When I was in sixth grade someone decided that I was "special."
So once a week, me and three other kids took a short bus to the Junior High School to explore our specialness with Miss Gunther, some sort of creativity expert.
I do not remember much of the whole experience. But I thought of my Advanced Placement group yesterday as I was doing some spring skiing on a Friday afternoon. I only ski on weekdays. I do not enjoy crowds and competing for space. Stressful.
So I was riding on the chairlift yesterday. Admiring the mountain views and soaking up the sunshine (it was warm enough to leave my parka in the car and go with a fleece), I made conversation with the stranger riding beside me. The theme of our conversation echoed the half dozen other conversations I’d had with other strangers on our rides together.
"Aren’t we the lucky ones?" he said. "A beautiful day and no lift lines?"
I replied, "We certainly are…"
But that’s just my polite, chairlift answer. If we were having a beer in the lodge, I’d share how I really felt. And it would go something like this…
Luck has nothing to do with it.
You and me are here are enjoying this mountain today because this is what we allowed ourselves to want in our lives. We made freedom — at least on this day — the priority. We chose what felt good to us. And ironically, choosing what feels good is not the easiest thing to do.
This last point — choosing what feels good is not the easiest thing to do — is what had me thinking about Miss Gunther.
I only remember one of my creativity sessions with Miss Gunther. On this day, she sought to tap our little creative minds by asking us for our suggestions to improve the school system. Ah! I had thought about this question many times! Finally someone was asking me!
I scribbled my answer on my notebook paper.
"I would have four days of school and three days off a week, " I wrote.
I do not remember the other kids’ suggestions. Like Ralphie in A Christmas Story, I hummed with excitement for Miss Gunther to read my brilliant suggestion in front of the other kids. I prepared myself to expand upon my idea when called upon. I would make my case that can often learn more outside of the classroom and that in order to foster true creativity, we needed freedom and space in our lives.
Miss Gunther pulled my paper.
She read my words to the small group.
She glanced at me, shook her head back and forth ever so slightly.
And without another word, she put my paper back on the desk and picked up the next student’s suggestion.
After that moment, I was done sharing anything with Miss Gunther. In my book, she didn’t get it. She was just another person telling me that choosing what feels best is selfish, irresponsible, or just plain foolish. In fact, it wasn’t even worthy of discussion.
These days when I head to the mountain — especially on a Monday, the start of the work week –I still hear the voice, a creation of all those years of conditioning.
"You should be working today."
"You can do more."
"How are you going to get ahead?"
The Voice usually disappears within a few miles of leaving my house. But I still have to address it, even to do something as fun as skiing. In fact, there are many days that The Voice still controls my behavior and I never make it to the mountain.
No, choosing freedom is a conscious choice. One that has to be made over and over again.
Luck has little to do with it.