The Forest for the Trees

I’ve spent the better part of the last year trying to figure out why my relationship and career went the way of the acid-wash jean in such quick succession but, what I’ve learned by not learning one damn thing about the why, is that the what next matters a lot more.

Every year, my family and I meet up and go skiing.  Typically, after a big trip with my mom and sister, my dad and I meet up several more times throughout the season.  Last week, my dad and I got our season underway with a trip to Colorado.  We stayed in Denver, where he was born and raised – and where I lived until about first grade – and split our weekend between Copper Mountain and Winter Park.

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The view from the mid-mountain lodge at Winter Park ski area outside of Denver, CO.

My dad has been skiing since he was five years old, so he’s also my instructor, seeing as how I didn’t strap on a pair of Salomons until 2012 or so.  I took to skiing somewhat immediately; it took a few trips out West before I could get down the mountain with anything even remotely resembling precision or grace (something I’m still working on – learning to ski when you’re 25 is a lot more terrifying than learning to ski when you’re young and fearless), but I loved the idea of it the first time I tried it.  It combines all sorts of my favorite things:  snow, speed, exercise, chili cheese fries, beer…there’s honestly nothing I don’t like about it.  My dad and I spend each of our ski weekends fitting in as many runs as possible in a race to see how fast we can get down the mountain. Plus, the views are some of the best you can find. Every time I get off a lift at one of these incredible mountains after a fresh snow, I am truly in awe of how insanely gorgeous it is in the mountains at 10,000 feet.

On this trip, at Winter Park, specifically, I found myself totally enamored by the massive evergreen trees lining the way down the mountain.  They’re huge and gorgeous and there’s something about skiing through a field of Christmas trees that’s just sort of magical.  As a test of my dad’s patience, I was stopping at the top of almost every run to snap pictures of these massive pines; I really couldn’t get enough.  There was something about the ski area that day, and the way the snow was hanging on to the branches of these old, beautiful trees, that just felt really…peaceful.  I recognized the feeling immediately – it’s the same way I feel when I’m near the ocean at sunset or on top of a mountain after a long hike – it’s tranquility, and, for me, it’s experienced when you stumble into a moment where you’re so outrageously – almost comically – small in comparison to the grandness around you.

I think that, usually, we feel uncomfortable when we feel small. The first day at a new job is always distressing, enrolling in a new program at school can be terrifying and anxiety-provoking, starting a new project can feel insurmountable at the beginning.  It’s natural to be anxious, panicked or uncomfortable when you feel like the low man on the totem pole, and it’s far more stressful to be at the starting line of something than the finish line.  It’s interesting, though: I think that people feel differently when they’re in nature – despite its being massive, awesome or even unknown – because we just accept that it’s a force much bigger than ourselves.

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View towards the top of Copper Mountain, CO.

I got to thinking about that sensation when I was looking at my pictures from my trip to Colorado: about how we, as human beings, tend to feel compelled to understand things, to make sense of them, no matter what they are and even when there’s nothing there to make sense of.  Creating cognitive consonance is a mental exercise we’re almost constantly engaged in.  Reasoning and rationing are what we do, and a lot of the time it’s necessary (it’s a lot easier to tell yourself you didn’t get the job because it’s just not meant to be than admit to yourself you shouldn’t have answered the “what’s your biggest weakness” question with “being too passionate about my work”), but I have to think that the people out there who are able to just accept some things without forcing their minds to understand them or reconcile them are the ones who are most at peace, and far better off at the end of the day, even if that means that there are some things in their lives that will never make sense.  The thing is, that’s not just tough to do…that’s next to impossible to do, especially for someone who spent 3 years and hundreds of thousands of dollars learning how to solve problems for a living.

I’ve spent the better part of the last year trying to figure out why my relationship and career went the way of the acid-wash jean in such quick succession but, what I’ve learned by not learning one damn thing about the why, is that the what next matters a lot more. Re-living my mistakes in some ridiculous attempt to “figure out” what went wrong just keeps me stuck in 2016 (and we all know that’s one place you don’t wanna get stuck).  There’s no need to try and solve the riddle of what the hell happened to alter my course so drastically when the place I’ve ended up – doing things I love in a city to which I’ve always dreamed of returning – isn’t half bad.

They say that it’s a bad thing to not see the forest for the trees, but I don’t think that’s quite right. I don’t know that it’s always possible to actually see the big picture when things are going wrong. At the end of the day, I think that it’s those who trust that there’s a forest behind the trees, even when they can’t see it, who are most at peace with the chaos that comes along with this beautiful, ridiculous, hectic, wonderful, complicated existence. I’m actively working (pretty damn hard) on achieving more peace in my life which, most of the time, is a goal that seems light years away – sort of my personal Mt. Everest.  It’s a tall order, and I’m just at the beginning of my climb, but I have a feeling this is one mountain I won’t be racing anyone to get down

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