Quite a Character

How to understand your own and others' personality traits

Winter Olympics: Standing Tall off the Medal Stand

"Sports are a microcosm...just one can be the best"

I love the Winter Olympics! What I love is the drama. One by one, the athletes have decided to dedicate the bulk of time in their lives to their sport - becoming the best they can become. They spend hours upon hours, day after day for years practicing...practicing...practicing.

Focused. Determined. Fighting through pain and injury. Preparing for "the moment" when they will put everything on the line. It's nerve-wracking and dramatic to watch.

As Andre Agassi's recent book reveals, there may be more athletes than we imagine who mostly hate every minute of preparation and competition, instead driven by some neurosis or dysfunctional parent-child relationship. But there are others who find themselves in their power zone where their talent and character feel perfectly aligned, and when they are engaged in their sport, they feel most fully and authentically alive. Though they have dreams of gold medals, these dreams are not the fuel of their engines. The concrete daily reality of feeling fully alive is what drives them down the long road of preparation and competition.

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Let's face it. By definition only 3 competitors in an Olympic event get on the medal stand. The rest of the field does not. And so it goes with every competition outside of the Olympics, from college to high school to grade school sports competitions. Estimates show only 3% of high school athletes go on to play college sports, and then 2% of the latter go on to make a living for a at least a bit in professional sports. That relegates all but a very few to engaging in all the hard work for reasons other than grabbing the brass ring... standing on the podium. (Or else we're all pretty stupid.)

Sports are just a microcosm of the rest of our lives. One of us ... just one... can be the best amongst all others. But all of us can become best versions of ourselves. Finding activities in life that allow us to project ourselves into the world in our fullest form is the great challenge. I have a quotation framed in my office attributed to the French writer Emile Zola... "If you ask me what I came into this world to do... I came to live out loud."

Doing things that engage our strengths of talent and personality is an important pathway to finding a fulfilling and authentically happy life. No matter what we're doing, we can find our own best expression. That's how we all become winners in life. That's how we can all feast at the table of engagement and purpose, and not find ourselves malnourished by a steady diet of cotton-candy dreams of gold.

 

Neal Mayerson, Ph.D., is the founder and Chairman of the nonprofit VIA Institute on Character.

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