I had breakfast with one of my advisees yesterday. He’s heading into his senior year, and he’s putting a lot of pressure on himself to perform at a very high level across a variety of domains and challenges. Newspaper editor, captain of a team, leader of several clubs, heavy academic schedule: you name it, this kid’s doing it. As we left the restaurant, I found myself saying the same things I’ve said to so many young people over the years:
Me: “Have you put in the work?” Have you practiced as hard as you can?”
Me: “Then you just have to show up [at the contest / test / game / interview / etc.] and do your best. If you’ve done the work, then you just have to let yourself play the way you’ve prepared to play.”
Today while reading a book called Elite Minds by Dr. Stan Beecham, I found a more eloquent (and studied) version of the above. As you return to school, and find yourself having similar conversations with the young people in your care, please share it. So many of them are harboring big dreams and a little bit of fear that, when they get up to bat, they won’t be able to hit the ball. Here’s Dr. Beecham:
Performing at the highest level is not about talent, ability, size, speed, facilities, equipment, weather conditions, or even effort. It’s about being free. Free from expectations of self and others, free from criticism, free from fear, and free from “should” and “have to.”
There are many routes to success. So you shouldn’t be overly invested in a specific outcome or result. If you are, this will bite you every time. Freedom means no attachments, no desires, just one very quiet mind that allows you to perform at the best of your natural abilities that have been instilled in you during intentional practice.
When athletes have a great performance, they frequently find themselves being interviewed after the competition. The interviewer asks a series of questions to discern how they did it. . . . Usually the athletes start and stop a number of times because, quite frankly, they don’t know the answer to the questions. Their mind was not thinking. They were reacting, seeing, feeling, but definitely not thinking. In most cases, they won’t be able to tell you what happened or how they did it. Instead, it just happened. There is very little memory of the event, and time and space tend to be distorted as well. It was absence, not presence, that had allowed the wonderful to happen.
You must trust yourself and your ability in order to perform at that level. Ultimately, you can’t will yourself to greatness, but you can trust yourself to greatness if you’ve done your preparation. (152 – 153)
I think this message resonates with me so deeply because I trust so many of the young people with whom I work. And now I see that it’s my job to help them trust themselves.