Monday, February 24, 2014

Lessons from Olympic Hockey

I'll confess up front--I didn't actually watch any of the Olympic hockey games straight through. That being said, I do deliver the daily paper, and this being Canada, the fortunes of our teams have been front page news after every single game. It's very hard to miss, even if you live in a cave, which I don't.

The men's tournament has left me with some thoughts about life in general. The US and Canada, arch-rivals that they are, were both undefeated until they met each other in the semi-finals. However, the roads to the semi-finals seemed quite different from where I watched. The Canadian team, despite being one of the two favourites to win the gold, seemed to struggle. Their wins were not easy ones. The US team, the other favourite, won their games easily and went into the semi-final game with a confidence that the Canadians didn't have.

At least, that's how it felt here in Guelph. Before the semi-final game, those I talked to did not seem to feel that the outcome of the match was a foregone conclusion, and everyone agreed that Team Canada would have to tighten their collective laces if they wanted to advance to the finals. The US team, on the other hand, seemed to be brimming with confidence.

We all now know the outcome of the story, and our men came home with gold medals around their necks.

The US team, however, went on to lose their match with Finland for the bronze in spectacular style. It almost seems as if they gave up. Go for gold, or go home seemed to be the attitude.

Now, as I said, I'm not really "up" on all the news, and I don't know any of the players personally, so I don't have the inside track. I only know what it looks like from my little corner of Ontario. Nor am I trying to put down the US team or boast about Canada. I think, if Canada had lost the semi-finals and the US had won, that Finland still would have had more than a slim chance to take the bronze. The US and Canadian teams aren't really all that different, nor are our attitudes towards winning and losing.

What I really got from this tournament was the awareness that being really good at something, and having it easy (especially in the early rounds), is actually a disadvantage when the going gets rough, as it eventually most definitely will.

In my own case, I managed to make it through grade school, and high school, and undergraduate and even graduate school on the strength of my native intelligence and my ability to write well. Those were the preliminary rounds of life, and I aced them. Not one single assignment that I can remember submitting in all those years of school was anything more than a first draft. Very few of them took more than a day or so to write. Including a few twenty page tomes!

And now I'm out here in real life, and like so many others who did exceptionally well in school, I'm foundering, not because I can't work, but because I never learned HOW! I'm like the writerly version of the US team. I can write well, very well indeed. But when push comes to shove, I can't muster the effort to even go for the bronze, especially since I'm well aware that I have the talent to go for the gold.

So what have I learned from these last two weeks of hockey, skiing, hockey, skating, hockey... (You get the picture. Sometimes I think there's only one winter sport that matters to most Canadians...)

I need to lace up my skates, so to speak, and get my moves on. I'm 53 years old. I have stories to tell you, stories you will never read if I don't get to work and write them down, revise them, and PUBLISH them. I have to accept that maybe I won't win the gold. Maybe my stories won't win me the fame of J.K. Rowling or Tolkein or even Dan Brown. Maybe instead, I won't even win a medal.

But it's certain that I won't even be in the game if I don't start clicking the keys on my keyboard every day. It's certain that if I don't write and revise and publish, I won't even have a shot at the tournament, let alone a medal.

And I need to remember, as the US team does (and all of the members of all of the teams that didn't even make it past the preliminaries) that even making it to the Olympics (or to the level of being a published author) is so rare as to be an incredible acheivement on its own. Only one team, or one person, can be the top in anything. Almost all of the rest of humanity must be content with less than the gold. That doesn't make our efforts any less worthwhile.

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