Success and Mental Health
Updated: Feb 3, 2022
The news coming out of Japan these last few days about Simone Biles have been surprising, yet at the same time, not so surprising. Maria and I are huge olympic fans and got our kids watching many of these athletes, including (especially) Simone. When we heard the news and watched her vault, it was a strange mix of emotions.
There was a fear and worry not knowing why she just froze in the air before barely completing only one and a half twists in her vault.
There was a confusion and skepticism when we saw her cheering on her teammates, laughing and smiling on the sidelines during the competition.
There was a sadness and disappointment because we wanted to see her win gold.
To feel all those feelings simultaneously and even throughout these last couple of days has brought back to light something I spoke on last month at church before the Olympic Games began. We are doing a series in Christian Spiritual Disciplines such as prayer, bible reading, fasting, silence, etc. The series is called "Cross-Training," with the concept of training in these disciplines, not to earn God's love and forgiveness, but to train to grow in our love of God and love for others. In my introduction message from June 20th, I had this to say about olympic athletes:
"As (the athletes) spend time training in the gym, they have one goal in mind: to win gold. Some achieve that, some don’t but still are successful in their spotlight moment. But what happens when the spotlight is over? What happens when the Olympics are done, or worse yet, don’t even happen? What happens when the “go for gold” mentality no longer applies? Regardless if the athlete gets gold, gets DQ, still gets on the podium, gets last place, the pursuit of going for gold ends at some point, so then what’s next? I think this feeling of what’s next is the ONLY way you and I can relate to these Olympic Athletes. In our success-driven, achievement based, need to be the best life we live, go for gold may not be the motto, the gold medal may not be the prize, but it’s definitely the mindset. Personal Development, Academic Achievement, Career Promotion, Success…in and of itself is not a bad thing, but what happens on the other side of it? What happens when it’s not enough? Why is it that Olympic athletes struggle to find normalcy and purpose in life after their achievements? Why is it that success and achievement never seem to fully satisfy us in this life?"
I am thankful that Simone is coming to this realization, believing that her life, as she has now said, is "more than her accomplishments." But she is not alone in this journey of realization. You and I daily have this burden on our hearts and minds that it is only the sum worth of our accomplishments that give us identity, purpose and meaning. We live our lives in a way that we train for our moment of success and then don't know what to do once we reach it and if we don't reach it, we go crazy trying to make it the next time.
Your Q1 sales were up 25%, but Q2 sales were up only 15%...you must be doing something wrong and failing.
Sunday morning attendance isn't where it used to be, why can't you preach better, love better, strategize better, engage people better.
You study and study for the SATs/ACTs for years, but every time you take it, you still don't get that score for the full scholarship, only the partial scholarship.
Your kid isn't as talented at (fill in the sport or activity) as their kid even after you dropped hundreds of dollars and countless hours driving them to camps, trainings and practices.
They have a better body transformation, successful health journey, even though you're on the same dietary/workout plan. As hard as you try, they still "look better" and you feel worse about how you look because you're not as successful as they are.
When success and achievement is our top priority, our mental health will suffer. Our minds and bodies will break down at some point over the pressure we put on ourselves and allow ourselves to embrace from others' expectations.
When I look in the mirror, I first want to make sure I don't view myself in this way and secondly, I want to make sure I don't view others this way. I was skeptical of Simone's "mental health" reasoning when I saw her laughing and smiling with her teammates after she pulled out, but I realized I had a wrong lens to look at her through: she is created in the image of God and her worth/value does not come from representing her country, entertaining one of her fans or performing her sport well. Her worth/value comes from her creator, who loved her so much that He gave up His son to die in her place so that she could embrace a new life right now and into eternity.
So, I have to continue to view myself and others in this way. I have to train my kids in this way. And I think if we all began to take some steps forward in this area, we will give our mental health a break and find that this life is way more than the sum of our success.
Praying that more and more "successful" people will speak up and stand out to make positive changes in our society.