Batting away tears until I hit the arctic ice, I was upset and ready to go home. I classic skied towards the Alaska Native village of Teller. I followed the shrub branches placed in the snow as markers. The expansive ice sheet of the Bering Sea blended gradient-like into the gray-blue sky. The landscape was both beautiful and terrifying.
I was in Brevig Mission north of Nome Alaska as a volunteer with SkiKu. SkiKu is a remarkable program that teaches 8,000 kids in rural Alaska how to nordic ski every year.
I was having a positive experience, but in that moment I was a hot mess.
Rather I was a cold mess. The wind had picked up and in my haste to leave the school where we were staying, I forgot gloves.
What broke me to tears is comical now, but it was not funny at the time.
A 5th grader kept saying to me, “Sup Babe!” I would tell him to stop and he wouldn’t. I was so irritated with his lack of respect. One too many of his comments broke me, but frankly my tears had nothing to do with him.
Another volunteer and I were not working well together. I was ashamed and frustrated with how annoyed I was getting with her. I tried every mental mantra I could think of to not let it get to me but was unsuccessful. Then I became difficult to work with — short in my responses. It is important to me to be a positive contribution to a team, and I was failing at this horribly.
I share this embarrassing revelation because it reveals important lessons that perhaps you can relate to:
Sometimes mounting tension needs cut with some straight talk.
On day five I finally had a heart to heart with the other volunteer about how badly we were working together. It was uncomfortable, but it worked. Our working relationship improved immensely afterwards. We finished the week with mutual respect for each other’s strengths and leadership styles.
Volunteering is king at pushing us into uncomfortable terrain.
When I reflect on the handful of experiences that have been most uncomfortable, emotionally tough, and formative — they all came from extended stints of volunteering. Putting ourselves into a world other than our own is uncomfortable.
Uncomfortable as it was at times, I am still thinking about my SkiKu trip and how rich of an experience it was. I want that for everyone. Our consistent volunteer hours should be spent in our local community, but every few years, seek an immersion type volunteer opportunity. The stretching and pulling that comes from it is exponential.
Role modeling is one of the most positive things we can do in this life.
I was on cough drop life support, but I did not let that impact the kids. I gave them all the positivity, kindness, trust, and humor I could. They gave it right back! Whether a first grader or a senior in high school, we connected and shared in our enthusiasm for winter play.
I wore a different colored wig in the afternoons to keep them guessing. I would find the biggest drift I could and let them rip down it — so long as they had good ski form!
I believed in them and they in turn believed in themselves. Even the kindergartners would line up after school for an extra bonus session of skiing to tour the community. One student said she wanted to grow up and be a SkiKu coach.
I am done with imposter syndrome and you should be too.
I was so nervous before the SkiKu trip about my own skills as a nordic skier. I had only started two years prior. I did not feel qualified to teach kids how to ski. The reality: I could have started nordic skiing a month prior and been fine. Imposter syndrome is pervasive, negative self-talk.
After SkiKu, I decided I am done with the imposter syndrome in business and life. Join me in recognizing those thoughts when they come and promptly dismissing them.
Perhaps you are wondering what ever happened to the teary nut case on ice. I returned to the school after I had collected my emotions. Well that and because I was really cold!
As we were getting ready to leave the next day, the students gave us thank you letters. I saved several but the one that is my all-time favorite came from the 5th grade boy.
His card read, “Meredith you’re so pretty and you look young but sorry for calling you babe.” I still laugh when I read his card. He had just wanted attention and engagement.
SkiKu was a remarkable experience, both for me and for the kids and families involved. Great programs take funding, and SkiKu is a lean, bootstrapped organization making every dollar count.
I write this post to ask you to join me in supporting health, joy and mentorship this holiday season.
Please consider donating to the SkiKu program to help me fundraise $1,000 for them. Better yet — let’s stomp that goal and raise $10,000.
To anyone that donates over $50, I will mail you a block print card set of a nordic skier carved and printed by yours truly!
If you ski and live in Alaska, consider volunteering your time! It is an experience that will change you.
Meredith Noble is an entrepreneur, community leader, and outdoor adventurer in Alaska. She is part of a new wave of pioneers at Geeks in the Woods building technology companies from remote yet connected properties. Meredith’s company teaches community changemakers how to write winning grants (www.learngrantwriting.org). When not working, Meredith is outside finding inspiration in her surroundings, biking, skiing, and exploring.