My friend Tom O’Dowd at Wolf Saga sent me a quote from Red Smith, the famous sportswriter, the first sportswriter to win a Pulitzer Prize. Smith was talking about becoming a writer:
I’ve had many writing heroes, writers who have influenced me. …When I was very young as a sportswriter I knowingly and unashamedly imitated others … But slowly, by what process I have no idea, your own writing tends to crystallize, to take shape. Yet you’ve learned some moves from all these guys and they are somehow incorporated into your own style. Pretty soon you’re not imitating any longer.
That could just as easily describe the path of a trainer. There’s nothing wrong with modeling – acting like a trainer you admire, using their moves and timing and gestures and phrases. It’s a time honored way to learn a skill, and one that has served me well. By imitating as precisely as I could the breathing, body language and tone of greats like Linda Tellington-Jones, I made huge leaps forward as a trainer. Faced with a horse or dog (or even a possum or a toad!), I’d wonder to myself, “What would Linda do?” and I’d do my best to do that. To my delight, it often had lovely results.
Yet to just imitate is not enough. By a process that is, as Smith agrees, quite mysterious, something else slowly takes place of imitation. In my mind, it seems a collection of threads, many hued, each carefully gathered from a wide range of sources. Slowly, they began to be enough in number that I could weave them into my life, aware only that I wanted to create a meaningful tapestry of power and beauty, unsure what the ultimate design might be.
Teasing out where this thread or that originated is something I do from time to time, to remind myself of the debts I owe all that contributed their own threads to my life and my understanding of this work. It is at once amusing and humbling to see how eagerly I collected so many threads at first, not sure what was good or what wasn’t worth keeping. But slowly, it all began to coalesce around threads so strong, so pure, so true that they defined the design with clarity. It is easier now to know what I wish to add to the design of my life, what to discard as out of place with the tapestry of my work, my philosophy, my soul.
“Pretty soon you’re not imitating any longer.” Red’s right. One day, you realize that you just are what you are, and polishing that up becomes the next step.
“Becoming Your Own Trainer” by Suzanne Clothier