Laying Out

How good are you at living in the moment? Staying present isn’t always easy, especially in the fast-paced world we’re living in. There’s so much happening, and we have to make sure we’re keeping up, not falling behind. We’re accountable to so many different people, we find it hard to stay 100% focused on the present moment, and the goal at hand.

I was at my niece Anne’s softball tournament recently, when she was playing center field. Her team had fought their way back from the losers bracket and in one out, they would play for the championship. The adults stood in the bleachers, as the next batter approached the plate. The girl hit the ball into short center field, and Anne ran toward the ball, with the gracefulness of a professional. She moved with her instincts. It was as if she had no idea there was anything else in the world to worry about. Just an 11-year-old and the ball. She laid out her entire body, slid through the grass, and came up to find the ball right where she knew it would be, in her glove.

The crowd went wild.

Anne shrugged, as if it was no big deal. There was another game to play.

I think about that play, and the focus she had — she’s an incredible pitcher at a young age — and I think about what had to happen in order for her to make that play. The mechanics — the skill of catching the ball — was only a small part of that. After you learn to catch a ball, it’s not that hard. No, what had to happen was something that only comes when the circumstances are exactly right. In order to execute, whether it’s on the softball field, or in the office, or at home, optimal performance demands that you stay present.

If Anne had been thinking about her previous at-bat, or a ball she dropped a game ago, or having a dialogue in her head about the chances of winning the championship, she could not have been the linchpin in this moment. If she’d been afraid of missing the ball, or of getting hurt she might have pulled up and let the ball bounce, playing it safe, letting the game go on to an uncertain end. But she was present, laser-focused and intent on the goal.

In the movie, Perfect Game, with Kevin Costner, we can see the mental strength that Billy Chapel, the character played by Costner, has when he “clears the mechanism.” There’s a relationship at stake, and yet, there’s a job to do, and he controls the thoughts when he steps on the mound.

Does this only happen in the movies? Are 11-year-olds blessed with some advantage that is lost for most of the rest of the world?

No. But it is hard, isn’t it?

When we are our purest selves, allowing ourselves to be who we were born to be, the artist within us knows what to do. Laying out, for her, isn’t a question. It’s just who she is. But, the challenges of life, #adulting, and the fear of failure begin to infiltrate that unbridled, unfettered focus that all of us are capable of, and most of us talk our way out of laying out.

Why “can’t” we? What is the real reason we’re “too busy?” or distracted from the goal?

Staying present, and seeing things through — laying out — opens the doors to the life we were designed to live. It’s not in the opportunities we missed, or the balls we dropped. Most of us are still thinking about all of the errors we’ve made along the way, while the all-stars understand what Babe Ruth knew: that “every strike brings me closer to the next home run.”

The next time you’re stuck thinking about the baggage — the failed attempts at meeting your goals, or the fear of making a mistake — take a breath, clear the mechanism, stay focused and give everything you have to this moment.

You are guaranteed one of two outcomes — you’ll come up with the ball, or you’ll be able to walk off the field knowing you laid out, giving your all to the effort, and you left it all on the field. And, if you decide to be present, you’ll know exactly what to do next time.

Once you do this a few times, you’re going to learn that whether or not you catch the ball has never been the point. 

Months later, I’ll bet Anne isn’t thinking about that remarkable catch. Because, to her, there’s another game to play, and that catch isn’t going to help her win the present game. We can learn a lot from sports — but the best lessons we can learn come from living in the present.


Also published on Medium.

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