Life is a constant process of moving forward into the future, one precious moment at a time; a process of growth, and learning, and change. And one of the most rewarding aspects of that process is being able to refine some of the lessons I’ve learned into clearer and clearer messages that become easier to share, and more fulfilling to try to live by.
The way I least expected to get more clarity about one of the most significant messages I believe in is through a sports metaphor. (Although, to be fair, it’s really more of a general health and wellness/exercise metaphor, but still.)
In weight training, spotting is the act of supporting another person during a specific exercise, in order to help them to lift or push whatever weight they are working with, and to complete whatever set or routine they are trying to complete, more safely than they would be able to do alone.
Proper spotting involves knowing when to simply watch, and when to step in and physically assist with a lift. This can be as little as simply placing their fingers underneath the bar – just being present, in the necessary moment – or as much as actually helping the person lift the weight back onto the rack, and all the while encouraging the person to push themselves harder, to the limits of their abilities.
The amount of the weight itself is not as important as developing the correct technique to lift it – and if the person lifting can’t do most of the work themselves, then they don’t need more help from the spotter; they need to step back to a lower weight and focus on technique. When the technique is better, they’ll be able to handle more weight — and make the spotter less necessary.
The point of it all is that the person lifting the weight is trying to become stronger on their own. The spotter isn’t there to compensate for poor technique, or to give the illusion of progress by carrying more of the weight than they should; they are simply there to watch, and to be there to help in case they are needed. No more, no less.
People on a path of growth and authenticity do not want to be saved – they only want to be spotted.
They don’t need to be rescued from a course that is making them stronger – they just need to learn how much weight they can safely handle, and how to develop the proper form and technique that will allow them to handle more. That’s how we learn. That’s how we grow.
Too much weight, and the learning and progress suffers; similarly, if they expect a spotter to carry more of the weight than they themselves can safely lift, then there will only be the illusion of progress. That isn’t good for the lifter or the spotter.
But when someone is doing their absolute best, and working their hardest to properly lift that weight, then having someone there watching them, encouraging them, and ready to step in to help if it’s needed gives them the will to press on, literally. Most times, that encouragement is all that’s needed, at any age.
If you ever taught a kid to ride a bike, and they were balancing on their own because your fingers were resting lightly on their back, you were spotting them. If you ever shaved your head or dyed your hair or hosted fundraisers to support someone fighting with cancer, you were spotting them. If you ever squeezed someone’s hand and whispered “I believe in you” as they were about to go to a job interview or deliver a lecture or perform in a play, you were spotting them. The level of help they needed isn’t as important as the fact that you were watching and willing to help – and made sure they knew it.
One of my favorite sayings is “I believe in you – and I will not let you fall” which in the context of my books and presentations makes sense in terms of the support I’ve been given, and the support I offer to others, but until now, I’ve never had a metaphor that could adequately get across what I really meant. Asking to be spotted doesn’t mean you want someone to do the work for you, and offering to spot someone else doesn’t mean that they aren’t capable of lifting the weight that will help them to learn and grow. It means that every so often, we all need each other; every so often, we need a touch, a kind word, and sometimes, more. And it means that we can be stronger, braver, bolder in our choices, because we know that someone who cares is watching.
We don’t need to be saved – we just need to be spotted. I believe in you. I will not let you fall. And I will never fail you in that way, ever again.
– James A. Owen