Most of you are likely (dare I say) old enough to remember two gold medal Olympiads, Bruce Jenner and Carl Lewis.
But, just in case you aren’t, allow me to tell you a little bit about these guys.
Bruce Jenner, before he was keeping up with the Kardashians, hanging out with all the wrong people (think O.J. and Nicole) and ruining his boyish and athletic good looks with waaaay too much plastic surgery, was an outstanding and accomplished decathlete.
In 1976 he won the Olympic gold medal and set all kinds of records holding them from 1976 to 1985.
A decathlon, in case you do not know, is a ten event sport which includes: 100 meters sprint, shot put, long jump, high jump, 400 meters, 110 meters hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin and the 1500 meters run. It is an amazing feat by anyone’s standards.
Carl Lewis, though a bit younger than Jenner, became an Olympic golden boy during the late 70’s and throughout the 80’s.
He was, if I may use an already overwrought cliché’, poetry in motion.
As a track and field athlete, no one, and I mean, no one could touch Carl Lewis.
(Except maybe that steroid loving cheater, Ben Johnson, but that’s another day).
I used to wonder why the athletes that ran against him even showed up most of the time. Everyone knew they would lose. They knew they would lose.
Yet, there they were, event after event to taking their abuse and logging a few more running hours for their career. Essentially, they were just props in the background of Carl Lewis’s world and all of his Olympic glory. He was just that good.
Sometime after his Olympic win, Bruce Jenner appeared on the Jay Leno Show. Carl Lewis, who was currently in his heyday, appeared as well. In talking of his achievements, Bruce made a very humble and somewhat shocking statement.
He said he was not a natural athlete. Huh?
You won a grueling 10 event decathlon, set records that were held in place for nine years and you’re not a natural athlete??? Are you kidding me????
In comparing himself to Carl Lewis, whom he said was a natural athlete; Bruce Jenner said his victories came from a burning desire to achieve and years of hard, focused work. Carl Lewis, on the other hand, brought his God-given natural athletic ability and physique to the sports he excelled in.
Certainly, no one would argue Carl Lewis’s natural physical gifts, but I found it shocking that Bruce Jenner didn’t consider himself a natural athlete. Any of us would, but he should know.
I’ve never forgotten that statement and have reflected upon it countless times over the years when thinking of achievement and accomplishment. Lately, in reading Ralph Keyes book, The Writer’s Book ofHope, I ran across a similar observation and statement that Ralph made about great writers:
Natural gifts alone are no guarantee of the will to write, to say nothing of the audacity and the persistence. Productive writers don’t need talent so much as determination. Will matters more than skill. I’ve seen far more would-be writers scuttled by indolence and short attention spans than by lack of ability. Regular work habits and high tolerance for tedium characterize working writers…………..
I’m going to be honest and tell you that on the one hand I was deeply disappointed at this statement by Ralph. All these years I’ve been romanticizing the great literary geniuses and fantasizing about their glamorous and artistic lives and Ralph wants to come along and reduce their accomplishments to a simple work ethic????
Once I got over the dismay, I was profoundly relieved, however. Having wrestled with the notion that good writers are born and not made, I found it incredibly inspiring that simply showing up every day to write increases your chances of success far more than some special gift.
Apparently, that elusive muse and inspiration will simply show up as well according to E.B. White, famed novelist, children’s author and essayist, who said:
I get inspired every day. I walk to my office at 9:00 a.m. and begin writing.
Okay. So, we’re right back to those good old fashioned values of hard work, determination and commitment.
I will not dismiss the fact that we are certainly born with a natural inclination in life towards certain things. I absolutely believe there is something innate in our genetic wiring that will draw us to the things we naturally love and are good at.
For example, my husband, one of the smartest people I know, naturally thinks in logical sequence, naturally organizes information and is able to visualize (much to my amazement ) two dimensions in three dimensions. He is a mechanical engineer, among other things.
Likewise, I believe my love of reading, writing, art, music and creative expression in general, is born from my natural inclination towards understanding language, language concepts and my general flair for those intuitive, feeling, subjective type endeavors.
But, if Bruce Jenner is correct, and well, I think he is, then the greater factor in our success at whatever our endeavors, is the old “nose to the grindstone” that our parents, grandparents, teachers, and God knows, everyone else has told us our entire lives.
I don’t know about you, but I find this incredibly inspiring. Write on!