Hi guys! Oh my goodness it’s been over a month since I last talked to y’all. How have you guys been? Happy summer, FINALLY!
I’ve been meaning to write a blog post, but things have been hectic– I just got back from China less than a week ago, moved in to my new apartment, applied for a couple jobs, picked up figure skating, started dancing once more, and began to study Chinese and the GRE. Whew.
But so much has been on my mind lately, I don’t even know where to begin.
I guess I’ll start with my career path. I have decided that I want to be a sports and performance psychologist, specializing in the ability to perform well under stressful circumstances. I think this career is the perfect niche for me. I’ve always marveled at how world class performers and athletes are able to perform well under immense pressure, and I wonder how such mental toughness can be applied across all disciplines– medicine, law, business, you name it. These days, our society is so competitive, mental toughness and being able to keep a level head in difficult circumstances is essential to achieving success.
As a lifelong competitor and performer, I have personal experience with performing under high stakes conditions. I will never forget States and Regionals 2012. In both competitions, I had a complete meltdown on the carpet during my second to last routine. Regionals was particularly stressful, as it was the qualifier for the Junior Olympics, and you had to make the top 8 to be on the team. I had screwed up my ribbon routine, and had to get my act together for my final routine– clubs. The cool thing is, I was able to put my poor performance in the back of my mind, and deliver a clean clubs routine, securing my spot on the Junior Olympic team. How did I do that, with all that pressure on my shoulders?
I want to get inside the heads of professional athletes, dancers, musicians, and really understand how they can deliver great performances, even when things don’t go as planned. I will then use this knowledge to guide people in other professions, like surgeons and lawyers and businessmen/women. How do surgeons keep a level head when someone’s freaking LIFE is in their very hands? How do lawyers successfully defend their clients during a trial? How do businessmen/women deliver a hard-hitting pitch to investors? How do regular people get over performance anxiety, like public speaking?
A big part of why I want to help others with live performance is because I myself have struggled a lot with performance anxiety, and it is only recently, when I’ve begun to perform more and more (mostly through dance), that I have been able to calm the overactive nerves. Don’t get my wrong– I have a long way to go– but I truly believe that with hard work and the right skills and guidance, I have every potential to turn my nerves into something positive, that boosts my performance ability, instead of hindering it.
Another thing I want to do with my clients is train them in mental toughness. As an athlete, I have been conditioned to live a disciplined lifestyle since the age of 5. Though lately, I’ve been struggling to find my momentum and motivation… but I’ll get to that shortly. Anyway, I want to help people who have never been exposed to the kind of hard discipline that I and other athletes have experienced. Imagine a society where people were all functioning at their greatest potentials– working hard, living healthy lifestyles, being their very best, even during difficult times. Wouldn’t that be profound?
Finally, becoming a sports/performance psychologist will afford me the opportunity to work with SO many different types of people, especially professional performers. You see, I’ve always been drawn to the Arts. Be it rhythmic gymnastics, dance, music, theater, figure skating… anything that involves creative expression through an artistic medium, I adore. But, the reality is, a person can only do so much at a time. I want to be so many things– a gymnast, a dancer, a skater, an actress, a singer… I can’t spread myself so thin, however, and expect myself to be successful in any of those disciplines. My point is, becoming a performance psychologist will empower me to work with gymnasts, dancers, skaters, actors, musicians. And in doing so, I’ll be getting a little taste of everything I’ve always envisioned myself doing in life! I especially look forward to working with Olympic athletes. You see, I had an Olympic dream, once. The dream was left unfulfilled, however, because of an injury. By training Olympians to perform well under pressure, I will be a small part of the equation in helping Olympians reach peak performance, and maybe even a gold medal! And in some ways, this may be more fulfilling that achieving my own Olympic glory, as I’m doing something profound for someone beyond myself.
So, sports/performance psychologist it is. My plan is to finish school a year early, take a year between undergrad and graduate school to travel and dance/skate to my heart’s delight (it’s the life I’d always dreamt of as a kid– no school, just total immersion in my passions). Then I’ll go to a grad school with a reputable sports psychology program. There are very few programs of the kind in the U.S. I found a few programs in Canada, though, which may be an option. Today, I began studying for the GRE, starting with a practice exam that I didn’t do very well on. But hey– practice makes perfect! It’s not about where you start, but how much work you’re willing to put in to reach where to want to be. I’ve proven this to myself time and time again. For instance, for the SAT math section, I started out in the 500s range, which is pretty bad. After intensive studying, however, I managed to get an 800 in both the regular SAT math section, and the SAT math subject test. Perfect score. Really, this is the kind of mental toughness I’m talking about. You don’t ever, ever give up on something you want to achieve.
So. What to talk about next? Ahh, mental health. Today I felt a little bit of the depression coming back, mostly because I find myself struggling with discipline and motivation, particularly regarding health and fitness. See, I’m trying hard to get back into shape this summer. I’ve reached a bit of a mental block, however. When I’m working out, I think to myself, “Man Belicia, you used to be such a great athlete– strong and fit– and look at how far you’ve regressed since. Can’t even do 10 pushups without wanting to stop.” It has indeed been a struggle to find the willpower to keep pushing myself through pain. Physical and mental pain used to feel so ordinary to me. I was able to handle ANYTHING. I have grown so weak, in comparison to the person I was in the past. And I hate that I let myself slide down the slippery slope of laziness. Here’s the thing about living a disciplined, spartan life. Once you get on that track, you gain momentum, day by day. Pretty soon, that discipline becomes routine. And soon enough, you are able to endure pain, to delay gratification, like it were second nature. I grew up with this kind of discipline. Thing is, I didn’t know any other kind of life, so I just assumed that a life of physical and mental pain, where you are constantly being pushed past your limits, was normal. When I got injured, I got off the track of discipline. First it was the depression that ensued after the injury. That threw me wayyyy off– I could barely get out of bed for school, let alone motivate myself to achieve my ambitious goals. Eventually, with the help of therapy, I was able to pick myself up, dust myself off, and channel the discipline I garnered from gymnastics into my schoolwork, which is how I got into UCLA. Since coming to college, however, I’ve been exposed to temptations of all sorts. The hedonism here is insane. This was the first time in my life where I had any sort of freedom. I finally found friends whom I could do fun things with! So this newfound freedom was not all bad. However, anything in excess is a bad thing, and during my sophomore year, I abused my freedom, to the point where I spiraled way off the path of discipline I was raised on. I had been exposed. Exposed to the fun that comes from partying and drinking and going out several times a week with friends. Now, I had a comparison point. Did I even want to go back to my former life, now that I had seen what was on the other side of the grass? I hate that I let myself slip up the way I did. Why couldn’t I just have remained focused on my goals? I know myself better than anyone– I thrive under a structured lifestyle. And in letting go of my discipline and loosening the reigns a bit, I felt as if I had lost a huge part of my identity as an unusually motivated hard worker who never, ever gave up, always followed the rules and done things the “right” way. And for the past year, I’ve been trying hard to get back the momentum I once had. The last time I felt it was during the peak of my ballroom dancing, when I had aspirations to go professional one day. So inspired I was, I’d spend 6-7 hours a day at the studio, training relentlessly. I look back on my former self and think, how did I do it? It was an internal force, a burning flame, that drove me each day, so much so that people on the outside would think I was insane. But really, I was just passionate. I need to find that passion again. That mental stamina. And I need to be consistent with it. It is not enough to go 300 mph for a brief time, only to eventually burn out. Like I said… it’s difficult, though, after having been removed from my disciplined life for so long. Maybe I need to find a happy medium between my life as a gymnast, and the life I have lived as an overhyped, fun-seeking college student. Life isn’t so black and white as I deem it to be. I will gain back my discipline, I know it! I just need to ease into it, and not put too much pressure on myself to become the person I was in the past. I was so goal-oriented, and I had the drive and dedication to follow through with my goals. But back then, my goals became the sole measure of my self worth. I didn’t have friends. I didn’t see the point in engaging in any activity where there was no end goal. Is this what you call living a full life? I both deeply respect the young person I was then for my focus and work ethic, and pity her, because, despite her drive, she was so lonely and so insecure. So I don’t necessarily want to go back to that phase of my life. I do, however, want to find the fire again. And it’s all about gaining the momentum. Start slow, pick up the speed. Pretty soon, discipline will become second nature once more. I did it once, at the ripe age of 12 and 13– I can do it again, this time as a young adult.
Alright guys, I think this is enough for today’s post. I’ll talk to you guys very soon! I hope to post at least 3 times a week this summer.