The Wisdom of Just

When I was in my 20s, I worked to fulfill a childhood dream: I learned to ice skate. I was living in Yosemite Valley, with its beautiful outdoor rink. In that season, I worked with several teachers and one truly great trainer.

The teachers always started their sentences with the same awful word: “just.” “Just turn like this” and then they would proceed to sail gracefully through the move that had landed me on my behind 15 consecutive times. “Just step up into it” as they executed a flawless waltz jump that continually left me staggering, desperate to stay upright.

On days, I wanted to scream, “If I could just do it, don’t you think I would? Do you think I enjoy the fact that the ER docs and I are on a first name basis?” But I remained frustratedly silent.

Then one day, the trainer showed up. I remember meeting her from a familiar position: sitting on the ice, rubbing something that would have a bruise tomorrow. And I cringed. I knew what she was “just” about to say. But she didn’t. She said: “You’re dropping your shoulder in that three turn. It takes you out of your center. You’re muscling your way through the first turn, but you can’t pull off the second and third one that way.”

I was stunned. She didn’t say “just” AND she didn’t do the impossible move in front of me for punctuation. Five minutes later, I could do consecutive three turns all the way across the rink. She had let me see through her trained eye and then gave me tools to make the adjustments.

But the trainer also gave me another piece of invaluable wisdom after she watched me practice these skills for an hour. “Don’t forget to skate. When a piece of music comes on that you love, just skate. The music will tell you what to do.”

Late one afternoon, a week or so later, all of the skaters had left the rink. Snow was lightly falling and Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” began to play. It was time to just skate.

It was how I always imagined skating would be. My jumps weren’t high and the turns were simple, but I flew over the ice with ease, grace and joy. One move blended into the next without thinking. And at the end of those three priceless minutes, my one audience member — a 5 year old child — gave me a standing ovation.

I eventually became a trainer myself and still enjoy skating. I now find myself as a trainer in a completely different landscape than the educational career I spent over two decades in. But I hear that lesson again and again in Graham’s words: In all your learning, be sure to embrace the wisdom in knowing when it’s time to… just enjoy the journey.

By Allison Bown


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