One of the benefits – theoretically – of aging is that as we gain experience and wisdom; presumably we become more competent. However, I believe that sometimes experience can also weigh against us. As we progress into a comfort zone of routine with the feeling that we know what we are doing, we run the risk of becoming less curious about all that we aren’t doing. At some point, because of our experiences, we inadvertently become closed off to the challenge of new or changing ideas. We begin to listen less: Been there, done that. But have we?
I wrote last month that I wanted to flesh out communication and this entry is from the listening side; specifically, what we are listening to. If we have ambition to improve on our status quo (and one could argue even if we just want to maintain our status quo) it’s not enough just to listen – we must ensure that what we are listening to is from more than just our own perspective.
The trick to learning/improving is to make sure that we are putting ourselves in conversations where, at times, we either don’t understand or don’t agree with what we are listening to. Why? Because if we don’t, then we find ourselves constantly preaching to our own choir, letting them preach back, and learning absolutely nothing new.
“My biggest challenge is myself. At 23 years old, it’s not really easy to know yourself that well.”
Ah – the wisdom of youth. Wait what? Milos Raonic, the rising tennis star, made this comment at a Canadian Club event recently. In the last 3.5 years he’s made the jump from an impressive world rank of 37th (which might not sound like much until you realize that it was the highest ranking ever for a Canadian in men’s singles tennis) to 8th, and absolutely no one thinks he’s topped out yet. This player has a lot of game left in him and if this statement accurately reflects his personal awareness – it will come as no surprise when he becomes the 1st ranked player and holds that rank for some time.
Here is what I get from Milos’ quote. As much as he already knows and feels about himself and tennis, he is aware that to improve he must listen to what others know and see too. Having been coached to be world leading for almost 20 years myself, I can guarantee that Milos won’t always like what he’s being told to do or change but to get as good as he has, and to get even better, he knows that he has to crave this type of critical and creative feedback and be ready to try to apply it. Read on…
Recently, I found myself recalling one particular evening a few years ago. I can’t remember if my friends and I were celebrating something or if it was just another night out, but we had gone downtown for a fun evening. We probably went for dinner between 8 and 10:30 and then went out for drinks and dancing. At about 3:30am we found ourselves at Fran’s Diner having – oh I don’t know – probably something like gravy laden open-faced turkey sandwiches or grilled cheese sandwiches. (That sounds about right for 3:30 in the morning!).
Here’s the part I remember clearly. The waitress was one of those classic diner waitresses who likely had been working there since well before I was born. As she was about to take my order she took a moment, looked me in the eyes, and frankly said, “Sweetheart, I don’t know what your friends have been saying to you all night, but you’ve got some spinach in your teeth.”
My friends keeled over laughing. Turns out they had been looking at the spinach in my teeth all night. At first it was just spinach, not a big deal. Then as time passed they each kept expecting the others to pipe in and reveal what was becoming an awkward issue. Then, as time passed, they didn’t know how to bring it up – as if it was getting more embarrassing for them to acknowledge that they hadn’t said anything.
As for me – OMG! We had met so many people! We were having a great night so I’m sure all evening I was smiling a big toothy spinachy-smile. I was mortified, not to mention super annoyed with my friends. Where was the trust? Where was the respect? Read on…
Waking up early – and I mean really early – is a normal part of a rower’s day. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that rowers are good at getting up early or are naturally inclined to like it. The truth is that they know how to get used to, or more accurately how to get familiar with, what an early routine –(an uncomfortably early routine!) – feels like. As it becomes a habit, it’s easy for a rower to see all the advantages and opportunities of the early mornings and barely notice that seeing blurry 5’s or even 4’s as a first digit of time is not entirely normal.
Here’s what getting up really early taught me about establishing new routines:
Waking up early one day, or even every day for one week is not a routine it’s a novelty. Doing something for 1 week is Read on…
For the longest time I was in a routine of writing. At a minimum I would post something on the first of every month. I had fun keeping the self-imposed deadline since it meant I had to find a topic that had me feeling curious and inspired every 30 days (which comes around way faster than you’d figure!). I had an intended audience and I knew what voice I wanted to write in so my curiosity had some guidance. Those posts were almost always ‘mentor messages’ that I wrote considering athletes who were preparing for the upcoming Olympics. The last Olympics finished in February, the next aren’t for another 2 years, and that’s not my official roll anymore anyway.
My last post was in June and then I chose to take July and August off as a summer break. Now it’s mid-way through September and I’m so far out of my routine that I feel stuck.
I have been struggling a bit because if I’m not writing to an Olympic team who am I writing too? I get stuff in my head all the time but how do I want to frame it and make it purposeful? I don’t want to just ramble; I want to make a point. I miss writing but where, and why, does my new routine start?
I needed help to get me started again, but asking for the help was a bit… tough. Tough for no other reason than my ego was aware that most of the stuff that I’ve written about in the last 5 years was exactly the kind of advice that I needed to get me going. I’m supposed to be the expert here. I write often about being brave and bold enough to do something: to start, to just get at your goal-achieving path by starting with a simple small step. There I was, bogged down by the “doctor heal thy self” conundrum. It was so easy to be terrible at taking my own (good!) advice.
To get the help I needed, I knew what I had to do. Read on…
Marnie McBean holds three gold medals and a bronze medal from Olympic rowing competitions. She and her rowing partner, Kathleen Heddle, are Canada’s most successful Summer Olympic athletes.
She has been a specialist in Olympic Athlete Preparation, mentoring Canadian Olympic Teams between 2006 - 2014 and continues to work as a speaker, mentor and author.
She is an Officer of the Order of Canada, has a degree in Honors Kinesiology from the University of Western Ontario as well as three honorary doctorates. She is a member of Canada’s Sport Hall of Fame and an ambassador for Right to Play, Fast and Female, and Plan Canada’s Because I am a Girl initiative. She lives in Toronto.
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