Joy On An Edge
Alright, full disclosure – I was addicted to figure skating during the 2018 Winter Olympics. Come on, admit it, you traded sleep for another lutz, and salchow too. So, when I was invited to a Team Behind the Team Weekend at the US Olympic Training Center (Colorado Springs), and I heard I might be having lunch with Olympian Karen Chen, I toe-jumped at the chance. Surgeons and figure skaters perform on parallel stages.
The stakes are high in both disciplines, and mistakes are irreversible. Under a scorching spotlight, surgeons and skaters go to work where people are waiting for us to fail and where we are expected to deliver precise work – on a blade.
I went to Colorado Springs as a fan of Team USA, and as a doctor looking for competitive advantages for the ARISE MD community. I left as a Team USA ambassador – totally inspired by the positive culture and standard of excellence I experienced. We’ll focus today on a life lesson from 2018 Olympian Karen Chen, and in future pieces serve up other gold medal insights from my visit.
After six years of working as a cosmetic surgeon in Asia, I returned to the U.S. with intestinal parasites and pericarditis. What came out of my rehabilitation was a new career direction – less surgery and more integrative, and preventive medicine.
So, I was particularly interested in hearing Karen’s mindset after her recent diagnosis of stress fractures – an injury that is common in lean athletes and causes chronic pain until an MRI finally confirms the diagnosis.
Sitting together in the Olympic Training Center’s cafeteria, and under the shadow of the visiting Canadian National Rugby Team, Karen and I waded into a discussion about her recovery. As she explained her journey to myself and other Team VIPS at our table, her tone lacked any of the pretense I expected from a 2017 US Champion:
“I was forced to take six weeks away from skating, and I started thinking about my life. Should I get more serious about school? Was all this too hard on my body?…What I learned during my break is that I really, genuinely love skating. Sometimes the hard work can blind you to that. I simply missed be on the ice.”
In our podium-focused culture, it is easy to forget that enjoyment is a crucial component of long term success. But, joy is nearly impossible for a coach, parent or athlete to create. If joy has left the arena, very often that’s the start of the end for an athlete. If we’re lucky, the joy has always been there and on the come-back trail, Olympians, you and me just need a reminder about our love for our chosen game.
Thankfully, that was the case with Karen. Like some of my patients, she wasn’t happy about being sidelined with an injury. But, Karen used the time off to ask herself and Olympic mentor Kristi Yamaguchi, a surprisingly difficult question – do I even enjoy what I’m doing now? That simple question takes a rare kind of courage, especially when you’re under an Olympic-sized spotlight.
As the Canadian rugby giants stacked empty plates in the middle of their table, Karen -US Skating’s petite powerhouse, continued on gracefully,
“I didn’t skate my best in Korea. I know I’ve got more to share – more for others to enjoy. I want to go back (to the Olympics) and deliver my best.”
Now that she’s reminded herself of the joy skating provides her, Karen isn’t as worried about the competitions. Her love of skating is not as dependent on wins or losses, and she is, therefore, free to be her best. Because she is motivated by more than just personal glory, I know Karen will leave a lasting impression in Beijing in 2020. I know she will provide much more for others to enjoy.
During her time off, Karen Chen was reminded of the pleasure skating brings to her life. And, her perspective challenged me in ways I wasn’t expecting. I want to be the best doctor I can be because I enjoy it, not because I need to be perfect or am trying to avoid being criticized or -worse yet – sued. I know there is more within me for my patients to enjoy. Therefore I will be better.
Thanks Karen. Now go cut some ice.
Encouragement During a Break :
What about you ?
Whether you are sidelined with a joint injury, unemployment or a break-up, courageously ask yourself why you do what you do. Let the time away from the job or the relationship or the gym speak to you. Can you reframe your motivation for success to be about creating ‘more for others to enjoy’ and less about your personal achievement?
Adam C. Miller, DDS, MD
100% of Team USA is funded, not by federal dollars, but by private donations. You can give to Team USA and help support our athletes for the 2020 games (Tokyo) here: