Coach’s Challenge for 11/8/10
Good day, team,
I have a confession to make. I’ve rewritten this week’s challenge numerous times and still don’t feel satisfied with the quality of what I’m writing. So rather than send out a piece that is not particularly good, I’m now exploring my real challenge: following through on the commitment I made six years ago, to publish one every week, even when I’m not inspired to write.
Years ago I took a writing workshop with the poet and writer David Whyte. I remember him saying, “If you commit to being a writer, then you need to discipline yourself to write. Each morning, I return to my desk and writing pad. Sometimes I sit for an hour or so with nothing written on the page. Other times, I can’t write the words down fast enough. But what’s important is that I return each morning to write.”
His advice surprised me. How could that daily discipline exist in the same mind as the incredibly powerful images his poetry evoked?
I had thought of artists and poets as people who went though their lives waiting for a moment of inspiration to overtake them. Then they went into a frenzy in some cold, cramped, solitary space, drinking gallons of coffee and working feverishly late into the night with no regard for food or sleep so that their masterpiece could emerge before their inspiration was gone. It never occurred to me that they could apply the discipline of showing up each day to create with the same energy others would use to show up at a regular job.
Recently, I heard this same message while sitting in a large conference room surrounded by hundreds of bank employees. We were listening to a speaker who was the first woman at the bank to achieve the high position of executive vice president. She talked about what she had done over the years to succeed. What she said struck me powerfully:
“At the end of the day, the most important thing I’ve done in my 26 years with this organization is to keep showing up. When I worked as a teller, a supervisor, a manager, a vice president, a senior vice president and now as an executive vice president, each day, I just show up, sometimes without the slightest idea of what I’m doing or how I’ll get through the day.”
Although it came from two completely different sources, the advice is the same. And so each week I sit at my computer, and sometimes the words come so quickly that my fingers can barely move fast enough to keep up with them. Other times, I sit and gaze out my office window at the lovely wisteria that frames the windows, or the brilliant coral leaf maple trees that show off their seasonal colors of brilliant greens in spring and summer, deep ochre and reds in autumn, and the delicate, woody, bare boughs of winter, waiting, waiting for the words to come.
Your challenge this week is the same as mine: to have the discipline to continue to show up in whatever work you do so that if the inspiration comes, you’re there to experience it.
Upon winning one of her many Wimbledon titles, the great tennis star Steffi Graf was asked, “What’s the most important thing you do to be such an excellent player?” Graf replied, “I practice. For as long as I can remember, I go out each morning and I practice. Some days I play reasonably well, and some days I can barely make the right shot. And then, on rare occasions, I just throw the ball up to serve, and something else takes over. I’m no longer in charge. Some energy takes over, and I watch myself, as if in slow motion, move in exactly the right way to hit the ball in the sweet spot, with the perfect swing. Then I watch the ball sail through the air and land in the perfect spot. In that moment, I know that every hour of practice has made that magical moment possible.”
My challenge is to keep practicing, to keep writing in the hope that, one day, magic will take over and the perfect words will write themselves onto the page. I know I can’t make it happen, and I know I can’t hold onto it if and when it does. But I also know that if I don’t show up every day, I’ll miss it.
Have a good week,
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