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I Left My Job Because of Skiing

Forbes.com, the popular business website and magazine posted an article about skiing. But it's more about business.  It's Forbes after all.  Well, maybe it's more about lessons that skiing can teach us that apply to business.  All through high school and college I tried to convince teachers and professors that skiing was an important part of my education. It was important in the sense that I needed to do it.  After seven years of college and a four year degree to prove it, I thought my professors might have been right.  

But...alas, Tom Gillis, the former Cisco big wig tells us that I might have been right, their is something to be learned from skiing that we can apply to our non-skiing lives. Life lessons are taught on the ski hill that can transfer into the classroom and then board room.

We all can't be ski or snowboard bums.  And if you're lucky enough to be one, it's hard to bum forever.  But if anyone ever gives you a hard time for washing dishes at night so you can shred all day, just tell them it's part of your education.  And when they look at you with a funny look on their face just respond, "didn't you read about it in Forbes?"

I Left My Job Because of Skiing

You may have heard the news: I’m starting a new adventure. It’s a big leap. I’m leaving an excellent job at an excellent company. Running the security technology group at Cisco was, in many ways, as good as it gets. I was happy there. I love the people and the challenges and the future of this market. And yet – I’m gone. Why? Well, it has something to do with skiing.
No, I’m not becoming a ski bum (though the thought has occurred to me). It’s a longer story than that.
I learned to ski in my front yard at the age of 3. I’m an experienced skier, and I love the sport. A few years back, I was on an annual ski trip with some college buddies and my teenage son. It was dumping snow, and the winds were strong. We took the chair lift to the summit, then took off our skis and climbed to the top of a large bowl.
Standing on the cornice at the top, the wind was so strong, it drove the snow horizontally. It was an insane moment. From the top looking down, we could see that the wind had blown all the snow off the face of the bowl, leaving it hard-packed, icy and very steep. Where the steep drop slowed into the bowl, huge amounts of powder had accumulated, light and deep. Snow blasted our faces. Ice encrusted our boots. Shapes and depth disappeared into a swirling mist of white.
We stood single file, lined up on the ridge. My first buddy, the guy in front, dropped in. From the first turn, he was off balance. By the second, he fell colossally, sliding down the face into a cloud of white. I couldn’t see enough to know if he was moving as I stood, tips hanging over the cornice, wind ripping at my cheeks.
I was next. I had skied this bowl before, but never like this. It was one of those thankfully rare moments in my skiing life when I actually felt scared. As reasons not to jump flashed through my mind – remember, my son was there, too – my buddy’s voice sounded behind me. “Now, dude. Drop in.”
I did.
I find myself reliving that moment right now, 300 miles from that mountain and under Silicon Valley’s warm November sky. See, I’ve jumped again, from a really good place with people I care about and a mission I believe in. As I write this, I am in that exhilarating – but hopefully brief – moment of free fall. I have “dropped in.” I left the warmth and comfort of a secure, satisfying job to start a new company. I sense there is a giant powder field that no one has touched yet, and I am going after it. A huge, untouched market that my company can conquer. If I am right, I will have an amazing run through untouched terrain, establish my rhythm and float through the powder like hopping from cloud to cloud. But it won’t be easy getting there. The first 6-10 turns are going to be really rough. And I just watched a good buddy take a hard digger on a similar run.
Right now, I am focused on landing my skis on the snow and making the first turn, which, in this case, is finding the right investors to back my vision and commit to helping me build it. If I miss this first turn, nothing else matters. However, as any skier knows, I also need to be thinking about the second and third turns, so I can position myself and come out strong.
I have two interesting observations as I begin this adventure. First, even if you are not a skier, you owe it to your kids to help them learn to ski. Skiing teaches lessons about the importance of staying close to people you trust, the importance of being prepared and, most of all, the power of taking chances. These are important lessons in the business world, and in life.
The second observation is the incredibly powerful ecosystem of innovation that fuels Silicon Valley. It’s that ecosystem – the abundance of talent, the availability of capital, the access to experienced entrepreneurs and investors – which can lead a sane, rational person like me to leave the safety of familiar terrain and “drop in” to an unseen landscape in hopes of finding some untouched powder. The fact that many of the people in this ecosystem are also good friends to me just underscores what I learned on the mountain – keep your buddies close.
These days, when I look in the mirror, I count more and more gray hairs. So I know that, for me, this might be the last run of the day. If I can make it through these first turns, I think it will be a long and really great run. I’ll keep you posted at the turns and share the highlights of the ride with you.
We’ll see what lies ahead. I just dropped in.

Author - Tom Gillis


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