one of the most common to set, studies show 66% of people set fitness goals for the new year, but is that really what you're after? Maybe adding some yoga or meditation into your day, a little extra time in nature, or a 30 minute walk with your dog several days of the week will reconnect you with your body in a way that allows you to not only feel good about it but also in it.

Walking Lunges: Stand with dumbbells grasped to sides or a barbell on your shoulders. Step forward with first leg. Land on heel then forefoot. Lower body by flexing knee and hip of front leg until knee of rear leg is almost in contact with floor. Stand on forward leg with assistance of rear leg. Lunge forward with opposite leg. Repeat by alternating lunge with opposite legs.

#2: Be Specific

Me and my sister took our dad to the National Ability Center to sit-ski on Christmas Day 2014. We had no idea it would be our last Christmas together.

If we aren't specific about what we are trying to achieve, it's impossible to gauge our progress. If we can't gauge our progress, it's easy to lose motivation. And if we lose motivation... well, you can see where I'm going with this. You want to lose weight? Great, how much and in what time frame? You want to improve your finances? In what ways? Reduce your debt? By how much and by when? One of my resolutions this year is to "be a better citizen." If I left it at that, I'm not sure I'd do much more than loan sugar to my neighbor when he or she should ask. So, I've broken it down: once a month I will give back to my community in some way. There are lots of options here, but some things on my agenda for this winter are to volunteer with the National Ability Center and to organize an event with SheJumps.org. I'm using the next two weeks to build out that plan in month-by-month detail.

#3: Be Realistic

Yes, I want to improve my diet, cut my body fat percentage, and lose a little bit of weight. Yes, I've followed strict plans in the past, but my life situation is different now. If I say that I'm going to start eating paleo again and plan to workout two hours a day, 5 days a week, I'm just setting myself up for failure. So instead, I'm cutting any added sugar on days that start with "S" and eating real food breakfasts 5 days a week. You may think this is backwards, but for me, it's realistic. During the work week I have less time and more stress. Food is my drug of choice, and as much as I hate to admit it, I'm currently eating added sugars of some kind everyday. Two days is a great place to start. It provides a foundation from which I can begin implementing better choices over time. Also, I'm less likely to eat out during the week, so I'll be exposed to less temptation- the weekends are when the temptations really strike.

#4: Pair Something You LOVE With Your Resolution

One of my favorite ways to pass time on a road-trip is the Freakonomics podcast. The podcast came to be following the great success of the book by economist, Steven Levitt and writer, Steven Dubner. One of the more compelling casts that I listened to this year was titled "When Willpower Isn't Enough." In it, Katherine Milkman (PhD in Computer Science and Business) presents her theory of "temptation bundling." She proposes that if you pair two things, like your new year's resolution (something you should do, but don't entirely want to do), with something you really enjoy, but shouldn't be doing (like watching TV), then you'll be more likely to stick with your resolution. For me, this means pairing foam-rolling and stretching with an episode of Homeland. (Note: If you value your time, don't start watching this series! It's so addictive!) The key is that you must make a rule that you can ONLY do or have the thing you like, if you're doing what you've resolved to do. So, are there two things that you'd be able to pair together to give this method a shot?

#5: Pay Attention to Your Surroundings

I have twice signed up for Deepak Chopra's and Oprah Winfrey's 21-day Meditation Challenge only to make it part way through day 2 before dropping out. I would see the daily emails containing links to the20110302_J_Hudak_037 day's meditation and would convince myself that I'd just start a few days later where I had left off. In fact, I'm pretty sure I still have all the emails, unopened in my inbox... The main reason for this failure wasn't lack of time or lack of desire it was my failure to acknowledge my surroundings. This includes people, spaces, animals and objects. There was a shy part of me that wanted to try to meditate in private, to secretly sneak away from my fiancee so that I could meditate, without needing to explain why I wanted to start this practice. So, I woke up before him to meditate on the first day of the challenge, sat down on my couch and pressed play. It wasn't 5 minutes before my dogs were disrupting me because they needed breakfast, and by the time they were fed, my fiancee was awake. Then I felt embarrassed to say I needed some time to finish my morning meditation. The reality is that Chris would be entirely supportive if I had clued him and would probably have helped me find 20 quite minutes a day for 21 days... So, what is it in your surroundings that may be getting in your way? Are you able to turn that hindrance into an asset?

#6: Write It Down, Type It Up, Print It Out & HANG IT UP!

When I was competing full time and trying to be the best in the world at a sport that involved a significant amount of risk, I had to push beyond my comfort levels A LOT! It wasn't easy. If I had

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JULY 28: UFC women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey poses for a portrait during a UFC photo session at the Sheraton Rio Hotel on July 28, 2015 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

relied solely upon myself and was not accountable to anyone else, I would never have become a 2 time world champion or X-Games gold medalist. Every single goal was written down. Every big goal was broken down into smaller goals, and each of those goals was WRITTEN DOWN! I shared them with my coach, Elana Chase, and she kept me accountable for my actions. This is probably one place where my over-developed sense of responsibility has served me quite well, and yours can too. I understand, you probably don't have a coach or trainer by your side when that ice cream craving strikes, but if you clue your family and friends in, they can keep you in check. (Just don't get mad at them when they actually do try to keep you line!) Another trick I've used in the past is posting an image of what I'm striving for near a source of temptation. You know the saying "out of site, out of mind?" Well, these images make sure that your goals are not forgotten, whether they be an image of Ronda Rousey on your fridge, or a picture of the new car your saving for tied around your credit card.

#7: "Fresh-Start Effect"

Another interesting tidbit that I learned from my Freakonomics friends is the notion of a "fresh-start effect." This phenomenon describes an aspect of the human psyche which keeps a tally of events and files them away into segments of time. Thus, on January 1st, we are able to reflect on our lives in great perspective, write-off the happenings of the previous year, and move forward into the next. The key takeaway here is that we can create these time periods at any point. Every day is the start of a new 365-day cycle: the first of the month, the start of a new season, or following a birthday. If you aren't quite ready to make a new year's resolution, don't force it. Keep your eye other opportunities for a fresh start and move forward when aspiration is it's strongest. You don't have to wait for the next January 1st.

Please share your thoughts on what helps you stick to new year's resolutions in the comment section below! You'll be entered to win a POC Auric helmet and an Under Armour jacket of your choice! I'll select the winner next Monday night, January 11, 2016 at 6 pm MST.