For athletes at all levels, ribbons, medals, and trophies are the ultimate symbol of personal victory. This “stuff” collected over the years demonstrates commitment, effort, proficiency, skill, and ultimately both a public and personal definition of success.
But what does all this “stuff” mean, post-sport? Where does it live now? In a box, a drawer, or in plain sight for you and others to see? Do these symbols elicit positive memories that give you a boost today, or do they create negative reminders of how far away you are from that feeling of success, physical prowess, or hero-like status?
Like most athletes, I personally have experienced both of these perspectives.
Five years after exiting from high-performance sport, I remember sitting on the stairs of our house sobbing, wondering how I got to where I was. I was at a place in that messy middle where I missed the passion of my past pursuits, and did not yet understand or believe in the possibilities of my future career.
Looking at the Olympic ring on my finger, the voice inside my head shouted out “loser!” While proud of my athletic accomplishments, at that moment I questioned all of my abilities: my education, my purpose, and even my next steps. For me (and probably many athletes like me) everything was juxtaposed against having experienced what success was and that feeling of being deeply committed to that success.
Fast forward to early 2014, when I started interviewing individuals for the research that led to my new book, Forward. That negative inner voice was rearing its ugly head again. Thoughts swirled around if I would even find 100 people who had successful and meaningful pursuits, post-sport. And even if I could identify them, would they be willing to talk to me? I looked at that ring on my pinky finger and said to myself, “Melinda, you have accomplished a lot of goals in your life. This new goal is important to you. Have the courage to believe you will accomplish this one.” Many times, as I picked up the phone to interview a person, I twirled that ring as my symbol of belief.
With time, I now have a deeper awareness around how belief in myself in the here and now can be framed around how I feel about my past successes. I have developed 3 simple questions to check in on my thoughts as I advance my future.
1. Am I using my past to build my current belief, or am I using it to destroy my current belief?
2. What is one scenario from my past (that is relatable to my current experience) that will give me courage to advance my future?
3. How can I remind myself of that scenario in those inevitable moments of doubt?
I hope these sorts of questions encourage you to think about what might work to advance your future.