Many years ago I decided that I wanted to be good at gymnastics.

I had never even done a cartwheel, and had no real interest in sports — at least not ones that involved a ball or anything like that. I was in decent shape, though, because I had been hiking some of the local mountains on a regular basis. I could run for hours without stopping. I even did the Grand Canyon Death March, a 50 mile nonstop rim-to-rim-to-rim insane hike one year and made it through with no problems. I think I had the best time that year, too.

So when I started gymnastics, I had no idea what I was in for. I was 30, and I was, shall we say, anything but skinny. I am also more than 6 feet tall — not the usual characteristics you find in a gymnast.

My wrists and neck hurt for a year. I kept my wrists taped, and I started working out in a gym to build the strength I would need to do more interesting things in gymnastics — and I worked out my neck muscles as well, until stuff quit hurting.

A wonderful woman, Cookie, took me under her wing and spent many, many hours, patiently trying to explain to me how to contort myself correctly at just the right times to make things happen. See, as a little kid, we can ape other people’s behavior without thinking about it too much. As an adult, we have lots of filters that prevent this — “If I do that I’ll break my leg/arm/neck/butt!!” Plus, some of us are learning impaired when it comes to physical activity. I had to READ about how to do a front handspring. Different people showed me and even took me through the motions like 100 times. I had to READ about how to do the trick! And then, Cookie stayed up until midnight making me do them. “You don’t get to leave until I see 3 in a row,” she said. That was around 7PM.

Learning back handsprings was harder. With a front handspring you can see where you are going. It is primally wrong to leap backwards onto your hands — it takes a “leap of faith”. And, you must COMMIT. Especially if you are 30, 6’2″ and not skinny.
You must TRUST that your coaches are with you. I worked briefly with a Russian gold medal Olympic winner as a coach, and she weaned me off needing to be “spotted” — a coach stands next to you making sure you don’t fall on your head, usually by supporting your back through the middle of the back handspring. She would assure me that she was spotting me, place her hand on my back, and then when I started the trick she would pull her hand out. So it was really a “mental” spot rather than a physical one. Because I really didn’t need it, but I didn’t know it.

The important things I learned in gymnastics apply directly to success and excellence. First, no matter what you want to do, there are people who are already really good at it, or have done it, and they often are happy to teach and mentor you. They want to see you succeed, because it makes them happy! Great mentors are bonded to the success of their mentorees — that’s what turns them on.

Second, your mentor will know before you do, that you are ready to go it alone. They might be there to give you a “mental” spot, but they know you really do not need it. Sometimes they need to give you a kick in the ass to convice you, though. I know I have needed that a time or two.

Third, and maybe most important, if you really, really want to succeed then you have to have faith in yourself and your mentors, and you have to give it more than 100% effort. I’m not sure I can explain this well; It is when you are on a rock face, 100 feet above the ground, your legs are shaking from the effort and your fingers just won’t hold on anymore, and yet there is a handhold just inches out of your reach — you are already at the 100% level, and you have to look inside, and somewhere find that little extra that will make you leap for that last handhold and grab it to finish the climb. It is when you are in front of 100 of your friends who are all gymnasts, and you are about to (publicly) do back handsprings across the floor, and you only ever did it once before, and you know that just 100% won’t make it happen, that you will fall on your ass — and so you dig down, and in spite of everything, find that extra 5% or 10%, have the faith, and GO FOR IT.

In the words of Mr. Robbins, you can do anything if your WHY is big enough. Doing a back handspring and other tricks — those are simple, little kids do them all the time without thinking, I’ve even seen 250 pound football players do them. For me, though, it was … really hard. It took years of effort, lots of sore muscles, devotion. If you devote that kind of energy to almost any task, you will succeed. The thing that prevents success is not lack of effort, usually, but rather lack of heart. Not a big enough WHY. Do you fall asleep at night, thinking about how you could do something better, or how you can solve the problem at work, or thinking about what might happen and then preparing to be ready for eventualities?

Is your other than conscious mind constantly working to help you solve your problems? If it isn’t, then perhaps you lack passion for your work. If your WHY is not big enough, if you are not all fired up about what you do, then you should probably be doing something else, because you will never excel — or if you do, you won’t enjoy it.