Blog · Geriatric Gymnast · Teaching

Inspiration is a two-way street

On the final weekend of our spring musical season, I was reflecting on what it takes to create, to develop and to thrive.
It’s all about the people with whom you surround yourself.

You’re only ever really as good as those around you. 

Jean-Luc Picard in Picard, season 3

As old Star Trek, the Next Generation fans, my family and I have gotten into the show Picard. We recently watched season 3, episode 4. At the close of that episode, Jean-Luc Picard reflected on the successful avoidance of certain death and delivered the quote above. As usual, they had just won an un-winnable situation, and he modestly gave credit to the crew for working together in the worst of times. Perhaps it was a bit sappy, but that line hit a key note for me.

I have spent most of my life working with others to make big things happen. When I dive into a project, I am all in. Working with others, I seek to engage with talented, dedicated people who are like-minded in diligence and spirit and can offer their unique perspectives to the project at hand. There’s a symbiosis that occurs when our efforts converge; we strives to do better and everyone reaps the rewards of that effort. This is where my seemingly diverse worlds connect: at the intersection of inspiration and creation.

In my world, inspiration usually comes from the people who surround me. My family, my students, my colleagues, my gym-rat buddies, and the creative random stranger whose work sparks my own vision. Making something from nothing and achieving things my earlier self would never have imagined was possible are huge motivators for me, and that usually happens in the presence of others who I love, admire and respect. In this blog post, I wanted to share a little reflection of how Admiral Picard’s snippet of dialogue resonated with me.

At work

At work, I have had the fortunate pleasure to bring my authentic self to the studio and to the stage, with copious ideas, epiphanies and bursts of creativity. But, what I have come to realize is that if my colleagues and students aren’t with me, digging in with an unfailing work ethic and belief in the process, then the outcome of our efforts falls flat.

During the school day, I spend a lot of time in creative spaces with kids who like the idea of being in the spotlight, but most of them don’t have any real understanding of what they need to do when they get there. The amount of work, repetitions, mistake-making and rebounding from failure is enough to spook anyone. My role is not only to show them what they need to do, but to convince them that they have no other choice but to put in the time and work to master all of the things I throw their way. In addition, I must convince them that it’s the only path to their eventual success in said endeavor, especially when they doubt themselves or the people around them. 

While it’s not easy to persuade adolescents to go out of their way to sustain that kind of effort, it is part of my teaching challenge. I spend a ton of personal energy in that pursuit, because I know that when they see how much value they can add to a project, they will bask in the glory of the outcome. I think of the slow build to a stage production or concert from the first day to the last. We start with a vision, a snippet of inspiration, adding many moving pieces together to form a an end result that is much bigger that any one of us as individuals.

This year’s spring show, “The Wiz,” has been our biggest production since before the pandemic. The years of isolation caused a general social withdrawal which cracked the foundation of our organization to the point where even I had doubts whether we’d be able to build back to what we once were. Through attrition, social malaise, and waning motivation, it has been a difficult, sometimes grueling process to restore the traditions, practices and protocols that were once taken for granted; now, we are teaching many of these things from scratch, since the seniors now were the freshman who lost their very first high school production.

Those said seniors, now just a handful, have proudly taken the torch over mountainous terrain to help me restore our Thespian troupe to a semblance of its former glory. As I sat in the theater before the show, watching the bustle of busy teenagers doing their jobs, I saw how they took ownership of the work. The transformation from cluelessness to mastery is the crux of the arts education experience. There’s a swelling pride in my chest when I can finally sit down and take a back seat to the momentum of a production. They’ve got this.

This is the stuff that Picard was talking about. I may be their “fearless” leader, but without them, nothing happens in the theater. Theater is truly a product of that intersection of inspiration, creation and work amongst an ensemble of players. As the inspiration flows, magical things happen for everyone traveling that two-way street.

At play

The gym is a space where I get to work on myself. I don’t have to focus on anyone else, and I have the ability to try, fail, and learn. But, I don’t do the work by myself. I’ve found, since I started over 15 years ago, that the best gymnastics sessions are a communal experience, where we all rely on each other to collectively inspire and push ourselves, expanding our understanding of ourselves. Our relationship is symbiotic in nature, where we draw from each other’s well of experience to fortify our own needs. I learned from adults who, like me, were drawn to the insanity of flipping and inverting in our “older age.”

In the gym, I am both a coach and a student. Much like my role as a high school arts teacher, my coaching role is to offer my years of experience, teaching and training philosophies, and a model of the mindset and practice that I hope all adult gymnasts will use in their training. I pass on the good advice I received over the years and for the most part, it seems to help others learn more about themselves. As a gymnast who loves to be coached, I look to others with the skill sets that I aspire to achieve, even if they don’t have my years of experience. They have eyes and a brain, and they are looking at me through a different lens; this is extremely valuable, especially when you get stuck. It’s a beautifully symbiotic approach to learning.

While we are all managing fears to overcome our limitations (both physical and mental), we all have one thing in common: an adventurous spirit that needs to play. When we play together, we do it better. Because we are all adults, we understand others’ struggles, and that provides some comfort as we grapple with our own. Like in my classroom, we don’t have to have masterful skill to be of service to each other; we just have to provide the safe and supportive environment to encourage the trial and error nature of the sport.

Whether at work or at play, I personally have a need for people to believe in me so I can continue to develop and promote a vision. I want to live up to that vision, whatever it is. I don’t need to please others per se, or answer to them in any way, but I do thrive on the acknowledgments from people who think what I do is pretty great. I thrive on knowing that what I do inspires others. When I receive that kind of wonderful feedback, I always remember how I learned to do the things I do: in the presence and guidance of others.

So, as Admiral Picard reflected on his journey to the present, I give credit for my success to the myriad people who have crossed my path who have given me counsel, inspiration, and encouragement. When we build supportive community, the sky is truly the limit.

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