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  • Jessica Circe

The Restless Athlete

Imagine this scenario. You're in the desert and you need to dig a well to find water. So you find a spot and you start to dig. One foot, two feet, three feet, four... down and down you dig. At some point you're going to get to a depth where you can no longer see over the edge of the well and all you have to look at is the wall. Now depending on your height it could be five feet, six feet or even seven, but at some point you are going to only have yourself, the wall, your shovel and the sky to keep you company as you dig the well. Down you dig through eight feet, nine feet, ten... all with just yourself, the wall, your shovel, in the sky. Water has not appeared yet and you may begin question if you will ever reach it in this spot. "Maybe there isn't water here."


So you climb out of the well and find a different spot and start to dig. Down you dig through two feet, four feet, six feet all the way to ten and still no water. "Maybe I should look somewhere else. I'm not getting to water in this place." So again you find a new place and dig. And again you find no water. Over and over you repeat this cycle of digging a ten foot hole in the desert sand and rock only to find nothing but yourself, the wall, your shovel and the sky. Eventually you might start to think "Maybe I'm just not destined to find water." "This is just not fun anymore." "This is too hard for me to keep doing this." "I just don't have what it takes or the right tools to find water." And yet, in every one of those wells, water was waiting at 12, 13, 14, and 15 feet.

Now obviously this is a metaphor but representing what you might be wondering. Well this is the metaphor I use for around skill development or knowledge of your craft (whatever your craft might be - a sport, acting, growing a business, whatever). Let's start with the desert which represents (to me anyway) the landscape of opportunity for many of my clients. Surviving in the desert is hard, thriving in the desert is even harder. Doing so without water is impossible. Playing in the Olympics, winning a BAFTA or building a seven-figure business are all the equivalent of thriving in the desert.

Naturally, you are the person digging the well. The shovel represents tools or kit necessary. From a football to costumes to Microsoft Excel, these are all shovels used to complete the necessary tasks in your craft. What about the well? This is, along with the wall and the sky are the keys to understanding about the depth of knowledge, skill, ability and expertise needed to be successful at your craft. Each well represents something different to each person. Some are skills, some are abilities, some represent knowledge. Let me use a practical example from my own career as an athlete.

When I was learning to ride at a young age, I was an enthusiastic learner, working really hard at new skills. I remember struggling to learn the flying lead change, for me at 7 years old or so, there was a lot to coordinate; hands, legs, body, reins in order to execute a change. I remember spending one afternoon on my pony going back and forth across the diagonal over and over until I got it. That was the last time I ever practiced executing a flying lead change... at seven years old. Fast forward 15 years, I was working with an young horse on flying lead changes and it was a disaster. It wasn't that I had never executed flying changes, I'd been doing it for years. But I had never taught a horse how to change leads and I was not coordinated or balanced enough to teach this young horse. So I had to go back and learn more about flying changes.


In this example, flying changes are the well. At seven, I started digging my well and I worked really hard. And then there came a point when I could execute them, most of time. And then I'd "dig" a little farther and I could execute them all the time but only in the corner of the arena where I could "bounce" off the rail. Dig a little deeper, and I could execute in the turn of a course but sometimes the timing was off and the front legs would change and then the back instead of all in one step. And that is pretty much where I stopped. That was my ten feet of well and I didn't see any value in continuing to canter around the ring (even later in my career). So I didn't know how (or felt I needed to know how) to execute a change on the straight-away for example (As all the dressage riders reading this gasp in horror). And I definitely did not know how to teach a young horse how.

So what happened you might be wondering. Well I was a restless athlete (and a restless person in general). I LOVE new things, learning new things, experiencing new things, trying new things and I'm always on the look-out for the next new thing. It's why I've lived in so many different places, had some many different jobs and careers, dated a lot but only had four serious relationships. Once I get bored with something, once it's not new anymore, it's very tempting for me to move on to something else. Well at least I used to. See, flying changes taught me something about life (who knew?).

If you want to be an Olympian (and believe me I wanted that more than anything) you have to keep digging your metaphorical wells until you reach water... no matter how long or deep you have to dig. This means spending a lot of time in the bottom a metaphorical hole working away with nothing else to look at, focus on or do other than dig. The sky changes from day to night to day again and still you are in the hole. You lose track of your progress, are you at 12 feet to 20, who knows and you are still digging, still practicing the flying changes, still honing the skills, knowledge and abilities necessary for your craft. And it could take years (often does) to get to water. But you have to keep digging.


Because water represents mastery and expertise and it's the difference between teaching/riding at at summer camps and teaching/riding in an Olympic barn like Karlswood. It's the difference between working a 9-5 and acting in local theatre or in commercials your whole career and winning the BAFTA. It's the difference between using Excel to add expenses and coding in Excel with Visual Basic to input data and output your tax estimates. You can't survive, much less thrive in the desert without water and you can't make it to the height of your craft without mastery.


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