Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Learning from the Olympics

Arguably, the greatest show on earth, the London Olympics 2012 has come to an end. Until the next edition in 2016, Rio De Janerio Brazil, all will be quiet -for people like you and me, the armchair viewers and keyboard experts though.

It is anything but quiet for those aspiring to be there in 2016. Those athletes who will make a mark in 2016 are likely training each day in quest of that elusive gold medal. There are a few from 2012 who will be around in 2012, but a big chunk of them will be new.

They will spend the next four years doggedly in pursuit of that goal. They will rise in the morning, focus themselves and get into training. Day and day out. For the next four years – perhaps exceeding 10 hours each day. That will roughly give them 10,000 hours of practice just in the next four years. And most likely, these athletes, sportspersons would have already reached that 10,000 hours milestone multiple times in their lives already. And each 10,000 hours they will perfect one more nuance, one more skill, one more muscle, one more move until it all falls in place.

Or perhaps it wont. Who knows? For each sport, there are exactly 3 medals on offer (give or take a few depending on rules). 3 medals for the entire world. And if  you miss that chance, it is an only chance. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you get it 4 years later. And then for many, age wont be on their side. Or an injury may show up. Or something else.

How many of us can find that focus to pursue one single thing all our lives and practically give up everything else in its quest? Each of our sportsmen, India in the last couple of Olympics have produced stellar performances from individual athletes, has done that. Abhinav Bindra, Saina Nehwal are great examples. And someone like Sushil Kumar is the first Indian athlete, ever to win a medal in two consecutive Olympics. Phew. To get to the top of the world and stay there for 4 years? Takes some focus. And shut yourself from the world – its distractions, its troubles, its politics, its temptations and whatnot.

What is true for Olympics is true for almost anything else. To reach the top a single minded focus is necessary. Whether it is career or sports or politics or arts or anything else. But not everyone can do it. Some can focus, some cannot.

Some do it their own way and stay interested in a million things all their life. They wont win Olympic medals for sure, but then that is perhaps not what they are after in any case.

As Robert Heinlein said, “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

So what is right? Neither. What is right is what makes you happy. If you are happy staying focused, stay that way. If you are happy doing a thousand, stay that way. So, don’t crib. To win that elusive medal a lot of hard work, sacrifice is required. If you are not willing to do it, that medal is not yours. Rest content knowing that fact.

So, as someone who cannot focus and who likes to do a thousand things – I doff my hat to those who can stay focused and chip away at a specific goal. Hats off to you.

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