I read this quote the other day in Herschel Walker’s book, Breaking Free.
…What I saw when I was out on the field as a professional facing guys who were, like me, at the pinnacle of their profession. I don’t know if I can describe the soul-level satisfaction I got from those encounters. I hope that sometime in your life you’ve had what psychologists refer to as peak experiences—those moments when you feel so connected to life, when you know with every twitch of every cell in your body that you are doing the thing you were meant to do, love to do, and you are doing that thing with and against other people who feel the same way.
Now that I’m removed from the game and I have the clarity of mind that comes from knowing more about myself, I can say that I may not have had the respect or admiration of every one of my teammates of the guys I played against, but I felt something very close to love for every one of them. Maybe what I felt was even deeper and more powerful than love. I felt a kinship with them. It was as if we all shared a secret life because we’d experienced something similar. We formed a bond with one another based on our mutual experiences that we couldn’t share with loved ones, spouses, or anybody else who hadn’t played the game at the same level we did. In football, I found the kind of camaraderie that I’d always imagined I’d find in the military. I’ve spoken with soldiers and they all tell me something about their experiences in combat that I experiences while playing.
In the middle of all that activity, they found a place of inner calm. They could be scared to death, but there was still this inner recess of placid control. The source of that calm, and the reason they could perform under pressure and in the face of their fear, was the knowledge that their fellow soldier; their teammate, needed them. When push came to shove in a game, you did what you had to do to in not just for yourself, but because there were other people depending on you.
I know I’ve never played football, or done anything at the level that Herschel Walker has, so I don’t want to say that I know exactly what he means, that I’ve felt what he’s talking about. But, while I may not know the depth of what he’s felt, I think I’ve felt a shadow of it in much the same way he would say his football experience is a shadow of what men feel in the military. There were two experiences that immediately came to mind when I read this: mission trips and the Sombrero horse drive. Two totally different kinds of events, but in some ways, very much the same. They are times when I have been with a team of people that were largely strangers to me, united by a single, common goal. Times when we worked together to accomplish something meaningful. The horse drive was a particular physical skill. My mission trips to Russia were a little physical, but far more spiritual and emotional as we ran camps for orphan kids.
I have done other things which I might say were also peak experiences, times when I felt “connected to life” and knew that I was “doing the thing I was meant to do.” The thing which sets the horse drive and the trips to Russia apart from other peak experiences, however, was that they were team experiences. I was doing that thing I loved, and felt made to do, not on my own, but with other people who felt the same way and had similar talents and desires as mine. In those times, I felt as Herschel has written, that despite how I might have felt about my “teammates” personally, in other situations, there was something about doing this thing together that bonded us. Something that created a feeling in my heart for them “very close to love”… a powerful “kinship” and “bond” because “we’d experienced something similar”. We had worked together, alongside each other in a unique experience which couldn’t be explained to anyone who hadn’t been there in the trenches with us.
Reading this quote from Herschel made me not only think about past experiences like this in my own life, but also made me realize how much I long for them. How I hunger to experience that sense of camaraderie and battle more regularly. But how do we find that in life? I think the best of marriages have this—two people, struggling together towards a common goal, fighting for each other, with each other. I think you often find this on mission trips. I think my brother and his friend who train and compete in Spartan races together have this. Athletes on teams… certainly I have this to some degree with my soccer teams, but only mildly as we are only competing at a recreational level—there is nothing really on the line for us. The bigger the struggle, the battle, the greater and sweeter the bond it creates. It’s the kind of thing that, once you’ve experienced it, you want to find it again and again, because everything else seems less.
I don’t really know how to turn this into a New Year’s resolution, but I am on the lookout for an opportunity(s) to create or participate in another “peak experience” type of…well…experience in my life.
What about you? When have you ever experienced something like this? What types of experiences create that “soul-level satisfaction” of doing what you were meant to do, and of doing it alongside others who feel the same way? Are you hungry to find this again in your own life, too? And if so, what are you doing about it?
Walker, H. (2008). Breaking Free. New York: Howard Books. p 195-196.