That Terrifying Time I Fell Off the Chairlift

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What we learn from Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development is that our main job as children between the ages of 5 and 12 is to find a sense of feeling competent, capable, and liked by our peers. It’s important to feel a sense of pride in our accomplishments and our abilities. Most people can relate to the notion that they need to feel connected to their peers during this time and have a sense of fitting in with others. Ultimately, we are trying to build self-confidence.   

So, when the opportunity to ski with my friends presented itself at school, I begged my parents to let me go.   

“Ski lessons? But you’ve ever skied before!” My parents were skeptical and tried to hold back their nervousness about my desire to do what my friends were doing. But I was determined; I had to ski with my friends and insisted I go on the school trip.   

Their hesitation may have been founded. I awkwardly stumbled through the first lesson, pushing around with one ski and using my boot with the other one, watching my friends quickly move onto the chairlift. I stumbled up the bunny hill several times and was thrilled when, in our next lesson, we would be allowed to go up the chairlift.   

My kind, middle-aged principal offered to ride up with me for the first time. I got onto the chairlift with some effort and tried to keep my cool (as any 10-year-old would!) next to this male authority figure sitting beside me.   

Did I mention I have a fear of heights?   

As we approached the top of the chairlift, I pointed my skis upward, a direction remembered from the instructor. Suddenly, my principal and chairlift partner descended down the ramp. The chair jerked and started to turn the other way back down the hill.   

I was still on the chairlift, I thought.   

I was still on the chairlift, my mind screamed at me.   

I hadn’t pushed off the chair!   

In a flash decision, knowing I had to get off, I jumped … landing squarely on my belly, arms sprawled out and skis in the air.   

I belly-flopped off the chairlift!   

Here Was My 10-Year-Old Self, Feeling Embarrassed

With the main goal of this stage of life to fit in with our peers and build self-confidence, you can only imagine this moment as my friends continued to ski down the hill effortlessly. And here was my 10-year-old self, feeling embarrassed and would be known throughout her formative schooling as the girl who fell off the chairlift.

I must admit, I carried that fear of falling off the chairlift for several years. It was the family story that was told over and over again. Our stories, after all, make up our family bonds and become the narratives that guide our lives. I desired to ski again but knew I would need to overcome a fear of the chairlift.   

Flash-forward 25 years, in my full-time practice as a psychologist and with my two kids ages 3 and 5 years old, I told my children I would do something that I was afraid of. I wanted to conquer my fear of the chairlift and take ski lessons for the first time since that incident.   

On the chairlift ride up, my instructor spoke intentional words that resonated with me, as if I were in my therapist chair speaking to my clients. He said, “Lean into fear. If you lean back, you will fall. You need to lean in.”   

And I did. I learned to lean in.


This post is part of a month-long April CircleAround series, tied to April Fools' Day. We've all made memorable mistakes and embarrassing gaffes that still make us cringe. But what did we learn from those moments of foolishness? We asked writers — and readers — to share stories and advice on what we gained from some of our cringiest memories, and how those became teachable moments. To see all the posts in the series — including relevant news stories — visit here. And if you'd like to contribute to the series, send us your thoughts to info@circlearound.com or post on our "2021 Inspiration Wall."

Tags: Courage, Empowerment, Personal Growth, Mental Health, Self Care

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Dr. Tracy Dalgleish

Dr. Tracy Dalgleish helps individuals and couples navigate the challenges we all face in our relationships and within ourselves to create a more meaningful life. See Full Bio

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