Oscar Pistorius the Blade Runner and the Rest of Us

Abundance Kindness Personal leadership


Key Point: It is obvious why most of us watched the 2012 London Olympics and were enchanted and inspired by Oscar Pistorius, the Olympian sprinter amputee who ran on carbon fiber blades. (Hence the nickname, “Blade Runner”). Most of us are thankfully born with all the expected parts where they are supposed to be. We are labeled as so called “able bodies.” In Oscar’s case he was born without fibulae and his parents felt amputation below the knees was the best long-term option. He is labeled as disabled. And we watched in awe as the fastest man with no legs competed shoulder to shoulder with the word’s best. The following motto has guided Oscar: ” You are not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have.” Perhaps the rest of us, able bodied or not, can benefit from focusing on that motto and how we live our lives. By the way, he has had more than one hurdle in his life; a boating accident left him in intensive care for five days. 

What if we focused more on the strengths and abilities we have than the ones we lack? I am not talking about any of us becoming Olympians. I’m just encouraging us to give more attention to the gifts we have versus our shortcomings. Often I find that people get hung up on perfection and refuse to accept their own humanity. So they tend to give up on things that they are actually pretty good at and could even become great doing if they persevered and practiced. When people we care about don’t do well on an exam, or do not win a competition, we rarely (hopefully) diminish them. Yet we beat the heck out of ourselves and see ourselves as failures when we don’t meet our own expectations. Why?

Psychologist Mark Leary points out the value of having self-compassion (an important “cousin” of self esteem). Whenever bad things happen to us, self-compassion helps from adding self-recrimination on top. Leary points out “if people continue to beat themselves up when they fail or make mistakes, they will be unable to cope non-defensively with their difficulties.” How do you think Oscar is responding to his results at the Olympics? Do you think he’s spending a lot of time beating himself up for not doing better? On the other hand, do you think he’s satisfied that he’s reached his limits? I don’t think he’s doing either. I believe he’s accepting what went well, objectively examining what didn’t and building from there. As it is for Oscar, the real competition was much less against other athletes and much more about our self-development. That’s why I think we break new ground when we become our most important and loyal cheerleaders. The person most important to encourage me, is me… Sure, I need coaches, as do all athletes (see my last blog) and I think acknowledgment and encouragement from others is helpful, but the key to forward movement is how I think about myself. This propels what I do.

Character Move:

  1. Challenge yourself to focus more on exploiting your abilities. What are they? How will you do it? (Sometimes reading a biography of someone like Pistorius is an inspiration and road map).
  2. Give yourself the self-love and compassion you deserve. Like the Dalai Lama points out, you need to have a strong sense of self-compassion to treat others that way. When you observe people treat others poorly, it is often an indication of how they feel about themselves. And like the philosopher Ayn Rand said, “to say I love you, one must first be able to say the “I.’”
  3. I strongly encourage you to read Tal Ben-Shahar‘s, The Pursuit of Perfect. It is an enormously useful and practical guide for building a greater sense of balance in dealing with the challenge of perfection.
  4. Combine two thoughts that can seem at first glance to be contradictory: Exploit your abilities with a growth mind set, while having a deep sense of self love and compassion. They go together.

Be a Blade Runner in The Triangle,