Altitude Sickness

Altitude Sickness: Channeling masochism toward useful pursuits

As I write this, I am about to embark on my 197th day of skiing for the year, and quite a year it has been. Despite the lack of winter weather, I will finish he season with about 20 days of uphill (much of it plain old hiking, very little of it skinning). I am short about nine days of perfect attendance with lift service (thanks to a Texas family reunion over Thanksgiving).

I skied at other areas 6-7 times, Stowe, Sugarbush, Jay, Bolton (thanks to generous friends), but I always skied Killington/Pico first and then went wherever else I was going.

I have done things this year that I have never done, and may never do again. Two days in a row, I skied top to bottom on Superstar in weather that was near 90 degrees. I skied an outrageous spring glacier into June, skiing two trough powder days where May saw more snow than February.

The fact that there was spring skiing at all after a season like the one we had is simply astounding, and we owe daily thanks to the workers who stay up all night all winter, literally making our winter. We ski on the backs of giants!

I will have skied 200 days by the end of the season (my first time even close to such a monster number. Last year I skied 159, and my biggest season before that was 1992 with something like 80 days). The amount of dirt hiking that I had to do to achieve that has put me in better shape than I have arguably ever been (while I couldn’t run a marathon now, I have never been able to trudge up Superstar with a pack, or weights, without stopping. I can now.)

This is a winter where I have addressed many fears and neuroses…a winter of very hard work on the personal front…daily journaling about my goals, my principles, how I intend to live. This is a winter during which I have rejoined many abandoned parts of my psyche, theater auditions (I got the role but had to beg off because of the hours of my new job), choir singing, taekwondo. This is a winter where, motivated by a knee injury, I rejoined one of my favorite outdoor sports, rock climbing (I love the little gym in Rutland, and anyone looking for an outdoor climbing friend should get in touch with me).

This is a winter where, for the first time, I have started to address a genuine fear of success. This is a fear many of us have, and which I have found crippling.

I have led a life of failure on my own terms.

When I went to the national taekwondo championships in 1998 and won bronze, I did it one year out of training. When I went to U.S. team trials at the Colorado Springs OTC in 1999 (unacclimated at 6,000’), I was two years out of training, my only fight having been the previous year at the championships. When I lost by a mere two points to the fellow who won the world cup two months later, instead of saying “Hey, maybe I should quit smoking and do a pushup, I could really go far with this if I dedicated myself to it,” I said “If that is what I can accomplish fat and out of shape, imagine what I could do if I trained. I think I will retire.”

There hasn’t been a minute since about a year after that decision where I haven’t wondered about what would have happened…where I haven’t wondered about what I didn’t leave out in the ring, quitting early and without effort because I wanted to be sure that I failed on my own terms.

This happened with my professional acting career straight out of college. I said that I didn’t go anywhere because I couldn’t stand to leave Vermont, but really it was because I was afraid to stay in a world of wholesale rejection, that the terms of my failure would be prescribed by others. So I went ahead and made sure that I would in fact fail, by not even trying.

So instead I became a nearing musician, stand-up comic, and eventually a salesman. I am drawn to rejection like a moth to a flame. I have had to come to grips with the fact that I am, like it or not, a masochist, and will simply make choices that cause me pain.

The question is, will I cause myself pain that is pointless, or will I cause myself pain that is useful and is an engine for change? I have been trying to opt for change.

It has been working. After fits and starts, leading and trailing, I did something yesterday of which I am very proud. After taking only four days off since October (I may have missed one, but I think it is four), after dedicating myself to improving my sales technique, after countless 10, 12, 14-hour days ending with falling asleep on my keyboard or while handwriting thank you notes, I did something very few solar salesfolk will ever do in their lives.

I sold (gave away, really, they don’t pay for the equipment, just the electricity) four systems in one day. Six in two days. That is tantamount to preventing the release of the equivalent of 1,200,000 driving miles of CO2, and preventing the pollution of about 40 Olympic-sized swimming pools of water. This is the lifetime work of approximately 545 trees. I managed it in two days.

Yesterday, I proved to myself that if I just show up and do the work, if I love the grind, I can succeed, and that success is nothing to be afraid of.  Yesterday, I proved that my mother and father were in fact right.

Yesterday, quite simply, I succeeded. Yesterday is a day that I will hold close to my heart when this week’s floodgates open and I am, once again, buried under an avalanche of “No.”

In point of fact I rather enjoyed success. I am going to climb a mountain now.

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