josh waitzkin, an inspiring performer

the everyday becomes exquisitely beautiful. the notion of boredom becomes alien and absurd as we naturally soak in the lovely subtleties of the “banal.” josh waitzkin

this quote is from waitzkin’s the art of learning, a book i’ll comfortably put on my all-time top 10 books on personal development. it’s not just a “good” book. josh waitzkin is not content with being good. a world champion in both chess and tai chi, he asks

let’s say we have become very good at something, and we are capable of performing reliably under pressure. how do we become exceptional? how do we make that leap from technical virtuosity to unique creativity?

unlike other material on superperformance, words like these, which pepper the book throughout, do not intimidate me, even though i can think of many situations where i don’t do well under pressure. while waitzkin speaks mainly about his experience as a chess player and martial artist, everything he says is easily translatable to a wide host of experiences.

this book is not about “10 easy steps to success”. there are many passages where waitzkin describes spending hours, weeks and yes, years, on practicing one little thing. and yet the book has a wonderful feeling of lightness and possibility. one of the main reasons for that is that waitzkin, in his writing and in his life, works hard on focusing exclusively on what’s under his control. there’s little “try this, do that”, and lots of “i’ve tried this and this is what happened.” he speaks from his experience, and he works on his experience.

that’s why he inspires me. he’s a man who takes complete responsibility for himself. he inspires me because of his infinite curiosity. he inspires me because of his fervent pledge to working with, not against, his unique talents and qualities. he inspires me with his stories about working with adversity – for example, training himself to think through complicated chess moves while listening to deafening rock music. he inspires me with his love and attention to the accidental and the minute:

rainwater straming on a city pavement will teach a pianist how to flow. a housecat will teach me how to move.

this happens to be my 700th blog post and is my entry to damien’s amazing vision project. if you’d like to find out more about the book, try this:

(this article can be found on the carnival of self-mastery)

4 thoughts on “josh waitzkin, an inspiring performer

  1. Andrew

    Isabella,

    Isn’t it nice when we are inspired both by a person’s real life experiences as well as their writing skill?

    What is particularly impressive is that MR. Waitzken has inspired you on a number of levels, not just one particular aspect of his writing skill or his life.

    Based on what you say, it sounds like Mr. Waitzen is an outstanding indivual.

    Andrew’s last blog post..Labor Sweatshops: Can Nike be Trusted?

  2. Catatonic Kid

    Did you ever see the movie made about Waitzkin’s early chess career? It’s called ‘Searching for Bobby Fischer’, and if you’ve not seen it I highly recommend it.
    Based on the bio you’ve given here I think you’d enjoy it because the film plays out a number of the elements you mention, and does it with no small measure of poise.

    Catatonic Kid’s last blog post..Dear Health Insurance Fund: It?s called a boundary!

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