08/27/2014 04:37 pm ET Updated Oct 27, 2014

What Did I Do Wrong? How This Phrase Helps in Life, Sports Performance and Can Even Help the World


Over the weekend, I had an ah-ha moment. Was busy being an everyday warrior athlete. You see, sports are my passion, something that started as soon as I decided to enter the world at the one time my father requested I didn't, right as a crucial meeting was to begin.

Oprah Moment

Tahoe is the outdoor athlete's dream come true. While attempting to cram as many sports into a weekend as possible, I came upon one that had been allusive, and fact is, down right scary: water skiing. I had dated some boys that grew up on lakes and they would gad about their superior water skiing in a way that'd have me shaking. Looking back, it could have been all about them or a psyche out to crush another. Who knows? Honestly, who cares? The point is, the one time I finally did try the stinking sport was during a break from work at Martha Stewart Living on the Finger Lakes with the One Minute Manager for real. I pounded enough freezing cold water to never think twice about water skiing again.

An Athlete's Life for Me

I stared down at the boat and skis at the rental center, and despite the internal wrangling with stuff that didn't serve me, I knew it was time. The kids were hopping up and down, "Maman please -- need for speed now!" Goddamn kid peer pressure. This means performance on my end. My kids have this messed up notion that I'm some sort of sports queen that is a pro at every single sport including ones I've never tried, or in this case, tried once. My sweet boyfriend is telling me, "No way," because my right knee is bugging again after multiple surgeries from snow skiing. I throw a kid-like fit that if we rent the boat and I can't ski the day will be a total loss. I know there is something very wrong with that, but stay with me.

Seeking Enlightenment

I decide to behave like an adult, put the stinking snot-nosed kids first, and grin and bear it. I was wondering if the Buddhists would think I was enlightened at least. Buddhists, what do they know? We go through the motions, and get the motorboat out on the lake and set to ski. My oldest son is up first, and after the first attempts he quickly shows his athletic prowess at 14. My younger two quickly wimp out, and that leaves the obvious choice -- me. Bruised and battered athletic warrior of 45 years (don't tell). I'm thinking this is going to be fun. Sweet boyfriend acquiesces and says I'm up. Something strange happens. I had the four people closest to me in that boat, and I knew it was all good. Internal sense of calm and unshakable confidence sets in. I will not let those closest to me down. I know what they expect -- the best.

I've got this. Listen to instructions, trust, do not overthink, breathe. I ask for the elevator pitch version on how to water-ski. I find focus that translates directly so the body understands what to do. The water is cold and I'm freezing but I tell myself not to notice, employing sports psychology 101 -- mind over matter. Straight arms, plank body like Pilates, suck in core, look ahead, F-O-C-U-S, I chant. I was up water skiing on the first try and zipped around the lake like I'd been doing this all my life. I was smiling and cracking up, little did I know how powerful that moment was. They had to cut the engine, forcing me to stop because God knows I wasn't stopping on my own accord. Kids were cheering and weren't surprised. Check, superhero status maintained. The next go, I got up for a bit, and then fell backwards. Twist in story you think. Here's the kicker, my only words when I swam up to the boat, "What did I do wrong?" No more, no less. No chatter, no wimping out, no blame. I laser-focused in on the directions once more. That's a lock. I went again straight away, and I was up and around the lake until it was time to return the boat.

"What did I do wrong?" is the Best Question to Ask

There are so many life lessons and implications in this one phrase. I had just read that Vata's (my Ayurvedic body type) ask what they do wrong as a key personality trait. Sh*t, I realize, I've been doing this all my life. I think back, tennis, this phrase -- it's what I've done as far back as I can remember. My childhood dream was to win Wimbledon, a course that had me on courts for most of my youth. In pursuit of being the best, I didn't focus on accolades; I focused on making things better. An unstoppable pursuit that my coach would honor at nearly any hour of the day. This is the kind of love-story partnership of wisdom passed on from one generation to the next, even when things go wrong. Myron was coach to Sally Ride as well as countless others that were fortunate to be a student. This is exactly where you learn that your best is what counts, and if something goes wrong, a little adjustment and a very steady mind solve it. It is about what's inside and clear guidance. So often our world is about blame, and what could be if -- with more money, connections, or anything you could name. The former approach collectively gets us nowhere fast. As things come full circle for me and maybe for you, I leave you with this favorite:

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference." -- Robert Frost

My road less traveled by was and is my responsibility. It has been a most phenomenal journey, certainly with more than a fair share of hard knocks. But I'll never want for anything because I know deep down the right stuff is always inside. Played out through time, if every one of us acts this way, we can change the world for good. Our personal best is all we need. Our children and our Earth deserve it, and so do we.