Some people need pressure to push them to meet deadlines or complete projects. Others can’t function well under stress—it’s scatters their thoughts and unnerves them to the point where they can’t function or deliver. But even if you thrive under pressure, there’s something to be said about performing with no strain on you.
If you watched the Olympic Winter Games, you may have seen Ester Ledecka of the Czech Republic win the gold in the women’s super-G ski competition. It was an incredible moment, and one that will most definitely go down in Olympic lore (it already has). If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’ll tell you.
There’s a reason why Ledecka’s story is so interesting. You see, Ledecka isn’t really a skier. She’s a snowboarder. An incredible snowboarder who really stomps it (that means she does very well in it). I’m sure that like many snowboarders, she skis for fun, just like many skiers have a good time shredding the ’gnar (that means snowboarding for all you warm-weather athletes). But skiing is not what she usually competes in. Nevertheless, she decided to compete in the super-G competition.
She had no expectations of getting any medals because she’d never come in higher than 19th place in skiing. She had no reason to believe that she would even come close after going up against champion, medal-winning skiers, such as American Lindsey Vonn and Italian Frederica Brignone (forza Italia!). She didn’t even have her own skis! She borrowed her friend (and another champion skier) Mikaela Shiffrin’s skis. She just wanted to get in there, do her best, and, I imagine, enjoy the feeling of being in an Olympic competition without the stress. Just to go down that hill and tear up the snow with all she had.
When she got to the bottom of the hill, she was immediately hit with what I’m sure was an alternate reality for her. Everyone was cheering and going wild. She looked around with a dazed, bewildered expression, not understanding what was happening. The look on her face was priceless. When she realized what everyone was going on about, her jaw dropped, and she said, “No.”
But it was a big, fat YES. Later, when they gave out the medals, it was clear that Ledecka was still in disbelief. There she was, standing on the Olympic podium, a gold medal around her neck. The Czech flag was being raised, and her country’s national anthem was playing. All she could do was shake her head with a small, humble smile. Still, she simply couldn’t believe what she’d done. She would say later in an interview that she thought it was a mistake and was waiting (at the bottom of the run) for them to change the time on the scoreboard. What makes it even cooler is that she also took the gold in snowboarding in the parallel giant slalom.
On a different day, a snowboarder (I didn’t get his name) did a beautiful run in the men’s big air competition. It was the last of three runs, and by the time he went down, everyone already knew who would be taking the medals. He knew he was out of the running, so he went down that hill just to show his stuff, and to finish what he’d gone there to do. Again, no pressure. And where many of his fellow boarders wiped out at the bottom, he stomped it.
The message here is that when the pressure’s off, a person can shine. A person can do what she loves and just be in the moment and enjoy the process. To create something or do something just because you love it, with no expectations, is a beautiful and highly productive thing.
This is why writers do writing exercises or projects that they have no intention of getting published. Sometimes it takes the form of journaling, or a secret stash of stories. Some writers indulge in fanfic writing—taking their favorite characters from TV shows, movies, or comics, and writing alternative stories for them. (Our very own Andi Marquette did a mammoth fanfic project, which you can read HERE.)
It also serves as a lightning rod for writers when they are stuck. Writers’ block is a very real thing, and it can be brought on by many different things: personal stress, fatigue, professional pressures, illness, etc. Sometimes, writing in a journal or writing something for no one in particular opens up the creative channel in the brain, loosens up those tight writing muscles, and lets the juices flow again.
And so often, the results of these secret authoring sessions are awesome. The writers are able to break free of the chains of publishing constricts, contractual obligations, editors’ whims, and buyers’ purchasing influences. What they give, therefore, is from their hearts.
That’s the beauty of creating with no pressure or expectations—it just exists simply because you want it to. Whether it’s flying through the air on two flimsy toothpicks or writing the story that’s been burning in your soul.
By the way, Ledecka is only the third athlete to win gold in two different events in the same Winter Olympics. The last time was in 1928, when Johan Grøttumsbråten won in Nordic combined skiing and cross-country skiing. Ledecka has been informally dubbed the greatest athlete at the 2018 Winter Games.
Ledecka is one fucking badass.