zooming through deadlines

March 22nd, 2007

Being a professional skier is exceptionally difficult. If you've never skied, let me give you a brief description.

You start off in a steep slope and you try to build up as much speed as you can by pushing off with your poles. Not that you really need to, as steep as the slope is, you'll soon have more speed than you know what to do with. The path you have to follow runs through a series of gates, so you're not only going down the hill, you're also going back and forth across the hill, making hard turns at each gate. But here's the thing. You want maximum speed. You also want to stay on the path, you miss one gate and you're out of the race. Whenever you turn, your trade speed for rotation. The more you turn, the more you break. The less you break, the more speed you retain.

The secret to winning the race is a couple of things. First of all, you need superb positioning. You want to hit that gate at an angle that allows you to turn immediately, so that again you hit the next gate at an optimal angle (that is, the more you hit it from the top than from the side, the less speed you lose on the next turn).

To get that optimal turn, you need some serious muscle power in your legs. As long as you're going straight, you balance equally on each leg, but when turning you shift all the weight onto the inner leg. This happens at angle where the outer edge of the ski is facing upwards, so you are carving the snow with the ski, often in a lane well traveled by all of your opponents, making it metal vs ice. The turn is the race, the more power you have in the turn, the more control you have, the more you carve out an angle of rotation in a small distance of slope.

Then you have the element of concentration. Through these 2 minutes your body will exert more physical effort than you do in a month. Not only that, there is absolutely no respite, you have to be at your highest state of muscle alertness throughout. You're going at a speed of 100-130km/h. One tiny flaw and you lose, you crash out, or you crash to broken limbs.

Finally, you have to push yourself. To win, you have to take risks that you're otherwise not willing to take. [But don't tell the press that you ski drunk to have more courage like Bode Miller, even if it is a joke.] You have to ski with courage, otherwise you're not going to win.

And that.. is not unlike working through deadlines. Just that the 2-minute interval of the race is stretched to 6 months, and the 2-minute intensity of the race is split up into non-equal fragments over that same period.

You have to stay on the path, if you miss a gate you crash out of the race with consequences. After every deadline, you turn immediately facing the next one. They are coming at you so frequently that you're often not sure if you'll make the next gate. Sometimes they come as long stretches of slope that wear you out. Sometimes they come in quick succession, almost making you panic. When this happens, it's not enough to plan the next gate, you have to plan your route through the next two or three gates if you'll have any chance of navigating through them.

Positioning is crucial. Every late turn accumulates into a later turn at the next gate, lost time is hard to win back. Rather than the muscle power at the turn, it's the power to sustain from one gate to the next that makes the vital difference. Ideally, you want to be optimally positioned at every gate, but just as with skiing, it's impossible. Sometimes you have to make up for lost time, sometimes there's just not enough time.

Sadly, there isn't much to win by taking risks. If you're late at the gate, with a bad entry angle, there really isn't much you can do. The only way to prevent the same outcome at the next gate is to maintain your optimal state of concentration. It's not a willingness to work, it's far beyond that. It's a complete engulfment by the topic at hand, you eat and breathe that assignment, doing what you can until you reach the gate. It's so intense it doesn't even feel much like work. If you find that concentration, you have a good turn ahead. If not, it'll be twice as hard - you both need the work and the focus.

But once you pass that gate, it counts for nothing, the next gate means everything.

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1 Responses to "zooming through deadlines"

  1. erik says:

    That scared me