What If Creativity Was An Olympic Event?
Like many around the world, I have been watching the spectacle that is the Olympic games. I admit I don’t watch as much of the summer games as I do the winter version, but I enjoy the swimming and diving events, volleyball, and gymnastics. The level of skill of these athletes is unparalleled. I’m pretty sure Simone Biles isn’t human because no person should be able to jump as high as she does while twisting and turning upside down.
As I’ve listened to the stories of competitors – intense training schedules, family sacrifices, and overcoming challenges – I am reminded that it’s a good thing day-to-day life isn’t like the Olympics. Most of us would never step on the podium, let alone dominate the medal count like this year’s US swimming and women’s gymnastics teams did.
For those pursuing creative dreams, whether writing, fine art, music, or even using creative means to start a small business, the pursuit of those goals can sometimes feel like an Olympic competition. Commercial success can be a cutthroat world where only a few are crowned champions. Sometimes those who achieve success are better than others in the field, but a lot of times, they rise to the top because they outworked the field.
Consider what it takes to achieve a creative goal. The long hours. The crazy schedule. The days when you stare at a blank page. Let’s take a look at how the creative process compares to some of the more popular Olympic events.
TRACK & FIELD
The track events that draw the most attention are sprints and relays because they’re fast and dramatic. These events are over in a matter of minutes, seconds in some cases. Sprinters train for speed. They do all they can to perfect technique on everything from where they place their feet at the starting line to hand position as they pump their arms whilerunning. It’s all about going faster.
For creatives, though, speed doesn’t work in most cases. While it’s fun to dream about completing a book during the NaNoWriMo challenge (writing a 50,000 word book during the month of November), the creative process is more like a marathon. Creating a quality piece of art or developing a business into a money-making venture takes time and a commitment to continually learn more about your craft or field.
SWIMMING & DIVING
Diving is about precision. The approach, the movement in the air, and the entry into the water all have to timed perfectly. But ultimately, practice means nothing if fear holds them back from performing well at competitions. The splash as a diver enters the water tells the judges whether or not a competitor nailed his dive. The same can be said for creativity. No matter how much you train and plan for success in your field, none of that matters if you don’t what you start. You have to be willing to dive in.
Swimmers learn basic strokes at an early age. As they compete throughout amateur tournaments, high school or college, and eventually international qualifying meets, swimmers train not only for speed, but also for endurance. Michael Phelps makes racing look easy, but he’s put in years of training to become the best in the world. At each competition, there are often multiple heats to even get to the final race. For creatives, multiple heats translates into acts like editing a novel or revising a business plan. Just as each heat improves a swimmer’s knowledge of his techniques and competitors, each round of editing or revising leads to a polished final product.
Gymnasts amaze me. I have no idea how any of them keep from getting dizzy all the time and/or breaking ankles on every landing. The constant twisting and turning makes for great television viewing, but the strength and skill it takes to pull off even the simplest vault is crazy. Spectators cheer at the combination of gracefulness and power. As amazing as the top routines are, judges often find at least a few tiny flaws and deduct points. The same is true for creatives. No matter how good the majority of people think your work is, there will always be that one person who criticizes you. Sometimes it means your style or genre just isn’t their cup of tea. Other times, they criticize just to hear themselves talk (we all know someone like this). But whatever their reason, don’t let the few critics get into your head. You might not get a perfect score, but having a few critics still means you’re ahead of those who are too afraid to push yourself to towards something more than average.
I love volleyball. Here in Nebraska where I live, volleyball is huge. In fact, the University of Nebraska team won the women’s national championship last season. There are four former Huskers competing in the Rio Summer Games – three for the indoor US women’s team, and one for a Canadian beach volleyball team. Whether on an indoor court or the beach, volleyball requires teamwork and trust. In order to compete, a team needs to pass, serve, and hit according to the coach’s game plan. The best hitter is nothing without a great set. And a team can’t get far without great defense. Creatives sometimes fall victim to the idea of the solitary, starving artist. While the actual creating might be done alone, creatives need an audience, or clients, and that takes building relationships with others. This includes your family and friends who support you along the way, as well as those who become your readers, patrons, or clients. Just like a top volleyball team requires players to trust each other, a creative entrepreneur must build trust among her support team.
Whether you’re a fan of the summer or winter Olympics, there’s no denying the athletes are the ultimate examples of not only athletic skill, but also of commitment, sacrifice, and teamwork. In the creative world, there might not be medals handed out for each project, but just like an athlete, creativity requires commitment to long-term training and forcing yourself to shake off the fear of competing.
Dive in. Show the judges what you’ve got. Earn every point.
** If you could compete in an Olympic sport (summer or winter), what would it be and why?
** When it comes to your creative process, what sport, or other activity, could you compare it to?