Sunday, August 19, 2007

Cindy Sez: A Burn Out Bummer

I got this comment a while back on the "Never let Go of Your Branch" post, and I thought it merited its own post... Thanks to everyone who has been commenting, I will catch up on my replies as quickly as I can now that I am back!

Most of the time, burn out isn't quite this spectacular. It comes on us slowly, and suddenly one day, we realize we just don't care anymore, and don't have the will or desire to change it, or even to understand what happened. Some brief thoughts on getting it back.

Hi Kate,
I met you at Academy this year and you came to the party that I helped throw on the last night. I stumbled upon you blog and I think it is great. As I have recently lost a little spirit with skiing, it is great to hear our story.Cheers and I would love to hear more about how you over come your sabotages tendency when you get close to the top.

Hey, Cindy
Thanks so much! I loved the party by the way, it was a blast. I know what you mean about loosing spirit with skiing, it happens to all of us with almost everything we do. It happened to my mom with scrap booking, it happened to me with rock climbing, and with skating, and it is one of the things that can shake you out of your tree more than anything else.

As I think about this, I think about how frustrating it is to feel this way, just, disillusioned. Lost. Just not interested. (To me anyway.) It can feel like what used to be fun is now work, and maybe the best way to gauge how psyched you are to do it is, well, are you excited to get out of bed at 5am to do it?

If you are feeling flat, probably not. There are ways to get around this, but the first thing, I think, is to check and see if its worth it to you! For my mom, while she had really enjoyed scrap booking, (it had been a bit of an obsession with her), probably not. It wasn't really worth what it would take to push through her performance plateau and make some real breakthroughs. (You'd be surprised, there's ways you can do it, even for scrap booking... you can go to Scrap booking conventions, and three day all nighters with a bunch of other scrap bookers...) But for my mom, she had to just decide, you know, I used to love this, and I have kind of turned it into a job, an obligation to the family, and its just not fun anymore. So she took a break. She isn't sure how long that break will be, but, for now, she is collecting things she may make pages on one day, and just leaving it at that.

You are in a bit of a different situation, having chosen this as a career for you. But maybe not. My mom viewed something she had loved as a job that was no longer fun, maybe the same thing is happening to you.

We didn't really get a chance to talk about skiing and how you came to it and why you teach, and where you want to go with it, so I can't ponder your dilemma directly, but I do know that almost everyone goes through this, with almost everything they do, their marriage, their job, their hobby, their sport, whatever you spend too much time doing, it will, eventually, go flat.

I faced this problem with several of the climbers that trained at a really high level when I was coaching. When you train that hard, with goals that are that difficult to attain, sometimes it just ceases to be fun. And you wonder why you are there, why you are sacrificing the things you sacrifice to work out all day every day. What can you possibly hope to gain?

This goes right back to the "Never let go of your Branch" theory. This flatness, this wondering, this plateau, in desire (and usually performance), is the A-#1 thing that shakes people out of their tree.

I think the trick, here, is to decide if the amount of sacrifice you need to make to get to a place where you love it again, or the amount of belief you have to have in yourself to love what you are doing even when you don't seem to be improving, is worth it.

And that comes down to a different question for everyone. Ben Roberts and I were having a very interesting talk at the Progression Session at Mt. Hood last week (which I will post about soon, I promise), and we were talking about people's motivations. Why you are aspiring to what you are aspiring to.

A lot of times, people don't know. A lot of the people I skated with at the National level were skating because they wanted their parents to be proud of them. They didn't even like skating any more. A lot of them were skating for the fame and the endorsements. A very very few were doing it because they just really loved skating, and they really loved the hard work it took to get to the next level.

So if I were to give you some advice here, I guess I would say, step back and examine why you are in skiing, where you want to go, and why you want to go there. Then you might have some leading questions, that might point the way to weather it's worth it to plug ahead and push yourself, or whether doing that might make something you once loved even less attractive. This is a lot of introspective work, that can be really clouded by lots of different things.

I coached a climber who had the most amazing natural talent I've ever seen at 13. By all rights, he should be on the cover of Climbing magazine monthly. He should be the best climber in the world. He can't succeed because his parenting won't allow him to. His father wants him to win so badly that the boy can't be good enough no matter what he does. When he looses, his father wonders why the boy isn't good enough, and why the boy doesn't have a real job. The boy is doomed no matter what he does, the thing he loves and is talented at is tainted because his sense of self worth is tied to his father's pride in his own success. But he can never succeed, because no matter what he does, he can't be good enough.

This is a pretty extreme example, but I think, when we are looking at ourselves, and excavating the things that are stopping us from being a success or happy at what we have chosen to do, we need to look at outside factors, things that might be installed in us from childhood, as patterns of sabotage. They can be aiding and abetting in our flatness, when things get too intense.

Another thing to think about is learning, as you get to that elite level, to take joy in the minor successes. It is so hard to be psyched and get juiced about your progress when it comes in minute doses far apart. Here you are, after 10 years of teaching, after being a clinician, still working on your turn shape. Thrilling.

But somehow, it has to be. As the learning curve slows down and the progress plateaus, and the plateaus get longer and harder to endure, looking for something to light you on fire becomes a big challenge.

For me, its drills and training. I love to train. This is a bit abnormal, I know, and it is actually rooted in some less than healthy behavior from my childhood. Now that I have worked through that stuff, though, the desire to train has a new meaning for me, and it still gives me the boost that I love. I like to challenge myself with tasks, see where I fall short, train out the weakness, and try the challenge again.

Unfortunately, I am, as Rob pointed out this past weekend, impatient. I like to tackle and conquer, moving on to the next thing. I don't have a lot of patience for endless repetition of the same drill over and over. I like to think that if I have some modicum of success, I have mastered the drill, and I can move on. This kind of cocky attitude leaves holes in my skill set that I pay for later, having to drill out bad compensating habits that I have set up for myself with my impatience.

But when I feel like my interest is waning in something whose overall goal is important to me (no, I don't WANT to practice perfect freakin' wedge turns! good LORD, I want to go SKIING!), I think about what the discipline to get through the task means to my overall ability to reach my goal, and I get a little mini thrill from the fact that I am willing to buckle down and do what needs to be done. Rather than looking at the task itself, I take pride in my ability to be willing to go harder, further, longer, and more dedicated that I thought I could.

In this way, I sort of talk myself into being excited about whatever it is I am working on. I had this same issue with school figures in skating. I sucked at them. I don't have that kind of patience, 90 minutes tracing a pattern to within a quarter of an inch on the ice. I always ALWAYS wanted to move on to the next, more exciting pattern, execute it well enough, and move on again. But I had to learn that the win in that exercise came in executing it perfectly a dozen times in a row, week in and week out. To stay in the beginning set, and to own it in my sleep. No one cared if I had the ability to do a Gold set, I couldn't do it in competition, and to National standards, so it was meaningless. Especially if I couldn't even pull my Bronze set off.

Anyway, as you can tell, your comment got me to thinking about this, about the flatness that we all encounter when we are so single minded about something, the burn out factor, and needing to find something, anything to love about what you are doing again. I don't know if this helps or not, but here are a couple of questions that I ask myself, or my coaching clients, when they have hit a wall, and are just not that interested in forging ahead anymore.

First of all, do you want to get to the Olympics? (D-team, World Cup, PCA tour, climb V14, whatever?) If the answer is yes, then suck it up, this is part of what it takes to be a Champion. No one who lives eats and breathes their sport loves it 24-7. But your job, when you feel flat like this, is to find something, anything you love, and hold onto that with everything its worth, while you climb out of your hole.

If the answer is no, then hey, back off and enjoy yourself, you really don't need to go through this. It may not be worth it, and I mean that.

Then, I'd ask my clients to examine why they are on the track they are on, whatever it is. Why do you teach skiing? For real? Some people started becuse they wanted the free season pass. Some because of the prestige it gave them with their friends. Some because they'd die if they had to work in a cubicle. Some because they love teaching.

I don't know your answer, but if you are feeling disinterested in what you are doing, I'd start here. Why did I start this, and what has changed? Is there a different goal you can shoot for that can re-energize you for your sport? Did you start on the hill and end up in the office?

When I get disillusioned, a good brainstorming session often helps me get back on track. For me it usually means I am over training, and that I need to step away, have a little more fun, and reconnect with the part that gives me goosebumps and makes me smile.

Sometimes it just means pushing hard through a plateau, knowing that if I give just THAT much more, I will be able to punch through. But progress can be made, and it is up to you to find a way to celebrate your wins, find your joy, and put your head down and push through it when you need to.

Feel free to ponder this here on the blog, I think it is a pretty universal problem, and one I wouldn't mind puzzling out with you, because I think all of us can benefit from it!

Good luck, and hang in there.


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