Making Your Obsession Work for You; Instead of Against You

Many self help books tell you to “live your dream” or “love what you do and do what you love”. They emphasize that you must be passionate about what you do to be successful.. The problem with this is it can feed your obsessive tendencies.. The obsessions can lead to great success, or unbalanced, dismal misery and failure. Sometimes, and perhaps most tragically, one of the greatest heroes and the best in one arena can be the most miserable and flawed person after their greatest success.

You certainly don't qualify for the US Olympic marathon trials without being obsessive. But neither can you average over 100 km per week for over 20 years without being somewhat balanced. I believe what success I had as a runner, and subsequently many of the life lessons learned from that success, came from obsessive stubbornness, not to give up.

Here are some rules to balance your obsession.

First rule is to choose your obsession, rather than letting it occur. Test the waters: business, science, art and sport have many branches.

Part of this decision should certainly be ability or having an edge. Frank Shorter Jr.'s High School football coach sent him over to the cross country coach. Edges can often be developed with a good plan or coach, yet some skills you must innately have. For new first time track recruits (Jr. High kids) I run a battery of tests to find their strength. In love and in life many people make themselves miserable because some things you can not change in people or yourself. Conversely there is great joy in doing that which you are naturally superbly equipped.

Second rule. Surround yourself with people that have an equal commitment, and are smarter or better than you. It is no coincidence that the only two marathoners to qualify for the US trials from Indiana in 1996 were me and my coach/training partner.

Obsess about how you can improve, not what you have done wrong. Believe in your coach, believe in yourself and believe in your plan. Be coach-able, especially be self-coach-able

Third rule. Understand that it is an obsession, with all its limitations and dysfunctional tendencies as well as its beauties and benefits. Balance your life outside your obsession. Balance the emotional with the factual. Balance the physical with the mental. Einstein took long walks, and credits his great discovery to those walks. Balance the creative flexibility with the disciplined rigor. Develop wonderful distractions before your performance. Have supporting fall-backs for the major disappointments. Do not take perfectionist solitude in ritualistic practice, but do not expect any accolades until the foundational fundamentals are mastered with practice, practice, practice. Then even as a master, often the formula is: Create, then perfect.

Fourth rule. Find a way to make it work, while it is still an impractical ideal. Einstein worked at the patent office, many young artists work day jobs to pay the bills. Athletes have college and the minors to develop. There are garage bands and garage start-ups. Artists are known for their salad days. I went to grad school and got a Masters in Math so I could continue to train hard, compete and run. And took those dreadful Actuarial exams to continue to support my running.

Fifth rule. Obsess about the small gains and rewards, not just the risk. For motivation focus on the journey. Great things are accomplished one small goal at a time. Most grand journeys would never begin if you focus only on the end, so enjoy the trip. Focus on the new sights and education along the way, do not focus on the impossibility of reaching the goal. But likewise, do not dismiss the risks, obsess about overcoming the risks as well as about obtaining the rewards. Much of attempting the impossible is learning new ways to deal with the risks. Legendary coach Bill Bowerman, Nike co-founder, invented the “Waffle Trainer” to cushion each pounding step in training. Thus he revolutionized distance running and created the running boom.

Sixth and Final Rule. Create and move on.

When the race is won or lost,

When the paint has dried,

When the child is grown;

Drink deep in the glory, the sorrow, the beauty and the life,

Let them move your soul,

Thank G_d for the good,

Draw strength and knowledge from the bitter,

Bathe the sweat and rest your legs.

Look for the next horizon,

Pray for the new-born.

The lesson always is:

'The sunrise belongs to those that dream.'


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