As an Olympic Champion who’s been to 9 Olympic Games in various roles, I’ve been physically exhausted, emotionally exhausted and mentally exhausted. Until I became a parent – I’d never been all three at the same time.
For the first 5 months of our daughter Isabel’s life, other than parenting, I felt that I was getting nothing done. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do (or to create) something more… it’s that I wasn’t physically, emotionally or mentally capable of doing much of anything. My brain’s logical and creative side shut down, giving way – I assume – to let myself develop some survival techniques – aka-parenting skills. I’ve loved it, but at the same time it has been frustrating to feel so…limited. This wasn’t what I’d hoped for.
While I was pregnant I thought I’d have lots of time to write and read during my maternity leave. I was looking forward to the time that I would have to think stuff through – I get a lot done when I’m at peace and doing nothing. I was going to branch out and put all of my creative thoughts to page. After all – there would be huge chunks of time when I’d be doing nothing but watching a baby. (A naïve mistake I realize but this is what I thought.) Ha! While I did have time, small, randomly spaced blocks of time, I had no idea that I would have no thoughts! (None that I could remember 5 minutes later anyways!) Exhaustion has a way of throwing your mind into utter chaos.
I always find my most, creative thoughts in the steady beat of repetition; this is my idea of peace. Long steady-state rows, runs, bike rides and even walks provide my brain with the white noise that it needs to clear through the chaos of everything and find inspiration. In 2007 in Beijing, I learned the wisdom that accompanies making time for doing nothing. That year I went to China 5 times helping Canadian athletes and teams familiarize themselves with Beijing and the sports venues that would host the 2008 Olympic Games. I became quite the tour guide of the Great Wall, the Silk Market and the Forbidden City. The later, the Chinese imperial palace, was where the Emperor (and Empress) lived and presided over court. It is also where first became aware of the Confucius phrase Doing Nothing. Read on…
When I was asked to do a Tedx talk, I knew that getting a point across in 20minutes – being both informative and entertaining – would be tough. When the Walrus Magazine asked be to be part of their speaker series, WalrusTalks, where the speakers are only given 7minutes!, I was pretty sure that the task would be impossible. But… what kind of motivator would I be, if I turned down opportunities and challenges because they seemed to be a bit challenging! I had to heed my own words, break it down into bits – and… try.
The theme that the speakers were given was simply “Play”. I could do anything I wanted to from there.
I knew I could have addressed the value of play in the way that structured-play is used by Right to Play around the world to build communities. They use play to educate and empower children and youth to overcome the effects of poverty, conflict and disease in disadvantaged communities. Through Play one can teach important lessons such as disease prevention (HIV, Malaria, and other waterborne illnesses) and inclusion of those are living with those illnesses.
I could also have discussed the importance of more unstructured-play for kids (and adults!) in our own communities. Our overly scheduled and observed lives leave less and less room for our imaginations and/or creative problem solving.
But I decided to address the play that should exist in, but to often is missing from, our work.
We all work. Whether that be in the form of a job from which we earn a paycheque, or work as school, sport, raising a family… I don’t believe that work should always feel like a burden or a grind, there should be (must be?!) some part of it that is enjoyable – and even fun. The people, what you get from it (intrinsic), what you get for it (altruistic), the mere act of doing or completing a task.. on any given day it might be different, but when we can recognize some element of what we are doing as enjoyable and even playful – the quality of not only our work – but of our lives goes up exponentially.
For my Walrus talk on play, I spoke about about my Olympic bronze medal, the one of four Olympic medals that I have that is not gold. I shared my observations that what was missing from that race was joy.
Play can exist in the hardest most challenging things that we are doing. It doesn’t have to be all skipping and smiles, it can be as competitive and focused as you choose. Try not to feel burdened by the expectations that come with work, but rather lifted and inspired by those expectations. Learn to frame joy and play as YOU like it.
It’s only 7 minutes… well – okay – I failed there… It’s about 11minutes, but it’s fairly short and to the point.
Recently, when I was putting together a presentation for the Ontario Bar Association (OBA) I wasn’t convinced that talking about Starting Happy so that you can Finish Happy would entice a bunch of lawyers to come to the luncheon where I was to speak. This topic isn’t about trying to be all skip-happy with a giddy smile but upon introduction it might sound that way. It is a discussion about confidence in your preparation, dealing with hard conversations, anticipating change and challenge and knowing that you are the ‘someone’ that you’ve been waiting for. These four pillars create a “Start happy” foundation that is likely to lead to accomplishing your goals thus “Finishing Happy”. Still, I felt that idea of a discussion of being happy wouldn’t draw the lawyers in.
I then considered going with my core message, which is about a relentless pursuit of more. I was pretty sure that if I came at the lawyers with a presentation on doing more I’d lose the room too. This is a group of people who pride themselves on an extended and grueling education followed by a career of long days often clocking 60hr workweeks. If I pushed ‘more’ on this group – they might start throwing their buns at me!
The Start Happy/Finish Happy presentation had come from a conversation that I’d had in Sochi, which turned out to have a great impact on more than one person. I often use moments like that, concepts or ideas that come from interactions with ambitious driven people, as the foundation for the various speaking presentations that I give. The concept of more was no different. It came from my own experiences and was reinforced over the years by observations and conversations with many athletes that I’ve worked with. The idea is that when you’ve ambition to achieve a goal, when you get to that point where you think you’ve done everything, there is always a bit more that you can do; do more, be more, try more, learn more. But happiness and more just didn’t seem to be right to use as the framework for my OBA presentation.
Both concepts ‘Start Happy’ and ‘More’ apply to lawyers as much as anyone but I wanted to come at them from a different angle. So my brain stepped back from lessons that I had taken from isolated moments and considered my whole career of observed (and experienced) moments. It was one of the first times that I’d looked at it that way and I was struck by a sort of a-ha moment. Read on…
In 2012, Steve Nash wrote the the foreword to my book, The Power of More. I remain so grateful to this amazing Canadian. This week we learned that he has retired as a player from the NBA. In an article about Steve’s incredible legacy, The Globe and Mail columnist, Cathal Kelly wrote, “At 41, Mr. Nash had fully inhabited his imaginative space in NBA history. He was the skinny kid from Nowheresville (i.e. anywhere in Canada) who’d willed himself to the very top. He was a guy who’d outsmarted the game.” (full article)
Steve’s ability to “will” himself to the very top was because he, as he wrote in my book, believed in “taking the time to lay out your path in measurable steps, a practical approach can instill a beautiful confidence that comes from knowing you can actually achieve what you’re setting out to do.” Steve’s incredible work ethic is legendary – he always broke things down to their base details, drilled on those details until he mastered them and then used them to his greatest advantage. As Mr.Kelly also wrote “What Mr.Nash did in his prime…was marry the cerebral with the kinetic. His primary gift as a player was that he thought at speed. That’s what the best players do in any sport. They slow then bend time.”
Anytime you set a goal for yourself, you create the possibility of success; with Marnie’s book, you also create a plan to see it through.
When I was writing my book, The Power of More, I can’t tell you how thrilled and honoured I was when Steve agreed to write the foreword. Of all the global champions that I know from professional and olympic sport, and all the philanthropists, business people and politicians who have made their incredible successes seem easy – Steve was my first and best choice to ask. Knowing his attention to detail and dedication, I was sure that he would also embrace my concepts of breaking things down into manageable steps – and he did, and still does.
Steve’s foreword wraps up with him saying, “It teaches you that you can be excited about what comes next, and that you get to dictate so many of the terms for yourself. So read it, and then, as Thoreau said, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.”” Well Steve, I hope the same for you now. I hope that you will be excited about what comes next. Like the mythical phoenix (Phoenix Sun ?), from the ashes of the “1st death of an athlete” will rise something spectacular. Once you figure out the terms that you want to dictate to yourself – go confidently – I’ve no doubts your next career will be something pretty awesome.
Good luck and – thank you Steve.
Here is the foreword that Steve wrote for The Power of More – How Small Steps Can Help You Achieve Big Goals.
I’ve known Marnie since I was a teen, when she was training at the Victoria City Rowing Club in my hometown, and I’ve run into her at two Olympics since. Read on…