Striving for Excellence and Striking a Balance: What You and Olympians Have in Common

The Olympics have come and gone, and with them, many daydreams about photo finishes and medals and national anthems. So if you are passionate about your athletic pursuits, you are obviously in good company; as the past two weeks of competition demonstrate, there is no shortage of people compelled to strive for excellence.

On the flip side, maybe you also struggle with how to balance your passion with the rest of your life’s demands. You may even wonder sometimes whether it’s all worth it in the long run—the sacrifices, the injuries, the tradeoffs of working so hard, particularly for those of us who are highly unlikely to take a place atop that podium. This is the shadow side of caring about something that much. But you are not alone in this either. Take a look at this recent article showing that even Olympic athletes sometimes find themselves questioning the cost-benefit ratio of their hard work.

Maybe we don’t discuss this aspect of our training with our teammates and coaches as much as we do the particulars of strategy and technique, but it is highly likely that they have similar doubts and fears. And this doesn’t have to be a reason to stop striving for more.

If you are anything like me, you believe your involvement in your sport is, on balance, an enhancement to your life. You believe this is true even when factoring in those times when you are frustrated or discouraged, and, in my case, the reality that my glory days, such as they were, are behind me. And you also believe that your journey is valid as it is, whether it involves training every day, once a week, once a month, or sometimes not at all, depending on the other priorities we decide to take on.

Perhaps instead it is a reason for us to be as planful about potential injuries, the natural peaks and valleys of training, and our long-term well-being and stability as we are about our gear, our training schedules, and our diets. Maybe we would do well to remember that some doubt and fear is normal and that we would feel it whether we pursued our current athletic passion or lived our lives in any other way.

Regardless of the decisions we make in life, we can try to accept that challenges will happen, become comfortable with the discomfort this is likely to cause, and, most importantly, find friends, coaches, or others to help us navigate. Whether we end up on the podium, back at the drawing board, or somewhere in between our efforts to expect more of ourselves are worthwhile, and we will go farther with others in our corner than we will alone.