In recent weeks, I was immersed in watching 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.
To fill in programming gaps, we were introduced to athletes through human-interest stories—vignettes that shared the journeys of those who are at the top. What I picked up from 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. I heard Matt Anderson of the Men’s Volleyball Team talk about reaching the top of his game and saying “now what.” In 2014, he saw signs of deep depression taking over his life and took a much-needed sabbatical to save his soul.
And 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. Elite athletes from the United States now have psychologists who travel with them to help them navigate the stress brought on by 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, there were 131 countries who didn’t win a single medal. I’m guessing their athletes knew they had very little chance of winning, but they went because they are passionate about their sport and wanted to represent their countries well. Then there were ten athletes with no countries at all who competed as refugees, again because they love what they do and are proud just to have the chance to show the world that they are overcomers, in life and in their sports.
All these athletes compete to finish. They have no support teams to keep them mentally focused, and no expectations standing on the podium as medal winners. They do what they do because they are passionate, and proud to use their God-given gifts striving for excellence, to cross the finish line even it they are 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 flourish! Winning isn’t the ultimate goal, but making a difference in the world is.