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Marginal: The Fire Within

How are the recently completed Olympic Games like the world of work that most of us participate in on a daily basis?The unfortunate answer to the question is that it isn't much like it at all—and I don't mean that because we're not decked out in clothing from Roots.

How are the recently completed Olympic Games like the world of work that most of us participate in on a daily basis?

The unfortunate answer to the question is that it isn't much like it at all—and I don't mean that because we're not decked out in clothing from Roots. Near as I can tell, the closest thing between the Games and our working might be the near-litigiousness and associated rancor related to some of the skating events. Other than that, however. . .

One of the things that strikes me about the Olympic athletes is their evident dedication to superior performance. This dedication—regardless of the sport—takes the form of countless hours of training. Up early. To bed late. Sickness. Personal problems. Others. Crises. All of these give way. The training goes on. The commitment cannot waver. If there is anything less than total effort, if there is faltering at some point along the way, then the consequence will undoubtedly be the lack of opportunity to compete with other people who have proven themselves to be more dedicated. And the athletes know well that there are always others who are striving just as hard. Maybe harder.

To be sure, in every event there are the favorites. Often, they win medals. Less frequently, they falter. Yet there are hundreds of other athletes, people we never saw on NBC except as part of a crowd in the opening or closing ceremonies, who were there in Salt Lake, competing. Hard. They undoubtedly knew that they were not favorites, that someone else was thought to be more likely to achieve the podium. Yet there they were, on the ice, slopes, or other venues, giving it their all. Maybe, just maybe, they'd prove the experts wrong. Maybe all of their effort would change things and they'd become—after the fact—the favorites.

But at the very least, these competitors knew that they'd be striving for their personal best. Because all of the hoopla notwithstanding, they knew that they were Olympic athletes. No one can take that away from them, ever. They would make sure that they'd use all of that effort that they'd expended, those long days, those muscle-aching nights, and go out to win. To excel.

What about the rest of us? Why is it that when we go to work, do our jobs, we tend not to have anything approaching the zeal and commitment of those Olympic athletes? Is it because we feel alienated in some Marxist sense, separated from our work? Do we think that we are being exploited and therefore must get back at our employers by merely going through the motions? Do we feel that what we spend a great deal of our time doing five or more days a week is some how not particularly important, worth a half-assed effort and no more?

Don't get me wrong. I understand that there is a need for focus on other things, on family and faith. That all of us have outside interests that require our attention and energy. I know that people who become fixated on one aspect of their lives to the detriment of all others are people who are unbalanced. I know that the line "He spent a lot of time at the office" is not one that we want chiseled on our headstones.

But I also know that there are too few people who have the sense of zeal, determination, and spirit that was exhibited by the world's Olympic athletes. I know that instead of applying maximum effort that the way of things is to just do the minimum daily requirement, to have a T.G.I.F. mentality. That's not the approach of people like Sarah Hughes, Jim Shea, and countless others whose names are known only in the smallest type in record books.

Ask yourself this: If the opposite of "work" is "play," then how come the people who play at the highest level work harder than those who work? 

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