If you are young, promise me you will not turn your passion into an obligation. If you are old and have lost your fire, promise me you will do everything to get it back. If you are on fire and doing what you were created for, promise me you will influence others to do the same.
I think there are two ways to die before you leave this world. One is to stop doing work that you’re passionate about (in the positive sense of the word, e.g. you’re not doing drugs or selling it), two is to turn it into an obligation and eventually lose the fire and joy in doing it. I don’t know which one is worse but I think I’ve experienced both.
When I was 13, I fell in love. I watched a move and I fell in love, not with the actor, but with the sport of figure skating. I thought it was the most captivating thing I’ve ever seen. Speed, agility, grace, poise, artistry and athleticism all displayed simultaneously and in sync with music – watching such an ensemble gripped my heart with excitement. What is this sport? How come it’s art too? How so it takes my breath away?
That same summer, I asked my parents to enrol me in figure skating classes. For someone who’s the epitome of shyness and lack of initiative in life, this event was rather unusual.
Weeks before the classes were to start, my sister and I went on a vacation at our cousin’s place in Iloilo. We were to go back shortly before my classes were to start. Our aunts, uncles, and cousins there encouraged us to stay longer, my parents did too, I said I had figure skating classes waiting for me back in Manila, they said I can always do that later. My sister stayed but I went back home and had to insist ‘parting ways’ with my sister even if my parents were hesitant with the idea. I didn’t want to postpone my lessons. There were very few things (or hardly anything) I was determined to do as a teenager, this was one.
I went to a group class. I wasn’t ‘top of my class’ but I did rather well. After much training and practice, I started doing the jumps, and the spins, and gained speed and agility on the ice. It felt like in the movies. It felt wonderful.
I will never felt that one time when I worked so hard on a new jump, the axel. My butt had two black (not blue, not purple) bruises, the size of a big coin during the time when I kept doing it the wrong way so I kept falling hard on my butt each time too.
After some proper coaching, I finally broke through and started getting the height and speed I wanted (or my coach wanted). I will never forget that one practice time when I felt like I was flying, like I was spinning slow-mo in the air and landing softly but powerfully on the ice. I had been so afraid of this jump. And to have conquered it was like a truly magnificent thing.
However, I soon lost that jump. I wasn’t well informed then about how crucial off-ice training was. I knew it was ‘important’ but I didn’t understand how much. I didn’t go to the gym nor did exercises that helped strengthen my weaker muscles. I also struggled with self-doubt, a feeling of wrongness, fear of failure, fear of bruising myself too much, and the other perks that go with these. I lost that jump. I kept losing it. Especially whenever I’d get busy with school and not be able to practice as much. Lessons were also expensive so I didn’t want to keep on doing lessons on the same maneuvers I’ve already learned before.
The more I struggled with that jump, the more fear crept in. Or was it the other way around? I stopped skating on and off and so I kept losing my ability to do the harder spins and jumps. I didn’t realize then yet that muscles need to be conditioned and strengthened and that some gym exercises probably would have helped. (I generally have weak core, back and knee muscles if not for the constant practice.) The more I struggled, the more the sport became like obligation. At practice, I would enter the ice concerned that I would not be able to land my jumps that day, or get the form right for my spins. Gradually, dissatisfaction and doubt replaced joy and exhilaration. One day I woke up and realized that I’ve lost the wonder I used to have. I still loved the sport. But I had lost the fire of first love.
I used to see figure skating moves and choreography in my head whenever I hear music. I couldn’t do that anymore. I tried once, but there was a lump stuck somewhere along the circuit that led to my brain. My fears, doubts and familiarity with the sport had killed my fascination. It was heartbreaking to attend its burial.
I stopped figure skating a long time ago. For practical reasons. Tonight, I watched a basketball game live. I couldn’t help but remember how good it felt to be an athlete. I was rooting for a friend’s team. I couldn’t help but pray every once in a while to ask God to help them win. I asked God too what to pray for. Throughout the whole game, their opponent had at least a 9-point lead and at most a 30-point lead. It was a tough fight. God told me to pray against fear and intimidation and to release love and joy. Love for the game.
I saw this quote from Mia Hamm many months ago… It says, “Somewhere behind the athlete you’ve become and the hours of practice and the coaches who have pushed you is a little girl who fell in love with the game and never looked back.. play for her.”
When we’re pressured to deliver during competition, it’s easy to fall prey to fears, doubts, and a sense of inadequacy. Opportunity to shoot the ball, something which used to be filled with excitement, suddenly becomes a dreaded moment. The fear of failing has overtaken the love of playing.
While searching for that image I posted up there, I saw a quote by Olympic figure skating champion Gracie Gold. It says, “You have to love it and just let go of the fear.”
Perhaps, this is the key to winning – that we should cling to love and the reasons why we’ve chosen to spend a lifetime doing one thing, that we would choose to love what we do rather than fear losing the praises of the world.
Failing to make that shot, falling on that jump, losing a game or missing that medal – these are not our greatest enemies. Fear is. It is what robs us of something we can really keep if we choose to. In the first place, probably none of us athletes fell in love with our game because of a medal. So promise me, whether it be in sports, business, or career, don’t lose that sense of wonder, “play for her.” For the little girl who fell in love.