Life Lessons from Ice Skating

Tonight, I went ice skating for the first time in over a decade. Recently, I’ve been trying to find some “cool” sport to learn to make exercising appealing and to feel like I’m accomplishing something in life outside of doing schoolwork. Like many women, figure skating has always fascinated me. It’s like the gymnastics of the winter Olympics.

When I found out the local ice rink offered classes, I was immediately ready to fork over $200 bucks and register, hoping I could get a taste of that kind of grace and freedom skaters seem to experience out on the rink. Thankfully, my ever-practical mother put the brakes on that train and recommended I actually go skate before I empty my bank account, go to one class, and find out I hate it.

As much as I hate to admit it, she was right. (Thanks, Mom.) Learning to skate must be like learning to walk, which makes me feel bad for baby me. It’s extremely unnatural, awkward, baffling, frustrating, and a bit terrifying. And you fall a lot. But as I wobbled my way around the oval again and again, slowly loosening my death grip on the wall and allowing myself to glide a few feet on the ice (until I fell and slammed onto my butt twice), I couldn’t help but think of how much the process paralleled real life.

So, without further ado, here are a few quick unsolicited life lessons I took from my experience today:

  • You might fall on your tush a few times, but you can get back up and try again. Don’t let it stop you. Laugh it off. You might feel your body tense next time you pass that spot where you wiped out, but grit your teeth and skate a little faster.
  • Sometimes you need somebody (or something) to lean on. When I first got out on the ice (and every subsequent time, actually), I felt so stupid clinging to the side of the rink while seven year-olds glided by doing triple lutzes. But that was all I could do at the time. Sometimes you have to lean on other people – family, friends, a therapist, a doctor, a psychiatrist, a mentor – to help you through a time when you can’t walk on your own. It’s just part of life. We can’t always be strong or know what we’re doing.
  • Sometimes real life isn’t like the movies. I can’t think of a silver lining to sugar coat this one, but I think it is an important lesson you have to realize at some point in life. I went in expecting a “Disney’s Ice Princess” moment where I stepped onto the ice and immediately start gliding and spinning. Not so, my friend. I find myself expecting a lot of things to be like TV – where you get to tell off the friend who wronged you or the guy who you’re meant to be with realizes his girlfriend is a witch and you’ve always understood and supported him and he dumps her and runs to you just before you get on the plane…But life isn’t like that. (Or at least mine isn’t; maybe the joke’s on me.) But all the same…
  • Even awkward, difficult things have silver linings. Even though I never quite got the hang of it and I can tell that I’m going to wake up tomorrow feeling like a Zamboni drove over me, I had a good time. I got out of the house, I spent time with a friend, I actually exercised, and I realized that I can give up my dreams of being an Olympic figure skater. Sometimes it’s kind of relieving to be able to cross something off your list that you feel like you should accomplish. “Nope. That’s never happening. Now I can move on to salsa dancing.”
  • It’s good to be reminded not to take yourself too seriously. The other benefit of today’s experience was that it was humbling. It’s nice to laugh at yourself a bit and realize you can’t conquer everything. It’s good to be aware of your limitations in a non-self-berating way. I could laugh at my inferior abilities without falling into the trap of self-hate. I could keep my ego in check but not fall into the depths of despair because it was kind of funny to be bad at something for once; I had nothing to lose. And with that, as I marveled at the seven year-old girls skating their way to Olympic qualification, I realized that there are things that I’ve been blessed to be naturally gifted at that I’ve been taking for granted.
  • Go with the flow. About my fifteen billionth time around the rink, I realized that the best thing to do is just glide. Feel where the ice is taking you and lean into it. As someone who has been freaking out over where to go in life after I graduate, trying to plan my life out but realizing its impossible, it’s good to remember that a lot of life is gliding from one opportunity to the next. Sure, you have to put a lot of work in, I’m not saying your should just skate through everything, but you have to let go of the need to plan everything and just be open to the idea of seeing where things go.

I could draw a million more parallels, probably. (Here’s another one: They never bring out the damn Zamboni when you need them to. And as a result you fall on your butt.) But I think I’ve over-written my welcome.

I hope, nonetheless, readers, that life in the coming weeks is for you “incredibly skateable,” as one of my mother’s ice skating-loving students once said. (Translation: REALLY AMAZING.)