Go For the Gold ... But Enjoy the Ride!

The Mountain Farmgirl has been catching a few glimpses of the Olympics this week. The talent pool is enormous but from the looks on the athletes faces, so is the pressure. While most of us will never be Olympic stars, that doesnt mean we cant 'Go for the Gold' in our own lives. But we do need to be careful not to overburden ourselves with unrealistic expectations. Lets talk 'Farmgirl Olympics' in 'Go for the Gold but Enjoy the Ride!'

I've never owned a television, nor watched one since I was a girl growing up in my parents house; but now, as an Innkeeper, I suddenly find myself in possession of THIRTY-THREE of them. Holy cow!! And so this week I've had occasion to steal away into a vacant room here and there to watch a few evenings of the Olympic Games, gymnastics being my favorite. These outstanding routines, which defy gravity as well as the imagination, have been totally AMAZING!!! The technical skill, artistic performances , extreme fitness and general prowess of the gymnasts seem to have gotten more sophisticated and complex over the years. But something else is different, too. There seems to be a missing ingredient: JOY. It seems all but snuffed out under the tremendous pressure these young people find themselves under to perform and 'bring home the gold'.

 

I remember watching Olympic champions from the 1970s, such as Romanian-born Nadia Comaneci, and Mary Lou Retton, the American gymnast who excelled during the following decade. These young women, and many others whose names escape me at the moment, exuded confidence, poise and self-assurance, while they performed feats of technical excellence. But they also simply radiated enthusiasm and delight during their routines, traits that (at least to me) were noticeably absent during this weeks Olympic performances. Gabby Douglas came closest with her bold, well-executed and artistically beautiful moves; she has a charisma and a spirit that shone through the enormous pressure that was ferociously weighing down on all of them.

  

I think the most difficult thing I watched were some of the gymnastic competitions by the Russian womens team. While they were unquestionably awesome athletes, the burden of having so much pressure to perform flawlessly was very apparent, making it painfully hard for me to watch. The various imperfections in their individual routines brought near-crushing blows and disappointment to them as well as (presumably) to their teammates and their country. Unquestionably, when you've trained your whole life for a specific event, you're going to put your utmost concentration and effort into achieving your goal and try to win. And just as naturally, a focus this intense is NOT going to communicate fun to the world, nor should that be another expectation we add to their already burdened shoulders. Granted, some of these countries put unimaginable expectations upon their athletes. Many years ago I remember reading about Saddam Hussein's son, who was in charge of Iraq's Olympic athletes. He actually tortured some of them when they did not perform to his expectations, and chopped off their hands and arms. I would think that would be a pretty darn good incentive to win without any need for a smile or looking like you were enjoying the journey. And I'm not unaware that in other poorer countries, a win can mean the difference between a lifetime of poverty or the path to prosperity for an athlete and his or her family. Obviously, I'm not talking about these type of situations, but about striving for excellence in more common circumstances, and trying to keep everything in balance and perspective.

   

And it got me thinking about quite a few things.

Let me be the first to say that I think Goals are great. I've ALWAYS been a goal-oriented, self-motivated and highly driven person. In fact, I'm all for setting the bar really, really high and giving it my all, no matter what it is I'm shooting for. We taught our four homeschooled children to do that, too. None of them were ever in the Olympics, but two of them became famous in the international chess world on both scholastic as well as adult levels, where pressure and competition are on par with Olympic standards. More times than I care to remember I saw children and young adult players reduced to tears because of a loss, or due to an angry parent who piled guilt as well as punishment (unbelievable!) on their defeated children's shoulders. How terribly sad that was. Fortunately, our kids were never pushed into this sport at any time during their chess careers. It was a combination of a love they each had for the game and a natural aptitude that kept them setting their own goals. As good teachers, we of course supported their interest in chess by providing the tools, coaches and opportunities for them to excel. But the drive and desire had to come from within each of our kids. (Our two youngest children learned to play chess, but never competed much, which was their choice, and perfectly fine with us). Fortunately for our two oldest chess champions, one of their mentors was GrandMaster Art Bisguier, one of the coaches who taught Bobby Fisher. A ruthless competitor in his own right, Art had a fantastic attitude when it came to teaching his students about competitive chess. His famous line to our boys was, "It takes a lot of losses to become a GrandMaster." Our kids learned that losses were a natural and expected part of winning big, and they learned that you most often learn more from a loss than from a win. Of course nobody ever wants or tries to lose, but attitude and perspective about both winning and losing have everything to do with reaping success and rewards for your efforts, both physically and emotionally.

What I saw missing from the few Olympic competitions I watched was a deep burning passion for the sport. You know, the kind of passion that drives you to do what you do because you really dont have a choice ... because doing whatever it is, is as natural and as necessary as breathing and as life itself! What I saw instead was an all-consuming need to WIN, and there is a huge difference. The pressure to win rather the love of the sport was written all over their faces.

Olympics started out as amateur competitions between athletes who combined hard work, technical training, superb health and perseverance into an all-consuming passion and art form. This year, however, I heard that professional athletes such as multi-million $$ player Kobe Bryant, and famous tennis players were competing against hard-training amateur athletes. How fair is this? To me its just another example of how it is 'All About the Win' rather than sportsmanship and personal excellence.

My thoughts then meandered down a similar path to my own life, and I started thinking about how all these things relate to my desire to go for the gold in the things I undertake. While I've mellowed plenty over the years, I have to admit more than I'd like that I have often put my focus on the 'win' rather than the 'journey' over the course of my life. As farmgirls, I think we all have a natural inclination toward the characteristics that make us Olympic-type winners: a great work ethic, awesome goals, passion for a pet project (whether it be building ourselves a chicken coop, complete with wallpaper, no less!); having a little container garden out on the back deck, or changing the oil in our tractors). You name it, most likely we can do it! I'll also venture a guess that many of us have been called Supermoms or SuperWomen more than once in our lives. Consuming passion is a good thing when it drives us to excellence, but we have to be careful because it can also consume US! Those gymnasts faces haunt me. For me it was a wake-up call to continue to Go For the Gold in my own life, but to enjoy the ride on the journey there, and yes, even try to appreciate the bumps and potholes on the road to the finish line. I'd love to hear your comments and thoughts on this, gals, as you go for the Farmgirl Gold in your own lives.

Until next time, MOuntain Bounty, Mountain Blessings from

Cathi, The Mountain Farmgirl

Comments

 
By: Linda
On: 08/06/2012 11:58:33
My goodness, my family and I were stating similar thoughts!!!! You stated it all so well!
I am loving every second of the games, have always been an Olympic junkie, lol!

But the pressure anymore does seem enormous and difficult! As for the basketball ? Could not agree more!!! Should always be college basketball players going for US team! Would be fair for all concerned!

Enjoyed your thoughts and perspectives!

Linda
 
By: Juli
On: 08/06/2012 18:37:25
Eating an organic salad from my garden feels like a cold medal... Cheers!
 
By: Nicole Christensen
On: 08/07/2012 18:46:23
I love this post! Just this morning, my husband and I were watching the news, with interviews of some of the Olympians as well as some spectators. They were all saying how 'disappointing' it is to bring home anything but gold. It made us sad that the pressure is that heavy on these great athletes, that winning anything else but gold is not a win in some eyes. I am impressed by anyone who makes it to the Olympics, let alone wins anything! Mary Lou Retton lived in my old hometown for a long time, and everyone was excited whenever we caught a glimpse. She not only has enormous talent, but charisma and charm, too. Her bubbly smile made everyone want to root for her. Kathi, you're so right...the journey is important, too, in everything in life.
Hugs, Nicole (your blogging sis, The Suburban Farmgirl)
 
By: bobbie calgaro
On: 08/10/2012 16:52:06
I am right with you on this issue. I know these girls are under lots of pressure put on them by both themselves and the way the competition has progressed over the years. The thing that got me was the poor sportsmanship that is exhibited by this. Girls who pouted when they got silver and bronze medals and the Chinese who were expelled from badminton for cheating by refusing to hit the shuttlecock so that they would get to play a lower seed and do better until the end. The games are still great but they are so tarnished by endorsements and greed. The best display of sportsmanship was from the female runners who just exuded joy whether they won or not. The journey should be the joy or you need to just give up.
 
By: Amanda
On: 08/10/2012 17:37:18
I saw a newscaster interviewing people from different countries and getting their opinions on what color medal their country's athletes brought home. I can't say that I wasn't too surprised over the answers and it was kind of upsetting. Even to see some of the athletes attitudes is sad. But, I still love watching the Games being a former high school athlete myself. Having said that, my oldest daughter has been taking gymnastics classes since she was two (she's 6 now). She saw the Beijing Olympics and stared at Nastia Luikin. She said she wanted to do that, so I signed her up for a mommy and me class. A year later, she was too serious for that school and still talked about the Olympics, so I moved her to a local gym. This past winter, she was selected to begin training. She was excited, and I had to begin to take her dream seriously. After a talk with her new coach I had a long chat with my daughter about what she was going to go through and to make sure that this will make HER happy. She was still looking forward to working hard in the gym. We also read the book about the Magnificent Seven from the Atlanta Games. We read about the ups and downs(and painful injuries!) those girls went through. My daughter is still not deterred. Her only concern, can she still hang upside-down on the barn gates and plant her flowers? Of course! She wants her flower farm after she "retires" from gymnastics! That's my girl! But, I did point out to her that even though the USA won over 60 medals, we have over 500 athletes. Just to point one more thing in perspective.

Leave a comment

Commenting is restricted to registered users only. Please register or login now to submit a comment.

Cathi Belcher

Cathi Belcher,
an old-fashioned farmgirl with a pioneer spirit, lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. As a “lifelong learner” in the “Live-Free-or-Die” state, she fiercely values self-reliance, independence, freedom, and fresh mountain air. Married to her childhood sweetheart of 40+ years (a few of them “uphill climbs”), she’s had plenty of time to reinvent herself. From museum curator, restaurant owner, homeschool mom/conference speaker, to post-and-beam house builder and entrepreneur, she’s also a multi-media artist, with an obsession for off-grid living and alternative housing. Cathi owns and operates a 32-room mountain lodge. Her specialty has evolved to include “hermit hospitality” at her rustic cabin in the mountains, where she offers weekend workshops of special interest to women.

“Mountains speak to my soul, and farming is an important part of my heritage. I want to pass on my love of these things to others through my writing. Living in the mountains has its own particular challenges, but I delight in turning them into opportunities from which we can all learn and grow.”

Column content copyright © 2010– Cathi Belcher. All rights reserved.

Mountain Bounty

“Keep close to Nature’s heart ... and break clear away once in awhile to climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods, to wash your spirit clean.”
– John Muir