January 27, 2017 // By Will Reed
This past week, my team and I were lucky enough to hear from and talk with two American Olympic medalists. They shared intimate stories from the darkest hours of their athletic careers and talked about the mindset that allowed them to overcome those struggles and achieve success at the highest levels.
In hearing from two very different athletes in two very different fields (a swimmer and a BMX racer) the juxtaposition made it easy to set aside their differences and isolate the commonalities in their mindset. It highlighted the discipline and mental strength that allowed them to perform at an elite level. The Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals that hung from their necks as they spoke were testament to the tenets that their speeches both echoed. It was a chance to reflect on the value of commitment, the meaning of grit, and the differences between those who are focused on improving every day and those who are simply present out of obligation.
It was also a chance to reflect on my own experiences as an athlete and decide how I should draw from them in my approach to business. Having found deep pieces of my identity in the years I spent skiing competitively, it was easy to appreciate the weight of the Olympians' words and understand how impactful even the most nuanced differences in approach can be. It made me think about the confidence that comes from practice, the calm that comes from preparedness, and the freedom that is ironically embedded in commitment.
I found myself thinking how a mentor of mine used to drill on and live by that last notion. I heard him, but still, it was a concept that I struggled to accept. (How could there be freedom in a word synonymous with obligation?) He leaned on a quote though that I have read and reread in the years since I worked for him.
“The irony of commitment is that it's deeply liberating -- in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around like rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.”- Anne Morris
These are some photos of me skiing Squaw Valley this past weekend. It’s a sequence of me doing a back flip on a cliff that I have been eyeing and even skiing off of for many years. It’s familiar ground on my home mountain, but it’s also a cliff that has tortured me. Be it due to lack of preparedness, or bad conditions, or fear I had never put a flip to my feet off the iconic "Heidi's Rock", or at least I hadn’t until this past Sunday.
I didn't just commit to flipping Heidi's Rock standing above the takeoff on Sunday though. I committed to it last summer when I was training back flips on trampoline, I committed to it each day in the gym as I was weight training for the season, and I committed to in on Friday afternoon when I was seeing conditions start to align. I committed to it as I repeatedly envisioned success during my 5 hour drive to the hill, and I committed to it when I told my friends my goal and plans as we rode the chair lift that morning. So when my moment finally came and I was looking down at a blind takeoff, I wasn’t choosing that moment as my time to commit. Rather, I was enjoying the calmness born from all the commitments that I already had made.
As I skied off Heidi's rock, and as I felt the ground fall away 30 feet beneath me, my muscles matched my minds commitment. I set my back flip with the calm and confidence that only preparedness can afford you. Fear was no longer a barrier to doing something that I had never been able to do before, and to me, that's the value of earning a mind set.
In their speeches, the Olympians (David Plummer and Alise Post) had been very candid in saying that they had to win and re-win the same mental battles every day. It’s a discipline that is shaped and polished over the course of years and it is not a road that should be walked alone. Time will tell if I am able to hold myself to their level of mental standards, but looking forward, in business and in life, I intend to recommit to my goals every day. May these words stand as my written commitment and may they also offer an open invitation for any and all readers to hold me accountable by committing with me.