Have you heard about post-Olympic depression in athletes? It’s very real. Even in the gold medal winners.
I get this. I had my own brush with sporting excellence in 2003 when I won a bronze medal at the World Rowing Championships in the Women’s 8+ event. We qualified Canada for the Olympics with that performance and, along with my teammates, I was on television and in some newspapers. I should say half of my face was on the television because when they did the close up shot of all of us holding our medals my good friend deeked her head in front of mine. Complete accident but she still apologizes whenever we meet up.
After the post-race reveling I had some time to reflect on my achievement. In the two weeks we had off of training to visit family and take a breather, I realized I had placed my happiness on achieving a goal. Now the goal was achieved and I was no happier. In fact, I was feeling quite sad and empty.
I had focused so much on the goal I had slipped into hating the journey.
As an athlete I was not enjoying the process. I hated moving every six months and transporting my dollar store kitchen items via FedEx Ground across the country. I whined and complained about Victoria in the winter and how isolated I felt from my family in Vancouver. Finding temporary accommodations for six months of the year was a struggle and as soon as I got settled in one place I was worried about where I would live when we moved across the country again. I was stressed out about my accumulating debt and what I would do about it once I stopped rowing. I’d quietly been telling myself for three years that if I made it, made the national team and won a medal at the World Championships, there would be a great sense of accomplishment and pride and serenity and joy that I would hold on to. But there wasn’t any of that.
Instead there was a great emptiness. This was it? All I had been working for, all the choices and sacrifices and moldy basement apartments for this?
I decided that I needed to enjoy my days more. Instead of spending my afternoons in a semi-comatose state watching television and dreading the evening weight room workout I got out of the house. I walked places. I socialized. I went out on a Saturday night. I connected more with my teammates. I tried very hard to enjoy the workouts and be in the moment instead of counting down the minutes and strokes until it was over.
In the end I didn’t make the 2004 Olympic team. Two better athletes beat me out. At the time it was a tough pill to swallow, that my best wasn’t good enough, but I also knew that becoming an Olympian or winning a medal at the Games – while an amazing accomplishment – wasn’t going to change my daily happiness. In my experience failure is hard but living an unhappy life is harder.
How does this relate to minimalism? Since diving into a less cluttered life I’ve had daily reminders that my happiness is about the journey – not the end result. That I derive a greater joy from exercise and connecting with my loved ones than from buying something. That a new kitchen would be lovely but it’s not going to radically change my life.
Frugal Babe has a great post on her relationship with money that really inspired me. She wrote, “…if we’re not truly content once we have the basics covered, nothing we buy will make us content in the long run.” It’s so true, once you have the basics covered more money (or gold medals) won’t make you happy.
It seems simple, that having the basics covered is enough to enjoy all of your life. That happiness will not be found in a new car or a piece of jewelery or a vacation. That we find the happiness each hour in our lives and not from one big event. It seems so simple that it’s not about the result but the journey. So simple yet on tough days at work a lot of us dream about 65 and retirement believing that is when we will really start enjoying life.
I went to film school for screenwriting in my mid-20’s and the first few months we did a lot of exercises to get the creative juices flowing. One of them was to think back on the last 24 hours of your life and recall when you were happiest. For me it was an early morning run on a quiet sea wall and an afternoon writing in a coffee shop.
When were you happiest in the last 24 hours? How can you put more of that into your life?