As a follow-up to my article written in the aftermath of the Rugby World Cup in 2019, the recently concluded UEFA Euro 2020 football championship and the ongoing IOC Tokyo Olympics 2020 have brought new messages of hope, joy and liberation, as well as fear, sadness, and concern.
In Part One of this article, I deal with the events of IOC Tokyo Olympics first as the themes that have made the headlines resonate strongly with the subject matter of my previous article on the effects of burnout. Part Two will transition towards the UEFA Euro 2020 event to draw parallels with how we can bring back joy, strength, and purpose to those suffering from the effect of burnout and / or stress.
What the athletes are telling us.
Two of the most anticipated athletes to perform at the Tokyo Olympics, two of the most decorated performers on their respective circuits, stumbled. Two people who would be considered by many as superheroes, both burnt out!
Athletes too form part of an eco-system that requires their highest attention, effort and commitment. Though there seems to be the impression, at times, that because they perform in a sport, and get paid “millions”, then the expectation should be as high as the stage.
But, “At the end of the day, we’re human, too, so we have to protect our mind and our body rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do […] With the year that it’s been, I’m really not surprised how it played out”, Simone Biles US gymnast (as reported in the New York Times).
In the run up to the Olympics, Naomi Osaka, Japanese tennis star and local hero produced a documentary about her struggles to maintain mental lucidity and strength throughout her sporting, professional and personal commitments. She skipped tournaments running up to the home nation Olympics event to prepare yet could not proceed beyond the third round in the tournament. She commented after her elimination that “the scale of everything is a bit hard”.
If we look back at other sporting greats who succumbed, for whatever reason, to the strains of high-level performance and expectations we can add Canadian Ben Johnson the 100m Olympic record holder and Gold medallist, until he was stripped of the title following doping tests at the 1988 Summer Olympics. And Lance Armstrong, seven-times winner of the Tour de France cycling titles who was de-throned not by a competitor but performance enhancing drugs. The reason, according to Armstrong in a 2019 NBCSN interview was that “I didn’t want to go home, man. I was going to stay” with reference to winning and performing at the highest level.
So what can we learn from all this.
Of course, the latter two examples are different to the first two, however they reflect the level of potential impact on how we perceive our own performance.
There are no parameters or guidelines to how situations can affect us. Irrespective of our standing, no one is untouchable.
So, what can we do about it?
Well, firstly, ask yourself why? Why are we doing this? Why are we in this? What is the REAL purpose of all this? Self-awareness, through self-reflection is where we start.
I am sure we can come up with a myriad of responses, but the majority, at least those who end up recognising that stress or burnout is an issue, will conclude that, somehow, it is the result of a commitment that drives them to the limit; “I have a family”, “I have a loan”, “I have a reputation”, “I have a responsibility”. Only some of the reasons we hear day-in, day-out, why people push themselves to their limits.
All are true, none are less important, or relevant to whom stated them, all can be serious. But why so?
Commitment should be a motivator rather than an inhibitor, and most would admit it being so. So where does it turn sour.
When we lose control.
Step two would be to retain as much control as we can. Not as a form of dominance, not as a form of egocentricity, not to confirm our superiority complex, but control of what matters most to us. Given our own unique contexts, what matters most allows us to exert control over our thoughts and behaviours.
Control allows us to focus our energy and effort on where we can add most value to ourselves, our loved ones, to those who matter most to us.
But how do we know what matters most?
Step Three is identifying and aligning with your purpose in life. Purpose is what allows us to get out of bed in the morning with a hop skip and jump, with a smile on our face, and the conviction that I know why I am up and about.
Having a sense of purpose enables you to recognise where we are stepping out of line. Not in a rebuking manner, and not in a way that piles more pressure on us. Rather, purpose is the proverbial ‘northern star’ that can help us regulate our emotional state with the outcomes we want to achieve in our lives. This is true for our personal and professional lives.
When we work with our partners, we talk first of finding that sense of purpose that combines the expectations of the business and what the employees want to achieve in their lives. We then talk about achieving alignment between these two and focussing on creating the right environment for all to thrive.
Whether it is the Summer Olympics or the local garden-care award, pressure is pressure. It is as relevant as much as it matters to you.
Simone Biles continued her post-event interview by stating she “felt like I was still doing it for other people. So that just, like, hurts my heart, because doing what I love has been kind of taken away from me to please other people.”
Confucius is famously quoted as saying “choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”, this does not apply solely to work. If you love what you do, and what you do matters to those around you, and you have the support of a team, a family, a network, reach out, because “Today it’s like, you know what, no, I don’t want to do something stupid and get hurt […] it’s just not worth it, especially when you have three amazing athletes that can step up to the plate and do it. Not worth it.”
If you feel certain things are ‘not worth it’ because the risk is too great and you are stuck in a bit of a rut, reach out. We are committed to helping where we can and will continue to provide a FREE consultation to those who reach out to us on [email protected].