The 2014 Olympics women’s figure skating programs begin to unfold today. Those of us who revel in the drama of watching these athletes soar and spin to take their place on the podium will be captured by their athleticism once again. Beyond the athleticism, there is one skater who has not only the right last name, but is also a kindred spirit – and outstanding example –of the qualities many of us seek in our mindfulness practice: focus and resilience.
At the recent US Figure Skating Championships that led to Gracie’s place on the US Olympic team, she demonstrated that powerful sense of being in the moment for every second, every minute of her 4+-minute final program. While focus is a pre-requisite for any world-class athlete, what is find so amazing from athletes like Gracie is their ability to fail (or in Gracie’s world “fall”) and immediately move on to achieve, even surpass, what they expect of themselves.
During her qualifying long program, Gracie fell (bobbled in figure skating lingo) when she missed a standard triple jump. We all gasped and immediately felt that bobble would be the end of her potential spot on the US Olympic team. Instead what we witnessed was a near-perfect performance for the remainder of her program to win her #1 spot on the US team.
If anything, seeing her ability to fail/fall only to recover so splendidly deepened our appreciation, our awe, of her performance. We could connect through her failure and be so much more enthusiastic about her ultimate victory.
What Gracie gave us is what we so often want from our leaders. We want to see that connection through the humanity of failure and, at the same time, see them overcome the situation to take us to an unexpected level of excellence.
Another dimension of Gracie I’ve uncovered in her press coverage is highlights an important outcome of mindfulness training. Gracie has acknowledged her flaw of self-criticism – being too tough on herself, being too much of a perfectionist. The maturity of her ability to acknowledge, observe and accept this “flaw” is a key theme in the YogaUnbound Mindfulness for Leadership and Resilience.
As many of us who struggle with perfection know all too well – being overly focused on perfection leads not only to self-deprivation, but it also usually ends up with us pushing this perfection to our staff and team members. Rather than mentoring and guiding staff and team members to extend themselves to undertake the task at hand, we take it on and negate the learning and knowledge they need to experience.
One more surprise (and admiration) for Gracie. I recently read where she is reading Phil Jackson’s collection of Zen-focused books. Jackson’s Eleven Rings explores everything from humanistic psychology and Native American philosophy to Zen meditation. As the “Zen master” of coaching, Jackson developed a new approach to leadership based on freedom, authenticity, and selfless teamwork. He turned the hypercompetitive world of professional sports on its heads as he uncovered the secrets of mindfulness and its impact on team chemistry to help his New York Knicks become great champions.
Tonight I’ll be sitting on the edge of my cushion (unfortunately not my meditation cushion) to watch Gracie Gold and the other skaters. I’ll applaud whoever stands on the podium, but more importantly I’ll carefully observe their resilience, their focus and the empathy they show toward each other.