No one hands you excellence on a silver platter. You earn it through planning, preparing, and persisting in the face of all obstacles. Terry Orlick
I am a HUGE fan of the Olympics – especially figure skating! I’ve watched every Winter Olympics since Scott Hamilton won the gold medal in Sarajevo – and have been hooked ever since. I even sported a Dorothy Hamill hairdo in the 1980’s!
From years of watching figure skaters and other athletes compete in high level competitions like the Olympics, I’ve learned that many of the techniques athletes use for achieving peak performance like goal setting, visualization, and focusing can also be used by artists to achieve their painting goals.
I first heard about the idea when I read a magazine interview with an artist. The artist mentioned that one of her goals was to get her signature membership in the American Watercolor Society – a membership that at that time was achieved by having 3 paintings juried into their national exhibition within 10 years. After being rejected over and over again, the artist read books on goal setting and achieving peak performance and used the techniques to help her reach her goal of being accepted for membership by AWS. She said as a result the overall quality of her work went up because each year she focused harder and invested more energy to come up with one special painting to submit. And – hang on to your hats – it worked!
Inspired by that artist’s success, I decided to give it a try. I read books on goal setting, mastery, living your dream, improving performance levels, and the pursuit of excellence – all with one goal in mind – to be the best artist that I could possibly be and to win my own personal gold – signature membership in the American Watercolor Society. And – hang on to your hats once again – it worked!
The desire to do your personal best, to excel, to attain the highest standards of performance, to be supreme in your chosen field is a worthy human ambition, which can lead to increasingly high standards, personal growth, and personal meaning. If none of us were concerned with the quality of our contributions, our work, our creations, products, or services, our society would take a marked turn for the worse. Yet high levels of achievement and the pursuit of excellence in any field – sport, art, medicine, science, writing, teaching, or parenting – demands commitment and sacrifice. Terry Orlick, In Pursuit of Excellence
Orlick offers these positive self-suggestions for pursuing personal excellence:
- – I am in control of my own thinking, my own focus, my own life.
- – I am a good, valued person in my own right.
- – I control my own thoughts and emotions, and direct the whole pattern of my performance, health, and life.
- – I am fully capable of achieving the goals that I set for myself today. They are within my control.
- – I learn from problems or setbacks, and through them I see room for improvement and opportunities for personal growth.
- – My powerful mind and body are one. I free them to excel.
- – Every day in some way I am better, wiser, more adaptable, more focused, more confident, more in control.
- – I choose to excel.
……genius, no matter how bright, will come to naught or swiftly burn out if you don’t choose the master’s journey. This journey will take you along a path that is both arduous and exhilarating. It will bring you unexpected heartaches and unexpected rewards, and you will never reach a final destination. (It would be a paltry skill indeed that could be finally, completely mastered.) You’ll probably end up learning as much about yourself as about the skill you’re pursuing. George Leonard, Mastery
George Leonard’s five keys to mastery:
- 1. Instruction: learn everything you can about your passionate pursuit.
- 2. Practice, practice, practice!
- 3. Surrender to your passion.
- 4. Intentionality: focus on doing whatever it takes to make it happen.
- 5. The edge: play it, push it, break past it.
Last night, the 2010 Olympic gold medal winner Kim Yu-na mesmerized the world with her brilliance. Under enormous pressure from the media and a country that practically demanded she win the gold medal, Yu-na delivered one of the greatest figure skating performances of all time and shattered her own previous world record. It was a skate that I’ll never forget.
But there was another unforgettable performance last night and it was skated by Joannie Rochette. Joannie’s mother had a massive heart attack just hours after arriving in Vancouver to watch her daugher skate this week. Joannie chose to stay and compete despite her enormous emotional pain. Skating in her home country, you could feel the love and the support of the audience as she skated her two performances. Both performances bested her previous personal best scores. Last night, when Joannie finished skating, she blew a kiss skyward. There was not a dry eye in the house.
Kim Yu-na’s coach, Brian Orser, who himself competed in the Olympics with Brian Boitano in the 1988 “battle of the Brians”, told Kim as she was about to perform, “It’s not the time to hold back. It’s not a time to be conservative or cautious. Be Olympic”, Orser said. “We’ve talked about that, coming here. You’ve got to be Olympic. Yes, you’re beautiful, Yes, the programs are beautiful. Beautiful lines. Great presentation and choreography. But, you’ve got to be Olympic and you’ve got to be fierce.” And she was.
The strength, courage, and determination of these two women who performed under such tremendous pressure is truly inspirational. When all is said and done, it’s as much about setting your own standards, getting past obstacles, exploring and pushing limits, choosing the masters journey, and doing and being your personal best as much as it is about competing and winning medals. That’s what being Olympic is all about.
Be Olympic! Be an Olympic painter! Choose the master’s journey. Choose to excel in your art. Be fierce. Surrender. Go for the gold!