These days, I get pulled into watching this pure athletic prowess and accomplishment. I am not the first to note that the true spirit of the Olympic games is pure physical and mental accomplishment, honoring those who have spent countless hours single-mindedly pursuing one goal.
Sitting in my pajamas, the acrobatics of bathtime complete and the little one safely in bed, we shamelessly gorge on dinner in open-mouthed admiration of the feats of excellence on TV. They are, in turn, lithe beautiful figures gliding across a finish line, transcendent blurs of color twisting off a vault, acrobats twisting shockingly close to a platform. Our hopes rise with country flags and anthems brandished high and we drag our leaden feet with disappointments minute to minute.
These games represent individuals who have chosen to maintain a singular focus on one activity, one extraordinary talent, to the exclusion of everything else. Sure, there are those few athletes who maintain an improbably successful and normal life outside of these accomplishments – those kids returning to high school in a few weeks, the athlete who is enrolled in medical school. In general, however, here are the few who have wholeheartedly given themselves to one love, faithfully to one pursuit, despite physical pain, mental anguish, pain, failures and the brash temptation to give up.
It is about trusting in a calling, in one goal, so much that you put aside everything else to achieve it. That admirable depth of excellence in one thing that makes someone the best in the world at something. This is the frequent tension – be excellent at one thing, or be reasonable at many things. I have struggled with this for a long time. I don’t have the talent or the inclination to strive for a place in something like the Olympics, but this resonates with my daily life. As a generalist, I’m reasonable at recognizing patterns of many diseases in clinic. As a researcher, I’ve tried to cultivate a depth – but this process has been more fraught and unsuccessful. The most difficult decision is the one of focus. What area to plan my focus and spend my energy – to be the sought-after advisor or consultant, the recognizable name.
I’m still searching for that track. I suppose late bloomers still can do great things when we find our way.