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Leaving our mark

4 min read


We live in the mountains outside of Denver at 8,400 feet above sea level. When people learn that, they assume I’m a snow skier. They’re surprised when I tell them I’m not.

I did try, years ago.

I went to college in Southern California. One of my roommates was a very good snow skier. His family had a cabin up in Lake Tahoe. He took a bunch of friends up to the cabin for a long weekend of skiing.

I’d never had ski lessons. I spend much of my senior year in high school surfing in Orange County, so I thought I might be able to transfer some of those skills to the slopes.

My roomie, Tom, gave me some basics our first morning on the mountain. I was all decked out in new blue jeans. I didn’t have any mountain wear so I took what I had. I had work gloves, not snow gloves. I had a couple of sweatshirts on, not a ski jacket. I was in rented ski boots on rented skis — and in brand spanking new blue jeans.

Tom said I’d learn faster on the bunny hill, with the rope tow. He said, “Once you get your bearings, we’ll take you up the mountain on the chair lift and try some longer runs.” Tom went off to ski with our more skilled friends.

I had little skill and little fun that morning. I nearly burned my hands on the rope tow with my lousy gloves. Once I got up the hill, I fell constantly. I had little control over my speed or direction. I’ll bet I made 10 loops up the rope tow and slowly crashing down the hill.

Two hours in, Tom met me at the bottom of the bunny hill. I told him I wasn’t cut out for this ski thing. He pointed up the bunny hill and said, “That’s pretty obvious.”

My bunny hill was covered in blue holes. There were dozens of blue holes – where I had fallen and struggled to get up. In my brand new blue jeans. The dye in those jeans was mostly all over that bunny hill, in blue holes.

Like many people going about their day-to-day business, I was oblivious to the marks I made. My errors were plain to see, if I only stopped to look, listen, and learn.

I may not intend to be a hindrance — at work, at home, or in my community — but I might well be one. If I don’t share information, others may make the same mistakes I make. If I don’t deliver what I’ve promised, others may be unable to meet their commitments. If I take my frustrations out on team members, they will insulate themselves from me, which hurts everyone’s ability to cooperate together.

The only way I can ensure that I’m serving others kindly and gracefully, delivering on my promises, and inspiring proactive problem solving is to ask. I need to get out of my oblivion and invite others to tell me how I can serve them better; how I can work with them more effectively; how I can help them keep their commitments.

When I listen to others’ responses, I will have a choice. I can embrace their perceptions and change my ineffective ways, or I can ignore their insights. Making desired changes makes us all better.

You may be leaving marks. Wouldn’t you rather be leaving contented colleagues who are proud of their work together?

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