Hi, everyone. How are you? Are you enjoying the Olympics? Or, rather, are you enjoying the social media that spoils the Olympics before you watch the Olympics? It’s not that the Olympics are less fun, fiercely competitive, or inspiring, but for the first time, we are often watching anti-climactically. We lean toward the TV in a posture of presumed anticipation, as we have in years past, but, now, we know what to expect. We’re not unhappy or ungrateful for these athletic performances, but to some extent we’re pretending, like kids past the age of believing Santa Claus exists but unable to stomach the reality, that we’re fine with knowing the outcome. Your parents wrapped the presents, ate the cookies, drank the milk, and Usain Bolt wins the gold medal.
Did you think he wasn’t going to win? Are you insane? That’s like saying Ryan Lochte would cause only a dazzling media dance but not steal one ounce of Michael Phelps’s thunder, or McKayla Maroney wouldn’t win a gold medal in the individual vault despite being by far the best in the world. Wait a second….Ryan Lochte was a dazzling, grill-wearing, bro-tastic side story? And, McKayla Maroney fell on her bum—something no one had seen her do in competition in years—leaving her to stand, stunned and silvered, atop the podium?
Spoiler alert: life is full of surprises.
Gymnastics commentators responded to the shock of Maroney’s misstep with:
- What felt like a sure thing is a very unsure thing.
- Look at the looks on her teammates faces: what just happened?
- She’s unquestionably the best in the world, but she wasn’t today.
- Today, things did not go as planned.
Photo: Bleacher Report
And who among us can’t relate? Perhaps you don’t know the feeling of billions of eyes watching you falter under a glaring global spotlight at the peak of your career, but you know the uncomfortable feeling of taking a risk and having reality crush expectations (your own, your Mom’s, those of society). Even if you did have a spoiler alert, which you don’t, the outcome could hurt.
That’s the thing about being gutsy like Maroney, dazzling like Lochte, or historic like Phelps. Your path will be uncertain. Your expectations may exceed reality. Occasionally, you may land on your bum. I’ve been thinking about uncertainty a lot lately, in no small part due to the Om Gal Book Club, which meets in Boston once a month. Recently, we read and discussed Uncertainty by Jonathan Fields, in which my brother, Reece, appears on page 73. He’s the CEO of Shelby.TV, a tech start-up in NYC, and therefore very accustomed to working under pressure to create something out of nothing, with nay a spoiler alert for the outcome in sight. I didn’t know he was in the book when we voted on it. Talk about a fun surprise!
Because that’s the other thing about taking risks and not knowing the outcome in advance, it leaves you open not just for disappointing surprises but great ones, too, in the form of ideas, experiences, relationships, jobs, and joys you never could have imagined with your certain mind. Spoiler alert: there’s no spoiler alert for your life, and this is a good thing. Yet, dealing with uncertainty, like vaulting, doesn’t get any easier unless you practice. Here’s how, using a few tips inspired by Fields, along with my thoughts:
- “Drop certainty anchors:” Applying ritual and routine offer a “psychological bedrock” when dealing with uncertain situations. Like an athlete with a specific game day ritual, find the activities and atmospheres that elicit your best work. I like to ride my bike to and from a nearby meditation center early in the morning on the days that I write. Running is also an anchor for me; since the age of 14, it always has been. Even wearing a certain shirt or sitting in the same spot can help you feel more at ease and secure about “leaning into uncertainty” elsewhere in your life and work.
- Find mentors, heroes, and champions: I believe we need all three, and I cherish mine beyond measure. With the faith, experience, and insight of these crucial people around you, you can go farther and jump higher than you would otherwise. Moreover, if you tumble, it doesn’t hurt as much; a champion will be there to dust you off.
- Meditate: Training your brain to choose effective points of focus is the most important thing you can do for your success, whether it’s competing at the Olympics, creating a tech start-up, writing a book, or teaching yoga. Meditation helps us clear away doubt and anxiety and focus our attention where it better serves us. Ditto more active “attention training” techniques recommended by Fields, such as trail running, where one must focus intently on location, footing, etc.
Good luck using these tips to find your footing as you face uncertainty, and enjoy the rest of the Olympics! Nothing can truly spoil them. Not for you, my gutsy, dazzling ones.