I’ve been watching bits of the Olympics all week. The athlete profiles that NBC so irritatingly produces (seriously, people – I just want to watch the events uninterrupted – is that too much to ask?) all follow the same storyline. An athlete dedicates four years (or a lifetime) to training for this moment to prove their ability and win a medal. Sometimes they choke and the story ends in tears. Other times the story ends in victory. The flag flies, the anthem is sung, he or she ascends the podium and receives the highest reward . . .
But what I keep thinking about this week is: What happens the moment you step off the podium?
Suddenly, it’s all over. You’ve reached the pinnacle. You’ve perfected your performance. You’ve achieved your personal best and been affirmed by a world-wide audience. For one moment, millions of viewers know your name and what you’ve accomplished.
And then you go home. Not all Olympic athletes retire, obviously. Plenty of them take a break and then gear up for the next competitions, but for many, everything they’ve worked for in the last few years is suddenly gone. If this is suddenly sounding sad, it’s because it is. Just a few days ago, Bloomberg Business Week published an article talking about the risks of depression and substance abuse many athletes face when they retire. Life is suddenly a little too empty.
It makes me wonder, if sometimes we make our goals more important than they should be? If achieving a certain goal consumes someone’s entire life, should we admire the strength of focus, the sacrifices, the dedication, or should we worry about the loss of perspective on life?
The article shows how so much training can be compared to heroin addiction and ends with a zinger, “Being an elite athlete is actually not that good for your health.” Does that mean we never pursue difficult goals that stretch us to our limits? Does it mean we should never seek to achieve all that we’re capable of doing? No. But I think it’s something we need to be aware of when we set out on journeys like this. Do we have something to hold onto, after the big moment? Can we maintain a sense of personal worth and identity without the training or the title?
Maybe this doesn’t feel super applicable to our normal non-elite-athlete lives, but I think most of us have had “after party blues” and those feelings of being let down after a high of accomplishment. What do you do to ground yourself again after moments like that?