March 2023

Thoughts about…

Embracing Agency in Our Lives

One of the cross-country skiing videos that I produced last month was in response to a question posed by one of my viewers. The individual asked me how long it should take a person to feel comfortable enough on cross-country skis to stop at-will while skiing downhill. Regardless of your snowsports background, performing a snowplow on cross-country skis is not very easy until you’ve learned and then adequately practiced proper technique. And even then, it can be challenging depending on the snow conditions and angle of terrain on which you’re skiing.

What piqued my interest about this question, though, was its underlying theme of being out of control. Although it was hyperbole, the person used the phrase that he couldn’t snowplow to save his life. Obviously he could to some degree because he contacted me afterwards! But essentially he found himself skiing out of control, which is bad for everyone involved.

Another snowstorm blowing in on February 3, 2023. © Jared Manninen

I hear this sentiment every time I teach beginner cross-country skiers basic downhill technique. So the question wasn’t out of the ordinary. But it did resonate with me because lately I’ve been trying to cultivate not necessarily more control but, rather, more agency in my life.

A very simple definition of agency is that it’s about making choices that have impact. In this context, impact can also mean results or consequences. So, by taking this action you hope to create this result. Now, a lot of people might equate this with having control. However, agency and control are not exactly synonymous. That said, I’d argue that the intention behind trying to gain more agency in our lives is fueled by a desire to stack the deck in our favor.

A lunch break xc ski session in a snowstorm on February 5, 2023. © Jared Manninen

Unfortunately, no matter how much of a chess master we think we are predictable results are seldom a guarantee. Once you’ve made your decision and implemented your plan of attack, what happens next is out of your hands. In other words, the only real control we have in life is that of our emotions, thoughts, and actions. Beyond that, it’s chaos.

The beginner cross-country skier can control his attitude, choices, and actions (and, by extension, his skis). He can’t always control, however, what happens after initiating the snowplow. For example, the snow might be too icy or hill too steep for the snowplow to be an effective method of stopping. Or, perhaps, the skier catches an edge (of their ski) on a snow-covered obstacle causing them to fall down.

Exceptional grooming at Tahoe Donner Cross Country on February 12, 2023. This is the practice meadow, hence all of the tracks. © Jared Manninen

Again, we can’t control external factors but we can gain more agency through diligent study and practice. That’s because in order to make choices that’ll have impact, we need to possess knowledge relevant to our endeavor. And then we have to become proficient in using that knowledge, whatever that looks like.

Are we an artist trying to paint a certain type of landscape scene by throwing everything at the canvas and hoping for the best? Or have we researched and practiced the specific technique(s) or sequence of brush strokes or layers of paint to yield the image in our mind’s eye?

We can’t truly control the results of our actions. But by developing a deep base of knowledge regarding our given endeavor we should be able to adapt to any outcome. Essentially, at a certain level of proficiency all of our decisions will have impact. So even if the consequences of our actions could be considered “bad,” we may still be able to salvage something out of the wreckage.

In hindsight, I really enjoyed having a full day of blue skis on February 13, 2023. © Jared Manninen

The reality is that we can’t know everything, so there’ll always be variables and results with which we’ll just have to accept. But this is okay because this is part of what makes life exciting.

Now, embracing agency in our lives doesn’t mean that every decision we make needs to be a life-changer. I totally advocate being present in the moment and being conscious of our decisions. But not every choice really matters, right?

Are you going to wear the blue pants or the gray ones today? Who cares? Unless, of course, those pants are part of some type of professional uniform or dress code. Then it probably does matter. But the majority of decisions we make on a daily basis are usually pretty benign and can be substituted relatively easily for another option. So most things just aren’t worth losing sleep over.

Surprisingly, I was the only one out in this weather on February 21, 2023. © Jared Manninen

On that note, exercising restraint by choosing our battles is part of creating agency in our lives. It’s like the concept of using leverage rather power to move something. Leverage equates to choosing the right time and place in which to apply pressure in order to create the maximum effect. On the other hand, the application of power can often just be indiscriminate and, therefore, wasted.

Again, all of this boils down to having more knowledge about the situation so that you can make the most informed decision possible (i.e. make the greatest impact).

If you’ve kept in touch, you can probably guess some of the reasons why I’ve been trying to gain more agency in my life lately. If not, suffice it to say that it feels like I’ve been at the mercy of too many external factors for far too long. As a result, my world has become very small this winter. I know I can’t complain too much because I do live in paradise, after all, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel like I’ve been skiing at least a little bit out of control this season.

Fortunately, I do possess the appropriate technical knowledge to deal with the terrain in front of me. So I’m just going to stay the course and keep putting that knowledge into the practice until I make it down that hill safely and (hopefully) with a little bit of style.

A late afternoon xc ski session into oblivion on February 23, 2023. © Jared Manninen

Here are the handful of watercolors that I painted in February.

For these watercolors, I’m using a hot press paper which has a smooth surface (i.e. less tooth). The benefit of this kind of paper is that you can draw on it and use pen and ink easier than with a heavy textured cold press watercolor paper. But I’m finding that I have to limit the amount of water and paint that I use on each painting. Although the paper is archival and relatively heavy duty, it just won’t accept too many layers of water/paint before exhibiting “diminishing returns.”

This is actually an interesting experience because it causes me to be more deliberate and focused when painting. Overworking a painting is a very common problem amongst artists. We want to get everything perfect, but the more you obsess over a painting the less alive it looks. All of the spontaneity is lost by continually applying more paint. So, by using the hot press paper, I’m learning that I only have a couple of chances to get each painting right 🙂

Lots of snow last month and, therefore, lots of YouTube videos 🙂

It’s funny because I have a list of videos that I was planning to produce this winter. But because we’ve had so many epic snowstorms I just haven’t gotten to that list. Mostly it’s because many of the topics/concepts I was hoping to cover are challenging to demonstrate in deep snow. So, perhaps I’ll make them toward the spring when the snowpack settles.

Realistically, I’ll be able to ski well into June at this point (if not longer!). So I’ll have plenty of time to make those videos even though most people will have moved on from xc skiing for the season. But that’s the beauty of YouTube (and most social media/websites) is that the content sticks around forever. And that’s something that’s become evident ever since I started posting videos on YouTube, which is that certain how-to videos keep coming back around each winter because they’re still relevant. It’s essentially a long-term investment to produce content regardless of who’s watching it.

This is a similar situation to what I experienced for the years that I was trying to be an independent artist. What I found was that people tend to appreciate and support those who do stick around longer. But I always moved around and changed my style, so I didn’t have a whole lot of consistency in my operation. And that’s a hard sell for most people. Buyer’s need to feel confident in what they’re investing, so the maker needs to show that they have staying power.

I’d like to think that I’m exhibiting some staying power at this point 🙂

I know a couple of these articles might be a bit premature to share, but it is March after all 🙂

Thanks for being a part of my life. Until next time…

-Jared Manninen

Tahoe Trail Guide is an online resource for hiking, backpacking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing in the Lake Tahoe region. In addition to trail data, I offer backcountry “how-to” articles and information about the local and natural history of Tahoe. Tahoe Swag is a collection of art and design products I create based on my love of the outdoors and appreciation for Lake Tahoe and the surrounding Sierra Nevada Mountains.

If you like any of the images I post in these newsletters, please contact me. I’d be more than happy to upload them to my RedBubble account so that you can order prints and other merchandise featuring the images.

Snowpocalypse, round #156 on February 26, 2023. © Jared Manninen

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Last Month’s Newsletter (aka Recap in Video Format!)

To broaden my audience and get more mileage out of these newsletters, I’ve begun to adapt them into short videos for YouTube. I’ll incorporate short video clips into these recaps whenever possible as I do often capture nature videos when I’m outdoors (but don’t use the footage anywhere else). Essentially, I want to make two different presentations with a minimal amount of extra work rather than just creating a 1-to-1 adaptation of these text and photo versions of my newsletters.

Categories: Newsletters
Tags: #2023

Comments (2)

  • Sue . March 5, 2023 . Reply

    Beautiful paintings!! Happy winter/spring skiiing!!

    • (Author) Jared Manninen . March 5, 2023 . Reply

      Thanks so much, Sue! I appreciate it 🙂

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