What can leaders learn from elite athletes like Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka when it comes to the most important work of their lives? And how this re-defines patience, ease, and flow – buzzwords that those of us who identify as driven, creative, spiritual high-achievers, have such a love-hate relationship with?
When a dear friend opened up about something that sounded eerily familiar, her experience also echoed the struggles my clients have shared with me over the years.
“The work others say that is hard – it all comes so easy to me!” chuckled my friend.
“Being up half the night with the kiddo, staying cool during their most expressive emotional meltdowns, shuffling the day around to make all the meetings and deadlines fit, sending out 5 extra emails just to be sure, all while holding up the household and cooking every night… It’s all so easy! Am I missing something, am I doing something wrong?”
The quick answer is in the simple question of “What do you really want? And what are you actually doing?”
And then, there’s the reality:
FLIP THE SCRIPT
For a diamond to form, pressure and time are required. Personally, I thrive under pressure.
As a former elite athlete myself, a basketball player with an international career, I learned how to drop into the singular focus on making this buzzer-beating shot. All else faded into the background. The noise from the stands. The pressure of the responsibility. The expectation from the teammates and coaches. The clock counting down the final seconds. The defender’s hand in front of my face.
It was me, the ball, the basket, and timelessness in which my unswayable faith and muscle memory took over.
Faith. Muscle memory.
Oftentimes, those of us tenacious trailblazers, rule-breakers, mission-driven beings who once subscribed to the highly-driven highly-accomplished club…have also embarked on the journey of spiritual awakening.
Lured in by the promise of ease, grace, and flow, we swung to the opposite side of the spectrum where we got comfortable in the discomfort of stretching ourselves beyond the hustle and busyness that come so naturally to us.
And then, we waited – you know, “ask and you shall receive” style.
- I know that personally, I loved the timelessness and spaciousness of this way of being.
- It’s given me the gift of deepened awareness.
- It’s given me the gift of deep healing.
- It’s given me the gift of intention.
It’s also offered a crucial insight: I do need fire, afterall. I do need pressure nonetheless.
But not all pressures are created equal.
If we can create our own pressure-cookers out of beliefs, we base our decisions on other people’s stories (leaders are not always immune to it; and in a society that glorifies the hassle and grind, that wears stress like a badge of honor, and perceives busyness as a status symbol, it’s not hard to see why)…
…we certainly can redefine and reframe pressure from (self-)destructive to constructive!
The difference between burning out and actually thriving in it, is in the art of alchemizing its energy into something that nourishes and fuels.
Simone Biles, the extraordinary gymnast, expressed this in one of the interviews where she ultimately urged people to do it for themselves: “At this point in the game I still love it, I still have passion for it, and I want to do it… I keep pushing boundaries, I like being scared… I like seeing how much more I am capable of, how much more I can achieve.”
With this attitude and heightened awareness, something else shifts, too:
All the goals, desires, and accomplishments no longer come from the need to fit in, to meet others’ expectations, to justify, to prove, to feed the ego…
Instead, they come from the purest and most primal calling of our soul; from the innate knowing we deserve what we desire, and that we only get to impress ourselves.
And with that in mind, the pressure of pushing beyond our limits feels amazing. Exalting. Fulfilling.
Ease and flow are experienced quite differently then, too.
FROM SOUL-FATIGUE TO SOUL-FULFILLING
Another prominent leader hailing from the world of sports recently made waves by embodying all of this: tennis player Naomi Osaka, when she decided to withdraw from the French Open.
There is just something about being in total control of ourselves yet surrendered to the flow and divine guidance. Confident, calm, focused yet humble.
With the trained ability to remain cool-headed and grounded throughout all the craziness, and ready for the game while switching between all of the roles and responsibilities ninja-style.
With contentment to respond to the “have I done enough?” doubts with a resounding “Yes, I have. And tomorrow, I get to do it again, and even better.”
With the resilience, stamina, mental toughness, and coachability – all of which are qualities that make us so valuable in the workforce & the world of business long after we’ve left the courts, walked off the fields, ran our final victory lap.
With this powerful drive and infinite striving for excellence on all levels, and knowing there is still so much untapped greatness within us, we open portals. We bend time & space. We are a force to be reckoned with.
And yes, as both Simone and Naomi could attest, being a new-era leader exalted in greatness on their own terms and by their own definitions, with simply being “too much” for most people.
TAKE THE VICTORY LAP
Looking back on our lives, all the dots align into the perfect journey, the exact set of lessons we needed, and the exact sequence of events that has brought us to where we are.
Looking back, it also becomes clear that more often than not, it was us simply being us, breaking the rules to do things our own way, and taking leaps of faith that amounted to the most exhilarating, fulfilling, and even groundbreaking success.
And success most often came when we laid the groundwork, and then patiently embraced the stillness, space. When we remained present in a moment, with everything else fading into the background.
“And that is so damn hard for me!” my friend continued. “Refraining myself from doing the busy work. From strategizing, launching yet another program, building 2 more funnels… Refraining myself from adding one more dish to the menu, one more event to my schedule… That is hard! I am working so hard to exfoliate guilt and shame and panic just to be still. To stretch myself into patience! And to celebrate all that there is – especially when I still have not achieved all my goals, and I feel as if I had just wasted another year. Is this normal?”
Even though we spoke over the phone, she could hear my giggles and feel the space I was holding for her while offering her a different perspective.
“You know how, in track athletic events, when you are in between the races? You rest, right?” I asked. “What if no time was wasted, what if all this has been preparing you to be ready for the race that comes next? For what you’ve been calling in? Can you forgive yourself for being so hard on yourself? Can you embrace the stillness for it allows creativity and inspiration to flow, and it creates the capacity you need to receive more? And nonetheless… you know when you win the track event, you go take a victory? Go take your victory lap! Go celebrate.”
If this resonates with you, perhaps it’s time you recreate your muscle memory?
And to redefine hard work? Because when you meditate, you do work. When you go thoughtless, you do work. When you are caring for your body, you do work.
In the words of my Elite Mystique Agency partner Dianne Sykes, a master physiologist, “This is the most important work of your life. Because first, you have to run the business of you. Then you run the business of your family. And then, you run the business of your enterprise.”
So go take your victory lap.
And always have faith.