The Sweet Spot.

Longevity in the world of elite sports requires a delicate dance. You can’t grip your dreams and aspirations so tightly that you strangle them and give yourself an aneurysm at the same time. The fastest way to full on burnout is wanting something too badly. It also leads to some not so great mental habits, like severe self-criticism, perfection seeking, and just an overall lack of joy in your journey (because all you can focus on is getting to your goal/destination). I don’t believe very many things are worth giving up all joy in the present moment to achieve. After all, what is life if it’s not the present moment? Sit with that one for awhile. What you’re doing RIGHT NOW, that IS your life.

Success, however, requires sacrifice. Sometimes that sacrifice IS joy, sometimes it’s a good friend’s wedding (I’m sorry Whit!), and oftentimes it’s social engagements and activities that the rest of your friends get to engage in.  But like I said, it’s a dance.  Not all of it can be sacrifice, you need to be able to enjoy what you’re doing most of the time. And let me just add here that if you don’t enjoy working your ass off don’t even think about giving professional beach volleyball a shot.

If you can’t find that balance between hard work, sacrifice, and challenge; and enjoyment, pride, and detachment, it’s going to be a tough go. You’re either going to not put in enough work, not be emotionally invested enough, and not achieve the success you’re after, or you’re going to beat yourself up for not being perfect, make everything a struggle and just hate what you’re doing a majority of the time even if you do experience success. In the middle is the sweetest of sweet spots, and admittedly it’s different for everyone, so there’s no exact equation. I think it takes a lot of self assessment to find where that spot is for you. And to do that you can’t just be process oriented, you also have to pay attention to outcomes, because let me be clear, the goal of all of this is to be successful in the end. You (and I) don’t put all of this work in to find this balance only to have it not be effective.

In other words you have to work really hard at finding enjoyment in what you’re doing, and I’ve believed this in one way or another for my entire career. For example, I learned early on that the most fun experiences on the court come from moments where extreme effort was required, we were willing to buy all in emotionally, and it paid ff- our bronze medal match in Rio is one that comes to mind. 

This dance is cyclical and takes a lot of tending. I have often found myself holding on too tight, squeezing all of the joy out of the journey, and being a stressed out perfectionist. How do you get out of that mode? For me it requires a recalibration of perspective.  It helps when I keep my entire life in context, what does my life look like after volleyball? What else in life is really important to me? It helps even more when I imagine the entire galaxy, infinity, and how unimportant I am, how short my life is, and how absolutely inconsequential a beach volleyball match is in the scheme of eternity. You have to make time for this recalibration as well, it’s not easy and takes awareness, self-reflection and mindfulness. To take some time each day to be thoughtful about all these things allows me to realize when I might be veering off one way or another and then to take actions to again find that healthy balance. 

I find it also helps to accept that losing isn’t something to fear, and that making a mistake is human, it doesn’t mean you are bad at what you do. If you can embrace these ideas it gives you the freedom to go all out on the court fearlessly, and as a result play confidently and aggressively. Detachment. It doesn’t mean you don’t care, you just care soooo much you have to put tools in place to make that caring beneficial and not consequential.