I’m a big fan of figure skating, and Yuna Kim is one of my favorite skaters right now. On my trip back from Thailand, I happened to have a layover in Seoul, so I went to the airport bookstore to pick up a copy of her memoir, Yuna’s Seven Minute Drama.
Most of the book is about her figure skating career, leading up to the Olympics, where she won the gold medal with two stunning performances. (The book was published in January, so it doesn’t actually talk about her Olympic experience.) But she also had a few thoughts on motivation, and out of those, “the final one degree” really stuck with me.
Yuna said that no matter what you’re trying to do, you eventually reach a point where you feel like, “Hey, this is enough”. It’s normally because you’ve been working very hard on something for a while, and you feel sick and tired of it and lose all motivation and enthusiasm. But this is when you really have to push forward.
The situation, she wrote, is like boiling water. If you’re trying to boil water, you have to make sure the temperature reaches 100 degrees Celsius. No matter how long and hard you’ve been working on it, if you stop before your water hits 100 degrees, it will never boil. You can have very hot water, of course. Maybe even 99-degree hot water, which is pretty damn hot. But it’s not boiling, and you won’t achieve your objective, not because you’re lazy or untalented, but merely because you stopped one degree short.
Writing is much the same. If you’re working on writing the 1st draft, but stop before you type “the end”, you don’t have a finished first draft. If you’re revising but stop before your story is completely polished from the first page to the last, you don’t have a revised project ready to send out to the world, even if you’ve spent months on revision.
It’s easy to lose focus and enthusiasm for a project after spending so much time and energy on it. But don’t stop when you’re at ninety-nine degrees. Go for that final degree. Recognize that it’s going to be the hardest and most grueling degree you’ll have to work on, but get through it. And celebrate your accomplishment when your own water is finally boiling.