… Better Off Dead: the skiing advice.
In Better Off Dead, Lane Meyer is trying to win back his erstwhile girlfriend – and show up the pretty-boy bully – by winning an extremely difficult skiing contest, from the top of a very steep mountain. The first time he tries to practice, as he stares out over the almost-vertical run that lies before him, his friend gives him advice, but Lane looks at his friend as if he’s been given the most useless advice imaginable. He starts down the slope, and within a few seconds, he’s been tossed willy-nilly into the snow.
Later, before the actual race, his new girlfriend (the one who likes him for who he is, and who would never leave him for a pretty-boy bully) gives him the same advice his friend had given him. This time, almost in spite of himself, Lane follows the advice, and emerges victorious at the bottom of the hill.
The advice? [Gesturing down the slope] “Go that way, very fast. If something gets in your way, turn.”
Whether we’re skiing, or going to school, or working, or learning to knit, or … well, anything, really – we encounter difficulties, setbacks, bumpy transitions, mistakes, failures, disappointments, and, well, life. We look out over our lives and imagine a near-vertical run that stretches between us and our destination: the goals we have, the people we love, the stuff we want to do, etc., etc. We imagine that to start down that slope is dangerous, or even deadly, and that to leave the safety of the plateau is to invite disaster. We imagine so many things to be difficult or impossible or scary or perilous or bad … and the last thing that makes sense to an imagination like that is the notion that the answers are simple.
But “simple” and “easy” are two different things.
It isn’t easy to ski down a steep slope and beat the pretty-boy bully to the finish line. It isn’t easy to impress a girl whose heart is wrapped up in her own insecurities. It isn’t easy to grow up, get a job, go to school, find love, have a baby, raise children, face illness, get car-keys out of a sewer drain with a length of chewed gum, etc., etc. … but the key to success in life isn’t making stuff “easy”, or following any particular strategy or path or method or plan.
For instance, pretty-boy’s method is to ski with significant skill down the hill. Lane’s method ends up being either to ski downhill or be swarmed by angry newspaper delivery boys on ski-bikes. Both methods require effort, and determination; both men are prompted by their various fears – Lane fears the loneliness of losing the girl and the sting of humiliation, and pretty-boy fears not being pretty-boy anymore and the sting of humiliation. The course is equally difficult for both of them, and the thing that allows Lane to win comes down, not to any particular physical superiority he might have, but to his panic at being chased by newspaper delivery boys. Both men, as they navigate the treacherous landscape of high school politics, would be unlikely to classify life’s challenges as “straightforward,” and both men have chosen very different ways to achieve their goals in the world.
But the one who takes the “it’s simple” advice is the one who wins the race.
What if you knew in your bones that it was as simple as that? That, even when things were difficult, or stressful, or daunting, the solution was perfectly within your intellectual grasp? There’s no guarantee that you would emerge unscathed and victorious at the bottom of the hill, but wouldn’t it make it a lot easier to jump away from that “safe” plateau and proceed boldly into our lives? What if there was no “wrong” path? What if it turns out we’re pretty much fine if we keep our wits about us, keep our goals in focus, and adapt as necessary? What if that’s the secret to all of it?
Go that way. Very fast. If something gets in your way, turn.