Dear Olympic Hopefuls,
Today, your dreams were dealt a serious blow…kinda like wiping out on ten-meter. You got to the surface of the water, gasping for breath, wondering what the hell just happened…you feel like someone took a baseball bat to you…you can’t breathe…you hurt down to your bones…you just want to press the rewind button and start the dive over again, this time hoping for a better calculation about which direction is up or down.
But you can’t get the dive back…decisions were made, and you just landed flat. Now you’ve got to pick up the pieces, learn from the miscalculation, heal yourself up, and decide whether you’re going to wing that dive again.
No one could have anticipated what just happened…you learn the dive (“If you do this, it will turn out OK,” your coach says), you practice the progressions (spotting belts, lead ups), and then…you fully invest, take the leap of faith…and then you splat!
You step away for a bit and reflect on what just happened. What do I do now? I did what I thought I was supposed to do, took the risk, and got the crap beaten out of me…why would I want to do that again?
Spoiler alert…I can’t answer that question for you! But after having had 40 years to process this reality, here’s a few things I learned from having had my Olympic dreams annihilated by the 1980 Olympic Boycott:
- There’s a whole bunch of things we don’t have control over in the universe. I put the hardest lesson first, just so that you have some hope they get easier. As elite athletes, our entire quest is about ridiculous levels of control over ourselves (and presumably, our environment)…we control our motivation, schedule, training, discipline, diets, rest, sleep, choices, risks, and, and, and…this gives us the illusion that we can, in fact, control everything…Epic fail on that one, folks. But more on that later…
- We are meaning making machines. Complete this sentence… “Everything happens…” What did you say? A lot of people probably said, “Everything happens for a reason.” Well, maybe. I DO know that everything happens, and we GIVE it a reason. There are very few facts in the world, most of our lives are about perception and interpretation.
- Here are some facts:
- There’s a virus out there that is causing some people to experience severe lung problems.
- We are being asked around the world to socially distance/shelter in place.
- Schools, businesses, and cities have temporarily shut down across the world.
- What meaning are you making of this? Everything other than the above facts is an assumption or interpretation. We get to choose what meaning we are going to make of what is happening. No one can tell us what it means for us or what choices to make about what to do now.
- Grieve this loss. No matter what meaning you make of it, this is a monumental loss in your life, and it hurts! Learn about how to grieve so that you honor this experience in your life. We will experience all forms of loss in our lives – deaths, endings, break ups, transitions, loss of function, and the list goes on. Not all are as devastating as this one may be for you. But it’s important to honor our feelings and allow them to be what they are without judgment. Experience them in a way that’s safe for you and others. Breathe deep, scream, dig, write in a journal, draw, exercise, meditate, pray, pound a pillow, talk to people you trust. The old adage “time heals all wounds” is crap. The only way that wounds heal is to process them through in a healthy way. Feelings buried alive never die. Give yourself the time, space, and permission to process through this. There is no timeframe, so let go of the idea that there is. In 40 years, I’ve grieved this experience time and time again. Grief never really ends, and that’s not as depressing as it sounds, I promise! What I mean by that is that we process through it and it eventually doesn’t consume so much of our energy on a day to day basis. We make decisions and move on with life. Then some days, it flares because something happens that brings us right back to it, like now for me. But I don’t feel sad for me. I feel sad for those of you who are experiencing this for the first time. While I can’t possibly know exactly how you feel, I empathize with you for however that is. My heart is with you as you process your own experience.
- Life goes on. I live by the surfer maxim: Sometimes you ride the wave, sometimes the wave rides you, and either way, you get back on the board. This postponement may mean the end of your athletic career. Even a year may not be tenable for you to continue focusing all the energy that it takes to train as an elite athlete. That’s OK, because you’ve learned a ridiculous number of skills that will serve you well the rest of your life! You learned to set goals and intentionally focus your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual energy towards them. You learned how to organize your time, take care of your body, how to perform under pressure, and how to evaluate, adapt, take feedback, and get the job done. You learned a lot about risk taking – physically, mentally and emotionally. And this one may rub you the wrong way, but breathe deep before you yell at me for this one: You sacrificed nothing – rather you made choices about what you wanted in your life and focused your energy towards that. And then you learned about succeeding and failing. Mick Jagger summed this up well by saying, “You can’t always get what you want.” And lots of people say it’s really about the journey – and it is! I had an amazing journey during my 14-year diving career. The Olympic boycott is an asterisk in an otherwise fairly wondrous and successful adventure.
- This leads me to the three simple rules I have developed that I try to live by, and I share with my clients every day:
Rule #1: Energy follows your thoughts. What you are thinking drives your decisions and then your behavior.
Rule #2: Focus on what you DO want, not what you don’t want.
Rule #3: Focus on the process/things you have control over. Told you this one would come back around. When we focus on the things we have some control over, we reduce our stress and anxiety tremendously.
This reality may have thrown your personal gyroscope into a tailspin, and it will level out. You may think that making that team or winning that medal would “make your life.” I promise you, it won’t. It is one life experience, and you write the story about it based on what you make of it. You’ll re-connect with your dream, or you’ll set your sites on new ones, and proceed from there. You know how to do that. My blessings to you as you figure out how to push the reset button on your life.