British actress Helen Mirren has had a film, television, and stage career that has spanned over fifty years. In her current masterclass, Mirren states that you must never act in front of a mirror. Acting, she explains, is never about the expression on your face, but instead it is defined by your internal process. The internal process is the one that produces masterpieces.
In sport, and in life, it is so easy to feel the need to act in front of a mirror — to look around and gauge yourself by your reflection or your ranking, and to wonder where you fit in. Earlier today I received a call from an event rider whom I met two summers ago while I was teaching in Minnesota. She is in Ocala for the first time this winter working in a large professional eventing program. She just arrived last week and her phone call to me was prompted by her having a moment of fear that she was in over her head.
Being a competitor takes an element of showmanship. As a young person I was raised, both in my home life and in the school that I attended, that people should be judged by the quality of their character. It was a shock to me as I stepped into adult life that many people judge others by what someone can do for them, or even more so by who is best at being the center of attention. As I observed this I came to realize that I was fine being myself and that being the loudest person in the room had it’s benefits, but it didn’t necessarily mean that you were the smartest person in the room.
Coming to Ocala as a horse person is something like being an actress arriving in Hollywood for the first time. Especially if you don’t know anyone, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. You suddenly become a small fish in a big pond.
In one of his many brilliant YouTube discussions about leadership, Simon Sinek speaks about social hierarchy and alfas. He explains that humans are social animals, and we thrive on the recognition of others, and that the system of alfas was developed to keep the group as a whole safe. He also notes, however, that alfas are dependent on context. Someone who may be an alfa in one situation may not be the alfa in a different situation. There is no set standard by which we judge our alfas. If you meet someone and you feel nervous around them, they are the alfa. If you meet someone and you realize that they feel nervous around you, you are the alfa.
My advice to anyone who is a student this winter is to be hardworking and humble, but to also develop and value your own strengths. No matter how independent you are, learn how to be a team player. If you are only a team player, learn how to be independent. Be prepared to unravel at the edges a little bit in order to progress to a higher level. Be open to observing the strengths and systems of your teachers, and apply everything that you can to your own system. Be inspired by the prowess of top horses and horsemen and use your talents to build lasting connections. It doesn’t matter if you wind up being a top Young Rider, an Olympic rider or an amateur, this sport is a passion for all of us and we are all alfas in different areas of our lives. Remember that your own path is not going to be the path of the person next to you, and bring your own gifts and qualities to the table, for the good of the whole.
Happy learning and happy competing! Welcome to winter season 2018!