How To Harness Hustle

This weekend I had the chance to play catch up with a great friend and colleague, Markus Rogan. Markus is an incredibly skilled therapist, a kindred spirit in the pursuit of play, and also, in the kindest and gentlest way possible, a hard ass. He’s the person I call when I want to expand upon some brilliant idea and when I’m in a creative slump and in need of someone to hold me accountable to owning and exercising my capacity for innovation. Markus is also an Olympian. He took silver in both the 100m and 200m backstroke at the Athens games of 2004.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Markus was in Rio for the Olympics. Not as a competing athlete, not as a spectator, but as the Brazilian Swim Team’s Sports Psychologist.

As we talked, I asked him what it is that he learned about helping Olympians to manage performance anxiety. Unexpectedly (but in hindsight quite obviously), we dove deep into a conversation about identity.

The Task of Identity

Identity formation is a fundamental task of human development. This endeavor is the cornerstone of adolescence and something we continue to finesse throughout our lives. Teenagers are notorious for being difficult. Turns out, that’s their job. The pushing against parents and trying on of different identities is the work of becoming an individual.

In average circumstances, adolescents return to a narcissistic stance becoming very focused on self. This is because they are driven to understand who that self is. In the healthiest of experiences, teens are able to experiment with the different parts of themselves and over the course of adolescents and young adulthood, arrive at an integration of those parts. This integration is informed by one’s internal world as well as the way in which one experiences themselves as reflected back by others.

However, not all circumstances are average. Markus explained, “Coley, while you went through the teenage stage of forming an identity, I endured the burden of a ready made one, ‘the swimmer,’ being assigned to me”. Markus went on to explain the ways that he experienced this externally assigned identity in relationship to performance both as an athlete, and now, as a performance consultant to athletes.

Markus noted that athletes are very skilled at performing to measurable results and that these results become the crux of their identity. He also noted the new role that social media is playing in providing measures of likeability. Markus noted, “for the first time in history, likeability is measurable. Athletes are not only competing for medals, but also for likes”.

This is a perfect storm for a completely externally constructed identity; and an externally constructed identity is likely to crumble, as it has no internal anchor.

When reflecting on this conversation, I remembered researcher, Brené Brown’s assertion that, “you either walk inside your story and own it, or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness”. This is what Markus was describing. As an Olympic swimmer, the hustle is the time on the finish clock and the number of likes on social media. There is no story. It’s as though you magically arrived in the pool and this performance is all that defines you…nothing that has come before matters.

I call bullshit. (I think Markus and Brené do too).

The Antidote

Markus’ answer to harnessing the anxiety that’s born of an identity founded in a measurable result: “we have to focus on the process”. When we subscribe to the idea that we’re defined by a single performance, we are “hustling for our worthiness”. We simply forget who we are. But, if we can focus on the process we remember that this is a place that we have arrived over the course of our lifetime. We are built on everything that we’ve done to prepare for this moment, all the sacrifices we’ve made to make it so, and all of the relationships in which we’ve engaged that have supported our arrival.

Markus noted that to do this, one must tune into physical sensation and listen to the body. Recalling what it felt like to first swim as a kid…bringing awareness to the feel of the starting block supporting the feet and then the sensation of the water being pushed against by arms carved with muscle strengthened over time. The quantifiable result is only one snippet of the story. Diving into the entire process that’s brought you to the moment of performance is the key to conquering the doubt that fuels performance anxiety and limits possibility. “Walk[ing] in your story” means believing in your worthiness and is the act of knowing who you are.


About The Author

Coley Williams is the Co-Founder, and Chief Medical Officer of Level Therapy. She is also Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and practicing Psychotherapist. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.

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