Gregg’s recent post on working with passion from a few weeks ago has been on my mind a lot lately. I recognize in myself the fear that Gregg mentions–and I also recognize how that fear has often stopped me from embracing my own passions.
Last night, while driving home from work I heard the story on NPR about snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis who lost the gold during Friday’s snowboard cross event after grabbing her board unnecessarily on the last jump and giving it a stylish twist. Lindsey, who had been in the lead, fell and ended up losing to her Swiss competition.
Immediately, the media jumped on her, asking for an explanation of her actions. Her immediate “defense” was that she was simply trying to stabalize herself, but in a conference call with journalists a few hours later she admitted, “I was feeling great and wanted to share it with the crowd. . .I messed up.”
I was struck by her words and how, for me, they embodied this notion of living and working with passion. When we do what we love, we assume great risks. The stakes are naturally higher and the expectations of those around us are higher, too. Lindsey was competing at the Olymipcs–arguably the pinnacle event of many athletes’ professional lives–and in that moment rather than acting like a fierce competitor or a symbol of national pride, she acted like an athlete who was doing what she loved. She grabbed her board because that’s how snowboarders communicate. I believe that in that moment she really was not trying to showboat but rather to convey to the many people around the world watching her that she was experience a moment of profound joy. Unfortunately, her gesture cost her a gold medal. I’m sure her dissapointment must be profound, whether she admits it to use or not.
But in the end, what I’m left with is not a sense that she blew it for the U.S. or that she forgot to act like the elite athlete that she supposedly is. Rather, I think that she is someone who lives her life with great passion, and that with that passion comes the opportunity for big risks and big failures. I applaud her willingness to believe that the passion for her sport is more important than all the medals or trophies she has won.
3 thoughts on “Living with Passion”
A very poignant story, on many levels, and well-told.
For me the ache comes from my feeling that this is a story about multiple passions, and the terrible weight of having to choose among them. Being a fierce competitor requires passionate commitment. Winning a gold medal won’t happen without passionate commitment. But passion also results in brilliant, impulsive gestures of sharing. How to choose, especially when winning the medal is also a form of sharing one’s passion? Which to choose: an impulsive yet profound gesture born of the moment, or the accomplishment that comes from long and arduous discipline? Both convey joy. And it shouldn’t be an either-or, but sometimes it is….
I see your point–and it offers a more nuanced take on this episode than I originally expressed. That said, I can’t help but feel that the medals and trophies are simply trappings of joy that can’t compare with the kind of joyful expression that LIndsey’s gesture on the slopes stood for. I know winning feels good and that it can, as you point out, be a way of sharing our passions.
But, perhaps naively, I must cling to the notion that, ultimately, what matters about what we do is not how we share our experiences through competitive success but rather how we share it through expressions of spontaneous joy.
I’m sure that if Lindsey had won the gold medal she would have shown us joy. I have experienced the joy of winning (though not on the scale of the Olympics) myself. However, I have also experienced the joy of feelling in a single moment that I am doing something that I am body and soul passionate about. And I can recognize a longing to, above all things, share and express that joy. Of the two kinds, I’ll take the latter any day. (and I LIKE to win 😉 )
I want to find the place, or invent it, where there need be no distinction between the joy of competitive success (and it’s not zero-sum, because no competition is final) and the expression of spontaneous joy. I agree that it’s often an either-or in this living place we inhabit. But sometimes it’s a both-and. I like that. I prefer both. 😉
Cf. Frost, “Two Tramps in Mudtime.”