“I never compete against the other snowboarders. I compete against the mountain, because if the other snowboarders aren’t great that day, I can not be my best and still win, but my goal is to be the best.” Shaun White, Olympic athlete
Something about this comment intrigues me. No, we’re not snowboarders and Shaun has his issues off the field of play, but he still has something here we can apply. I have my own personal mountain to compete on. So do you. As writers, our mountain is the page. For us, being the best means constantly striving to improve our craft – and to create work that’s better, deeper, truer.
Shaun’s comment struck a chord with me for three reasons. First, I like the idea that you don’t compete against other competitors, but against the mountain. How liberating this is! He’s not out to best someone else, to outperform someone else, but to contend with the mountain – with the force which motivates him to pursue his discipline and express his creativity. Our takeaway: Let’s not worry about what other writers are doing: the success they’re enjoying or the work they are creating. Let’s focus on our mountain – the page – and what it’s asking of us today.
Second, the real battle to be faced in Shaun’s view isn’t against other competitors or even the mountain: it’s with the self – with bringing his “A Game” – his absolute best to any encounter in which his skill is demanded. Our takeaway: Bringing the best we have to offer to the page every day is what’s really important – that’s what moves us forward and helps us get to the next level. That may mean pushing ourselves to solve a tough plot problem or reworking a lackluster paragraph, even if it seems better than it was, until it sparkles.
Third, Shaun separates the idea of winning and giving his best effort. If he wins because other cometitors fall short, but doesn’t give his best, then it’s not really a fulfilling result because he’s not really tapping into his full capabilities. An intriguing concept: Winning isn’t simply about winning – it’s about how you win: It’s about the attitude and effort you bring to the party. Our takeaway: Let’s not worry about winning, whatever that means to us in our work. Let’s focus on bringing the right attitude and effort to the page today and winning, whatever that means, will take care of itself. Even more important, if giving our best is a “win” in the fullest sense.