Pardon my French...
But day 6 of a 6-day training cycle can remind you that this -- track & field, running, jumping -- is your profession (starting from the butterflies the night of Day 5 right up to the slow head shake as you arrive at the track or gym the morning of Day 6). You're tired. But wait. You have an endurance workout to knock out. S#!t just got real.
So if this really is your profession, then it behooves you to understand that professionalism demands consistency, focus, successful execution despite any and all external factors (e.g. mood, weather, discomfort, fatigue) and excellence without exception. I’m learning that a very specific type of focus is required to achieve professionalism in a movement-based profession like track & field (and possibly in other professions, as well). It’s a calm, confident and fiercely single-minded focus. Almost a meditation. It’s a focus that comes from understanding one’s purpose (at this level, it's beyond “capability” and moves towards “calling”), and deliberately narrowing one’s purview of attention to include only what is required to execute the task: movement.
As my coach says, it’s a process of removing the “noise.” In the end, one needs to pay attention, almost exclusively, to internal stimuli. This kind of focus requires both discipline and vision and I’m learning that despite its intensity, it is freeing, liberating and perhaps paradoxically, calming.
I recently watched a documentary about a professional dancer who trained and danced, with breath-taking beauty, through severe pain. It changed my perspective on professionalism.
I’ve always taken a lot of inspiration from dancers. My cousin Maresa D’Amore, an internationally acclaimed modern dancer, is a perfect example. The very best of them have something that cannot be taught, nor can it be learned: presence. They seem to move through space -- every space, from a big stage to a grocery store aisle, completely centered and with control of their bodies and the air around them. Without tension. With fluidity. With aplomb. With what looks like joy. The very best dancers seem to respond exclusively to internal stimuli – it’s like they are constantly, quietly coaching themselves (“chin up, core tight, extend, shoulders down, relax the face, good…”), with compassion, trust and the quiet knowing that the hearer can and will do exactly as she is told without compensation or immense effort. Without question. Without complaint. They seem so patient with every movement, savoring them until their natural end. They seem grounded and unhurried with every step. But precise. They own themselves and the air around them – filling it with long, full, certain movements. I love watching dancers move!
And make no mistake, they are also fiercely competitive. But among the best dancers, their competition is almost always an internal reference. The aim seems to be perfection e.g. doing the movement justice, not “beating” anyone or anything outside of themselves. And amazingly, this is when their natural gifts shine the brightest, when they allow themselves to get lost in movement, transcend themselves and soar above the ever-present temptation to use tension or strain to force rather than allow. “This isn’t work...” the muscles of a natural dancer inherently know. “This is simply what we do.”
My coach has been working on getting me to, as he so eloquently states, “not give a f#@k about any body else” and I am getting there. Even on Day 6 of a 6-day training cycle. Putting one foot in front of the other is simply what I do. Fast.