I heard a great story recently that acts as a metaphor for life: Playing soccer while cross country skiing.
A young lady I spoke with recently was reminiscing about her experience in college on a cross country skiing team.
She had been cross country skiing for most of her life, so joining the team when she got to college seemed like a relative no brainer.
There were people of every skill level on the team ranging from complete n00bs to competitive skiers. They had drive, team spirit, and a real desire to get out and ski, but the one thing they lacked was… Snow. In Michigan. Clearly this was a tad unexpected.
So to while away their time the team decided to play soccer in the muddy, slushy fields. They played for several weeks before they got any snow and even then it was just enough to make the games more interesting but not enough to ski on.
When they finally got enough snow to ski on they’d gotten quite accustomed to playing soccer and didn’t want to give it up. Of course this was a cross country skiing team, not a soccer team, so they couldn’t keep playing soccer instead of skiing.
… But they COULD keep playing soccer WHILE cross country skiing!
And that’s just what they did. For the rest of the semester they played soccer on their skis. I have to imagine it would have been quite a sight, especially if the ball went flying off into an embankment and someone had to ski over and start rooting around in the snow for it.
They had a lot of fun and a great season and by the end they discovered something truly interesting: the skiing ability of everyone on the team had grown exponentially. Much more than any of them had experienced in previous semesters or on other teams.
They had been so focused on playing soccer while skiing that their skiing skills had become a tool rather than a goal. They weren’t focusing on skiing better – they were focusing on playing soccer and by necessity had gotten better at skiing.
And it’s not just cross country skoccer (yep, it’s a new word) that yields these results. In my own life I often find myself growing most rapidly when I focus not on the skills I need to learn but on the goal I need those skills to accomplish.
I’ve rarely been excited by the prospect of learning how to program, or woodwork, or run a business. But I have grown tremendously in those areas by focusing on creating an estimation model, building a shoe rack, or realizing my dream for the future.
So if you’re ever stuck on learning something and find you’ve hit a plateau, try shifting your focus. You may be thinking too much about skiing, and not enough about the beautiful game.