They can’t help you right now
Conor McGregor is the first mixed martial artist to hold UFC championship belts in two weight classes at the same time. Fans of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) are likely to have strong feelings about Conor. He’s a massive star to some, and a huge egomaniac to others. Even people who don’t know much about the sport know who Conor is. Conor’s accomplishments are undeniably significant.
After winning both UFC belts, Conor went on to fight Floyd Mayweather in a boxing match which is regarded as one of the biggest fights in the history of combat sports, earning McGregor at least $80M. He lost the fight but won the respect of the boxing world by lasting ten impressive rounds with the man who many consider to be the best boxer in the history of the sport. Significant.
Conor then went on a fighting hiatus and launched an Irish Whiskey brand called Proper Twelve, which was reported earlier this year to have sold between $35-40M in product in its first year, disrupting Jameson’s dominance in the market. Significant.
If that were all there was to Conor’s story over the last five years, one might say that this guy has it all and has done it all, very well. However last week I watched a 40-minute interview with Conor and the most prominent journalist in MMA, Ariel Helwani, in which Conor was publicly apologizing for punching an older gentleman in the head in a bar. He was apologizing for this particular incident, but it was not the only incident that he had like this in recent years.
Earlier this year he was arrested for destroying someone’s phone in Miami. He was arrested for throwing a ladder through a bus window and injuring people in New York in 2018. And in March it was reported that Conor was under suspicion of sexual assault in Ireland. There are probably several other criminal issues that he has faced in the last three years that I can’t recall at the moment.
While watching the interview, I noticed something about myself. I was getting anxious. I noticed I was shallow breathing. So I started some deep breathing exercises but continued to watch the interview. Then I realized why I got so anxious. Conor seldom took a breath throughout the entire interview. He was bouncing between regretfully making amends for his aggressive behavior and (ironically) aggressively stating his ambition to return to Mixed Martial Arts and claiming that “the game” was forgetful of his role. He felt that his significance was being threatened.
While getting my breathing under control and recognizing that he was consumed by striving for significance, I began to empathize with him. I don’t condone the illegal, violent behavior that he has perpetrated on others. It’s all been captured on tape, so there is no denying that he is doing it.
But I do believe him when he says that he wants to be “more Zen,” and that he wants to stop being a “shell of himself” and that he must get control of himself. I can relate to that. However, while he said those things with sincerity, what dominated the interview was the relentless striving that seemed to possess him. It dominated him so much that he didn’t take a breath when he talked. Hard to be Zen when you don’t breathe.
Significance is one of the 34 strength themes in Clifton’s StrengthsFinder, and it falls into the domain of “how you influence people.” When I last took the StrengthsFinder test, Significance was one of my top five strengths. It wasn’t until this year that I reread my test results and really understood what this said about me, and the blind spots I needed to look out for.
According to StrengthsFinder:
People exceptionally talented in the Significance theme want to make a big impact. They are independent and prioritize projects based on how much influence they will have on their organization or people around them.
I may have taken the test years ago, but that sure sounds a lot like me. And I think it’s probably also a strength for Conor. Some people characterize this as ego, but I don’t think that’s entirely accurate. I see the “Significance” theme as a strength that can be leveraged to create incredible results but also has a severe shadow side that has to be checked.
The adage “know thyself” is apropos here. When you know you are driven by significance, it’s essential to keep an eye on how much you associate achievement with your identity. It’s critical to remain mindful that I am not what I accomplish, I am a human being who is gifted at focusing on achieving significant things.
If I lose track of the difference, I can literally lose myself because no matter how gifted I might be, there will be times where I fail to achieve my goals. And what then? Am I a failure?I can’t stay on top forever. Neither can Conor, and there appears to be a direct connection between his fall from immortality in combat sports and his delinquent behavior outside of the ring. I too can draw a direct connection in my life between failing to achieve goals and self-destructive behavior.
While being driven to achieve goals can be a great thing, we have to be careful not to strive too much.
I’ve been taking private lessons in Pilates for the last two years. My instructor Laurel has taught me an awareness that’s changed my relationship with my body and with striving in general. When doing an exercise that only requires my core and leg muscles to be activated, my neck and shoulders often tense up as if they are part of the exercise. I won’t even realize they’ve tensed up until she says, “relax your neck and shoulders; they can’t help you right now.”
She’s right. When I relax my neck and shoulders, I find that not only were they not helping, they were using energy that should be reserved for my core and leg muscles. Or better yet, for breathing.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be great. But it’s of greater importance to be whole without needing to be great. Greatness in the eyes of others will come and go. You and your magical life are always there and are magic without any effort of your doing.
Pursue greatness, graciously…
and have a grateful day.