In recent weeks, I’ve been immersed in the Olympics, partly because I was excited to watch athletes from my country compete and shine, and partly because it was a nice diversion from the saturation of politics on the airwaves. Good clean competition is refreshing.
I loved that we were introduced to the athletes through human-interest stories: vignettes that shared the journeys of those who are at the top. What I learned about several of them was that the relentless drive to win has had dire effects on their personal lives. We all watched Michael Phelps hit bottom after the 2012 Olympics, spiraling downward after becoming the most decorated Olympian of all time. In 2014, Matt Anderson of the Men’s Volleyball Team reached the top of his game and said, “Now what?” He saw signs of deep depression taking over his life and took a much-needed sabbatical to save his soul. There was a touching story about USA Wrestler, Daniel Dennis, who was so broken after losing the NCAA championship his senior year of college that he went on a cross-country journey for three years, totally withdrawing from competition and the rest of the world.
The pressure to win is enormous. Elite athletes from the United States have psychologists who travel with them to help them navigate the stress of intense training, competition, winning and losing.
On the flip side, there were Olympic athletes who competed just because they love the game. Including countries like Burkina Faaso, Cambodia, Bhutan and Comoros, 131 countries didn’t win a single medal. I’m guessing their athletes knew they had almost no chance of winning, but they went because they’re passionate about their sport and wanted to represent their countries well. And there were ten athletes, with no countries at all, who competed as refugees. They were there because they were proud to be Olympians and show the world they are over-comers in life and in their sport.
Many athletes compete to finish. They have no support teams to keep them mentally focused, and no expectations of standing on the podium as medal winners. They do what they do because they’re passionate, and proud to use their God-given gifts to strive for excellence; to cross the finish line, even it they’re last.
What about you? Do you love what you do so much that you would do it even if you knew you wouldn’t be in the limelight? Do you passionately pursue your calling even when you know you won’t be a CEO, a celebrity or a millionaire? The pursuit of perfection has its costs, and few of us can afford the team of experts it would take to keep us grounded. There are some sacrifices that can never be recovered.
Embrace your calling; pursue it passionately and make life count! Winning at all costs isn’t the ultimate goal, but making a difference in the world is.