Maybe it’s my Canadian roots, but I’ve always loved the Winter Olympics more than the Summer Olympics. You’ve got to admit hockey is much more exciting than weightlifting. However, this week I’ve been sick with the flu, and the Summer Olympics were just enough to entertain my barely functioning brain. As I watched, I thought about what an author could learn from an Olympic athlete.
1. They work harder than others. If you’ve been living under a rock, you might have missed the buzz about Michael Phelps. Let me fill you in a bit. He is an American swimmer and now the most decorated Olympian of all time with twenty medals. But is swimming just a talent of his? Let’s peek at his training schedule.
When he’s at his peak training phases, he swims at least 80,000 meters a week. Translation? That’s almost fifty miles. He practices at least twice a day for about five to six hours…six days a week. He does long swims for endurance, drills to improve speed and form, and uses training gear such as kickboards. He also added weightlifting three days a week as well as pushups and pull-ups. I’m willing to bet there are genetic factors and talent to his skill, but I have to believe that much of his success comes from plain, hard work.
Now think about your writing. Do you write six days a week? When you do write, do you feel happy if you get 500 words done in a day, or do you go for 5,000 words? How much time and work do you honestly put into writing and marketing?
2. They support their competition. This is an aspect of certain sports that I find completely fascinating. Let me switch to the Winter Olympics for an example in figure skating. Typically, you will see three or four skaters from the U.S. compete. They are on a team, but they’re still competition. Despite the fact that every one of those four skaters wants the gold, they cheer for their team member as s/he skates. They congratulate the good skating and give comfort when the performance didn’t go well. Yet you have to know that each person is desperately hoping for the gold.
As authors, we tend to get caught up on this competition thing. We watch the successes of others and often times do not support each other as we should. I understand, but I also wonder at our reasoning for this. My bookshelves are packed with numerous authors. I cannot tell you who my favorite author is because there are just too many. I love C.S. Lewis with the same passion as Sharon Kay Penman. Why do we expect our readers to be different? There is no gold medal for authors to compete over. Instead, our readers can delve into many different books, enjoying each one for its uniqueness. So let’s celebrate each other’s triumphs and console the downhearted!
3. They keep their eye on themselves – not others’ performance. As I watched the Summer Olympics through my mental haze, I was impressed with the level of concentration the athletes have. Thanks to the cameras with amazing zoom, we can see close-ups of the right before the start. You can see that they have blocked everything out except what they need to do to succeed. While they have to be aware that they are competing against the best in the world, they focus on what needs to be done. The performance before them that was perfect has to melt away. The person next to them that has the best score in the world has to be ignored. It all comes down to concentrating on the task before them.
Do you have the same focus on your writing? Do you try to do your very best? Or are you watching the other authors? While it’s good to learn the craft and how to market, there is a point where you must sit down and ensure that you are doing your very best. What works for Sally beside you may not work the best for you. You must focus on your performance every single day to be the best.
4. They celebrate the wins and handle failure with grace. Half of the fun of watching the Olympics is watching that one special person win. You hear their story. You watch them perform. And through some miracle, they win the gold! What is their reaction? A calm “Thank you very much.” No way! They’re yelling, laughing, crying. Everyone gets a hug and maybe a kiss. I’ve even seen judges included in the kissing! They celebrate!
And yet there is a flip side to this. Sometimes the people we want to see win don’t. Your heart breaks for them as they accept a low score. One of my all time favorite figure skaters is Kurt Browning from Canada. In my humble opinion, he is one of the best figure skaters the world has ever seen. (And it doesn’t hurt that he’s from Canada, too!) In case you’ve never heard of him, he was the World Champion for four times, landed the first quadruple jump in competition in 1988, and is known for his amazing footwork. Don’t believe me? Check this video from his early years.
What I love about him is that he’s a great performer as well. He makes figure skating look effortless and fun. I always want to skate like he does when I watch. If you enjoyed the previous video, then watch this one from 2011. Remember he’s much older in this video, but you can see he’s better than ever!
Awesome, eh? Here’s the thing. Despite all his great accomplishments, his incredible skill, and being in three Olympics, he has never won a metal.
I watched as he saw his hopes for a metal disappear. It was almost painful for me as the disappointment and sadness grew deeper. But he accepted the news with grace. He didn’t rail again the judges. He didn’t whine or make excuses. He picked himself up from failure and began a highly successful professional career.
What do you do when you succeed? Do you celebrate with friends and family or try to keep it quiet in the name of being humble? What do you do when you miss a goal you desperately wanted? When you watch others get what you wanted? Do you rail against them, or do you accept with grace and find a way to triumph elsewhere?
I asked a lot of questions today that hopefully got you to re-think your writing career. Let me add just one more. Are you an Olympic Author or are there areas you need to work on? What do you think you need to perfect until you’re ready to compete for the gold metal?