Jackie Gingrich Cushman

This week, along with many other Americans, our family is on spring break. After years of beach vacations, we decided to brave something new and take our family skiing. After turning in points for flights, and determining what location might provide the best value, we are finally midweek into our vacation.

Yesterday, as I was rapidly passed by a teenager who was muttering unflattering things about my skiing ability, I realized that our vacation experience has reminded me of several important life lessons regarding learning, instruction, frustration, falling, persistence, patience, practice, improvement and providence.

The last time that I went skiing was more than 20 years ago. I can't remember many of the details, just that I fell a lot and was terrified of getting off the ski lift, certain that I would fall (which I believe happened quite a few times) and get run over. Despite those memories, this year my husband and I decided that our two children, ages 11 and 9, would have the opportunity to learn to ski while they are young.

Learning anything new takes time and effort. Whether it is in skiing, writing, speaking or any other area in life, learning takes real effort and improving takes practice. This process can be sped up by good instruction. Those who have mastered the skills that we desire to acquire can pass along information that speeds our learning process. Start with skis facing across the hill, slow down with a pizza wedge, speed up with French fries. Skiers coming from behind should look out for you, so ignore them. All of these instructions provide guidance.

At some point in the learning process, frustration will set in. Whether from confusing how to turn left with how to turn right, or from watching others whiz past, frustration occurs. It is part of human nature. Frustration can often lead to giving up, or becoming so angry that learning becomes impossible. This is one of my greatest areas of challenge. Learning that learning is frustrating, and that it's OK to be frustrated, allows the frustration to pass.

And then I fell. We were finally skiing down from the top of the chair lift to the bottom, skiing down a green run (the easiest level), crossing over a blue run (the next level up), and I fell right in the middle of the blue run. I know everyone falls, but it was still no fun, as I struggled to get up. While we all fall in life, it's those who view falling as an opportunity to learn that improve the fastest -- I'm still working on it.

It requires patience to know that learning is a process, and patience and persistence allow me to continue to practice so that, eventually, I will improve. Patience is important because, without patience, persistence can create additional frustration. That's what happened last time I tried skiing. I gave up before I had learned to ski.

This time, patience is leading to practice, and my skiing is improving. The more I ski, the better I get. While instructions and mentors help, in the end, if I want to get better, I have to ski more, to put in the time and the practice to improve.

Finally, the lesson of providence, the most important lesson. This is the lesson that teaches us to let go, to accept our own powerlessness, to open ourselves up to receiving and acknowledging God's blessing.

On the way in from the airport, we were stopped in a traffic jam caused by a serious accident. With no exit between us and the accident, there was nothing to do but wait for over two hours as the wreck was cleared.

We finally passed the scene of the accident, which involved a tractor-trailer and an SUV. The SUV was facing the wrong way and was crumpled in on one side. The tractor-trailer was on its side and unrecognizable. If we had been traveling just a minute or so faster, we could have been caught up in it.

Our first day on the slopes was unseasonably warm, allowing us to stand comfortably and listen to our teacher. It snowed the next day, which allowed us to go down the more advanced slope at a slightly slower -- and safer -- speed. Clearly, the weather was not under our control, but it proved helpful. However hard we might try to control a situation, in the end, much of what happens is beyond our ability to control. This is when we have to learn to let go.


Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.