Recently, I’ve decided to be intentional with my efforts to break through fears and mental barriers around performance. The tendency to throttle my effort is a long-standing habit. However, training and developing as an endurance athlete now requires me to look inward and find ways to override the throttle.

Rationalizing the “need” to hold back is easy and in certain circumstances necessary. The problem is that “what you do one way, is how you do everything”. So, although I told myself that I was only being “safe” while training or racing, the reality is more insidious. The “safe” mentality permeates all aspects of my life. I hold back at work, when talking with friends, in my intimate relationships, even in what I expect of myself.

I began asking why. The answers kept coming back to fear. Fear of failing (whatever that meant), fear of excelling and raising expectations, fear of hitting limitations, and coming up short. The list goes on, but the theme was consistent. I hate allowing fear to make my decision. I’ve chanted this mantra for years, and still, I didn’t recognize how deeply intertwined fear was in so many decisions and actions that I made on a daily basis.

Awareness is the opening of a new opportunity

Now that I know, feigning ignorance is unacceptable. Since growth is my goal, what to do is the next logical question.

Easy: when I see the behavior address it. When the thoughts appear, side-step them and keep pushing.  The last two blog posts (post 1 and post 2) are clear examples of recognizing when I’m afraid to push hard, and then actually pushing myself beyond comfort. The only way to know what’s possible is to actually apply the effort to reach beyond it. To do that consistently maintaining a mindset of excellence is necessary.  Being excellent must become a habit.

Recognizing and excellence

There are perks to working in biotech. One of them is to be able to witness (and contribute, on occasion) to the remarkable things we can do with healthcare. Yesterday, I was fortunate to sit in on a strabismus surgery. I’ve watched various types of surgeries over the years. Robotic spinal fusions, cholecystectomy (both open and closed), orthopedic, cardiac, and orbital decompression procedures. The behaviors of the surgeons are as different as the procedure performed. In every case, like a ship’s captain, the surgeon has the final word in the room.

This particular surgeon was a black man, which made the opportunity even more special to me. I walked into the operating room (OR) with him and everyone immediately acknowledged him and began asking what he needed.  Anesthesia was preparing the patient, nurses and surgical technicians were making sure the room was arranged the way he liked it and all of the tools he needed (and preferred) were ready and accessible to him.  His demeanor didn’t change, he responded to their questions, gave orders, looked at the patient, and continued talking to me in what seemed like one fluid motion.

This was clearly his domain and he knew exactly what he wanted and everyone’s role. He was at home at the moment. The others seemed to be a little stressed and moving around at 2x pace, whereas he appeared to be moving in slow motion.

I was witnessing a person who not only strove for excellence but was comfortable, without reservation, being excellent.

Having interacted with him on other occasions, I recognized that this was his habit. He didn’t think in a manner that was less than what he considered to be excellence.

As expected, he deftly corrected the patient’s misaligned muscle. Watching the repair of a “malfunctioning” eye was, in itself, awe-inspiring. Because the surgeon continually worked to master his craft, this patient would regain his eyesight.

I found inspiration watching a Black surgeon play his part with excellence.