I don’t like surprises.
It’s not that I don’t champion spontaneity. It’s that I see my day as a closed-energy equation, one where I’ll need to allocate my energy stores in order to perform optimally. If I don’t know what’s going on, then allocation becomes sub-optimal at best.
There is a scene in Pretty Woman, where Julia Roberts’ character describes herself as a “fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kinda girl.” Well, that may work for many. But I am not a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kinda guy. In fact, if I had a playbook that identified the rules in my life, this would be one of them.
Of course, as is often the case, there are exceptions. There are moments in life—when you’re with your significant other, or spending time with your kids, or sifting through a work-related problem or a health-related issue—when surprises make you smile. These moments give you a reason to keep going.
The other day, for instance, I awoke exhausted and unmotivated. I struggled to read a few pages from a sports biography, brushed my nose when I was endeavoring to brush my teeth, haphazardly applied sunblock, and made my way downstairs.
As I drank my espresso and ate my oatmeal, I seriously considered skipping my swim and run session in favor of going back upstairs to get a few more hours of sleep. After all, my wife and dog were up there. And they looked (and sounded) comfortable.
But I reminded myself that the decisions I make when it’s early in the morning—when it’s dark and cold—those decisions shouldn’t be trusted as much as the decision I made the night before, when I was clear-headed. When I had a plan. When I was motivated.
So I trudged on, got into my truck, and reached the pool just after 5:30 AM. I was still exhausted.
They say a car uses a lot of energy to start. But it relies on far less energy once it’s rolling.
Well, I’d used a lot of energy that morning just to get into my jammers and onto the pool deck. But once I got into the pool, and once I did a warm-up of 500 yards, I started to feel pretty good.
Half way through the workout, the whiteboard indicated that we needed to do another 500. This was not all out. Just a 500. So I swam, with effort, but I didn’t go anaerobic or hypoxic. Typically, if I were going hard, I’d come in around 7:05-7:10.
When I hit the wall, my time was 6:51. (I didn’t believe it at first, but after conferring with my Garmin, I was convinced). Wow. I was officially surprised! And it was not on a day when I felt rested. It was not on a day when I exuded motivation. I hadn’t even gone all out!
Michael Phelps would likely hang up his Speedos if he ever swam a 500 in 6:51. But I was absolutely stoked! It was a reminder that, indeed, most rules do have exceptions. And if I can be a party to these sorts of exceptions in sport, then bring ’em on!
To permeate a quiet confidence, to know that your happiness cannot be taken away from you, not today . . . that is the benefit of a breakthrough. That is the benefit of a stunning surprise in sport.
I suppose you can’t plan to surprise yourself. But perhaps if you take a chance, take a risk, push yourself—perhaps you speak up at a meeting, or organize a family getaway, or learn a musical instrument, or a foreign language. Perhaps you find a trail, or a pool, or a bike. If you take a chance . . . if you put yourself out there . . . it’s exciting to see what can happen.
Believe in the power of you. Allow yourself the luxury of dreams. Make the time to pursue them. And you might just surprise yourself.