If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.C.S. Lewis
Have you ever stopped to consider the moments when you are at your very best? Times when you are “in the zone” creatively, physically, or spiritually? In these moments, the clouds part, sunlight casts itself upon you, and clarity comes like a bolt of lightning. You see it, feel it, and/or know it in a way that moments before seemed elusive and unlikely. You find yourself operating at your peak and it feels effortless and joyful.
Many have written on “peak performance,” “the flow,” or “the zone,” times when we operate at an elevated level to achieve something meaningful. Typically, the stories relate to acts of physical prowess and athletic achievement but the same concept applies to creative or spiritual experiences. Our human kind has been searching for ways to tap into that place on command since we first started walking upright. There, we find our best self and the keys to our most fruitful existence.
The problem has always been “how do I get there when I need/want to be there?” We know that, within us, lies the ability to operate at peak yet we spend a small portion of our time playing at that level. Perhaps it is because it takes such effort – the exertion to operate at our peak is demanding and draining. Maybe it’s because we’ve experienced times when we’ve exerted ourself and not actually peaked, deciding afterward that it wasn’t worth it. Possibly, we don’t know what our peak really is; our best remains unknown within a world of well-known limitations.
The more likely answer is that we’ve hit the high notes a few times but aren’t quite sure how we did it; it “just happened.” Such is peak performance, right? Our best comes in moments of divine inspiration, exceptional opportunity, and/or pure good fortune. We don’t know how we did it or how we might tap into it again.
i recently finished a book called Bandernatch: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings that struck me with a surprising insight into peak performance. The book is about the creative collaboration among a group of exceptional English writers in the 1930’s and 1940’s and its amazing results. If you are a Tolkien or Lewis geek like me, you’ll love the book for its insights into the story behind the story of their writing. For purposes of today’s post, I want to focus on a particular concept introduced to me by author Diana Glyer: the resonator.
The resonator is “…anyone who acts as a friendly, interested, supportive audience … they show interest, give feedback, express praise, offer encouragement, contribute practical help, and promote the work to others. … they are enthusiastic about the project, they believe it is worth doing, and they are eager to see it brought to completion. But more importantly, they show interest in the writer — they express confidence in the writer’s talents and show faith in his or her ability to succeed. They understand what the writer is attempting. They catch the vision and then do all they can. Resonators help innovators to make the leap from where they are to where they need to be.”
Of course, right? How else would anyone get anything amazing accomplished? We like to talk a big collaboration game but few of us do it and fewer still are good at it. Peak performance in our world is the lone athlete doing the impossible. The brilliant scientist with a break through in the dark, lonely hours of the night. The deft surgeon making all of the right decisions, and incisions, in the OR. The inspired novelist typing away in insolation as she produces a story that touches everyone. We see our best coming in isolation and, like much of the rest of our lives, we approach our best life, best self, and best performance with a lottery ticket mentality: buy the ticket and hope for the best.
Maybe we’ll show up today and the sun, the moon, and the stars will align in a cosmic Pick 3 and our best self will appear; our best work, our best effort, and our best life will fall into our lap as our number is called. Peak performance happens in a moment of inspiration and we just need to wait for it to land on us.
As we read about it, the fact that a group of brilliant academics from Oxford University met, discussed their work, and pushed each other to be better makes perfect sense, right? Yet that fact is, by itself, very unusual. We rarely think that way. We rarely expose ourselves like that. We rarely exert ourselves that way. Almost all of us prefer to work alone, figure it out for ourselves, and accept the results.
A “resonator” is someone who takes the time to “tune-in” to your frequency and harmonize with you at a higher level. He or she shows up and invests the effort it takes to be there with you and in the process helps lift you to a higher level, perhaps your highest level. A resonator tells you what you need to hear, when you need to hear it – even if it isn’t what you want to hear. A resonator cares enough to play that part, even though it is not easy, rarely convenient, and frequently quite challenging. Few of us want it. Even fewer ever find it appear in their own life.
The truth is that we all need it. Comfort may live inside our own heads but our spirits scream for more. Unfulfilled dreams and the unsettled heart of one searching for something more leave us incomplete. We question our purpose, our focus, even our desires as we wonder, deep down, what might we accomplish? Then, one day, we wonder what might we have accomplished.
Getting to our best requires the help of others. We need to be pushed. We need to be challenged. We need outside input. We need to be reminded of what is good within us. We need to be encouraged. We need to be held accountable. That is the role of a resonator. We need them in our lives if we want to get anywhere near our best existence.
The flip side of surrounding yourself with resonators is to be one yourself. In as much as we need them around us, we are called to resonate for others. It is a virtuous circle and also brings us to our best. There is true joy in the giving and the receiving. We are not made to go it alone.
For the Inklings, the weekly meetings, detailed reviews, and substantial investment of time from each for the other resulted in all of them becoming more than they would have been alone. Their literary group existed for almost 20 years and triggered works enjoyed by millions. For most of us, even the most effective resonators will not take us to the same level, but the world still needs our best. And we need our best.
Surround yourself with resonators. Then, be a resonator for others. It won’t just happen nor will it be easy. Do it anyway.