It’s a season of epic athletic contests right now. The just past (awesome! Go Hawks!) Superbowl and the Winter Olympics have one thing in common: They take top athletes who’ve performed well all year on smaller stages and put them before the biggest audience they’ll ever have.
And then these pros — who have practiced untold hours and prepared for this moment often nearly their whole lives — have to choke down their fears and grab their shot at proving they’re the best.
You know what they remind me of? They’re like freelance writers who’ve been writing for their local biweekly who get that first national magazine assignment. Or small-business copywriters who finally snag a Fortune 500 client.
In every one of these epic athletic contests, when players go up a level, some reach deep inside and pull out amazing performances.
The best soar to new heights. While others crumble.
I’ve always been intrigued by the psychology of that. What makes the difference?
I think four things are key here:
Stuff happens in life and things don’t go according to plan. Sources don’t respond. You get the flu on a high-stakes deadline, or the day you have to skate your long program.
It’s not what happens, but how you react to it that makes you a champion. Think Nancy Kerrigan getting kneecapped and then still managing to win a medal.
You need the ability to roll with it and carry on to deliver when it really counts.
Belief in yourself
Recently in the Freelance Writers Den forums, a member commented that when she writes for clients, a voice in her head is saying, “I don’t deserve this. I’m just doing what others can do better.”
People, this cannot be the tape that’s playing in your head if you want to make it in the big leagues.
Know that you could not have come this far without talent and drive. You have worked hard for and deserve all your accomplishments. (And if you think everyone else is writing better than you, go down to your local Chamber of Commerce and read all the brochures. Eye-opening, hm?)
Not only that, but you can continue to excel and go beyond what you’ve done before.
Human beings always have more unrealized potential waiting for a chance to shine, as these Olympic athletes always show us.
It’s also realizing that the gold medalist is not the only winner. To not spend all your time judging your performance against others.
Listen to interviews with Olympic athletes, and you realize simply being able to put yourself out there and compete at an elite level — or being able to write for a living — is victory. The journey is really the reward.
An Olympic medal — or a national writing award — should only ever be the cherry on top.
What makes those skaters hit the rink at 5 a.m. and go back after school for more? Nobody can drag you to all those practices against your will.
Nobody can make you write and rewrite and polish your draft when all your friends are at the movies or on Facebook or going to dinner parties.
That drive to write — and to write better, and better — can only come from you. No coach or class can give it to you.
If you don’t have it, when you get called up to the big leagues, you may just balk. You may pass. Happens all the time.
I’ve talked to so many writers who were invited to pitch a top magazine, and then just froze. You have to be willing to take more risk, to stretch, to dare yourself to be more, if you want to move up.
It’s always blown my mind how Olympic athletes do their routines while people cough, scream, walk past, and blast music or even crank their earsplitting air horns. Often, while their top competitors stand there and watch their every move. (At least we don’t usually have to deal with that!)
The true champions are completely in a zone. Nothing will throw them off their game.
Meeting an article deadline while your kids whine for snacks, the laundry is sitting in piles, you need a shower, and your favorite TV show is coming on? Same thing.
What traits do you think make a champion? Leave a comment and give us your take.