Making it look effortless

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When I met Emery Lehman, one description came to mind: Laid back.

With his relaxed demeanor, he doesn’t immediately strike you as someone who is one of the best in the world at what he does.

Our culture often associates being relaxed with being lazy or unambitious. What I learned from Emery is that the right type of relaxation can help you blow by your competition.

Emery started speed skating at age 9. He was someone who played a lot of sports, but he soon discovered he especially excelled at speed skating. This year, he’s competing on his second US Olympic team. In Sochi, he was the youngest American man on the team.

Make no mistake, Emery is plenty ambitious. He decided to attend Marquette University in Milwaukee in part so he could be close to training at the Pettit Center, and he took all his Engineering classes at 8 am to give him time to train. When he got 5th in a national competition growing up, he considered that getting “smoked.” He always wants to win.

But on the ice, it’s all about relaxation and efficiency. In the final laps of his race he focuses even more intently on the process, not the pain.

That didn’t really sink in for me until I watched YouTube videos of him gliding swiftly across the ice. He makes speed look effortless — even though that means countless hours of toil to make it look effortless. At age 21, he is the fastest men’s 5,000 meter speed skater in the country. Most athletes in his sport don’t hit their peak until their late 20s or early 30s.

The announcers talked about how he gets stronger as the races goes on because his mechanics are so smooth. In fact, they mentioned how those skaters who look powerful and like they’re exerting themselves aren’t the best. To win, it’s about using your energy in the right away.

That reminds me so much of the path to creativity and innovation. We never get our big ideas when we’re stressing and straining. We’re only able to separate ourselves from the pack when we’re calm, clear-eyed and focused on striding forward purposely. Flailing never gets you anywhere.

Being relaxed is an advantage, not a hindrance.

Listen to Emery talk about balancing being a student and Olympian in the new We Are Marquette podcast

Educator. Podcast addict. Wrote a book about creativity:

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