Thursday, October 20, 2005

Running faster...maybe...but where?

Received a couple of interesting emails from former writing student Calvin Tintle of Muhlenberg College (which, improbably, once made me its writer-in-residence), pursuant to my recent posts about Oprah, human potential, and the all-pervading cultural affliction/fiction I've dubbed sportsthink.

Calvin tells me for starters that his philosophies on human motivation stem from his "many years as a competitive track athlete," and that well before that, he'd soaked up much of his go-getter's attitude from his dad, a successful track-and-field/cross-country coach. While at Muhlenberg, Calvin continues, he was exposed to a very intense track coach, "someone that loved to tell us to always push, to always dig deep, and to use his favorite saying, 'to run through the wall because what is on the other side is worth whatever pain you are in right now.' " Thus Calvin would leave team meetings, he writes, "ready to compete and ready to not lose" [emphasis added].

I liked Calvin a lot, and during his semester in my class, I found his perspectives engaging and consistently well-thought-out. And let me add that I would do him an injustice by leaving readers with the impression that Calvin places himself staunchly in Oprah's corner. Not so. During the course of his several emails, he voices a fair degree of skepticism about the hyping of attitude throughout American society, and he too wonders how we go about separating the genuinely uplifting from the insufferably cliched. But confining ourselves solely to the comments I've quoted here, I would ask my former student this (and Calvin, if you're listening, I invite you to respond directly on SHAMblog): How do you know--for a fact--that you were any "readier" to compete because of anything said at those team meetings? In any case, is thinking that you're mentally (or emotionally) prepared to compete the same as being mentally (or emotionally) prepared to compete? Is there any credible evidence one way or the other? Calvin himself hints at the likely answer to such questions when he notes, "Sometimes I would succeed and other times I wouldn't." Point being, if there's no empirical, straight-line relationship between thinking you're a winner and becoming a winner, how do we know that "feeling motivated" is worth a damn?

Reasoning metaphorically from his career in track, Calvin adds that "I think we are always at a starting line of a new adventure, and sometimes we need a push, a reason to actually go at the sound of the gun." I would agree that this is true for many people, perhaps even most people. But can SHAM (or any of its component parts) provide that reason? Can it even play a small, supporting role?

I don't know. And frankly--I would argue--neither does Calvin, Oprah, Tony Robbins, or anyone else.

In truth, a hard-charging, indomitable spirit, in the absence of tactical competency, can be counterproductive if not downright disastrous. As business consultant Jay Kurtz puts it, "You end up running twice as fast in the wrong direction..."


Max Hilsman said...

Thinking you are prepared is an integral part of being prepared. Although no empirical evidence is available to support the theory that thinking makes you more prepared, it can be assumed that emotions are but one variable that enters our grey matter for processing. Emotions effect how we perceive, process and ultimately, act.

I compete every day in business. I am successful because I think I will be. Notice my reliance on the first person. Third parties like Harpo, Sham, Zig-Ziglar are an over - motivated waste of electrons; an emotional distraction. It can be argued that hyper motivation is a veil behind which we hide, and often masks a glaring in competency.

Motivation in a vacuum of "tactical competency" does not alone complete the recipe for success. It is however, the crucible which holds everything else in place. It is what makes us take the first step. And if we do not take the first step, you will never succeed.

Brief anecdote: While serving in the US Army, I had a commander who lived by the phrase PMA (positive mental attitude). Everywhere he went, in all of his conversations, he would work in his affinity for PMA. In his case, he attempted to use PMA to make up for his lack of basic soldier skills and poor leadership. It was a feel good, do nothing waste of words. We realized that his "PMA" was not helping us raid a cave in the middle of the night. Our help came from between our ears and from the knowledge that we were the best trained soldiers for the job. If we had not thought that way, I'd still be sitting outside of that cave ... waiting.

Calvin Tintle said...

“In truth, a hard-charging, indomitable spirit, in the absence of tactical competency, can be counterproductive if not downright disastrous.”

Steve, I absolutely agree with this statement. But when the competent choice for a goal, dream or aspiration comes into our mind and we chooose to pursue that thing we ineveitably begin thinking we can do, achieve or become something, but without thinking we can do, achieve or become something we are left with nothing. To keep the metaphor of running and track alive; I want to at least lace up the shoes, toe the line and run the race, rather than to sit and not even take a chance. As I said in an earlier e-mail, I would rather take a chance and fail than to do nothing, and ultimatley, achieve, do or become nothing.

Thinking and becoming are necessary complements. Something that has been disregarded throughout our e-mails is preparedness, or it has at least played a supporting role. If I don’t think I am mentally or emotionally prepared there is no way that I am going to be mentally or emotionally prepared. So, how do you know you are prepared, or how do you know that you can do something? For one thing genetics; God just gave some people certain skills. We were all meant to do something. Steve, I know you have said that you realized at some point that you could become a writer, therefore you thought you could become a writer. You, instead of lacing the shoes, picked up the pen, the pencil, or sat down and started typing. The words came, the metpahors, similies, allegories and everything, but you thought you could do it and you did it and you became a writer. To continue, I am sure that you have written pieces that you weren’t that happy with, and you have written things that you thought may be good enough to win the pulitzer. Did you aim to write a bad piece, were you thinking while crafting your piece that “This is junk, it doesn’t work, etc?” If you don’t feel like doing or achieving anything than there is no reason why you would want to pursue that thing. It is all part of the process. I have stopped competitive running since graduating from college and now I run when I feel motivated to run or feel I want to run. It is worth a damn to feel motivated to do something.

I guess another thing I am trying to say is that SHAM movement does not effect me at all, has no bearing whatsoever as it pertains to what and when I choose to pursue my goals, dreams and aspirations. I agree that this selp-help movement has made America helpless in some sense, but, an you can probably tell, I believe you need motivation, a reason to succeed. When I need inspiration or motivation I turn to my sorroundings; my family, my friends and my co-workers and other competitors with equally high standards for success, not Oprah, Tony Robbins, or anybody else that thinks they're some kind of prohphet.

Now, as for being “readier” for competition. I have, without motivation, be it from myself or a source close to me -- (coach, friend, competitor) -- entered a situation with no motivation and at the same time prepared to compete. But without the motivation I was left in the back of the pack. Sometimes the voice of motivation is the perfect sound that reverberates in our mind to pursue with no intent to fail, but failure is a part of life. And as I have always said and I never want to sound overtly obvious or cliché, you have to always be aware that you can’t always win, but how you deal with failure will, in the long run, separate the true winners and losers.