The 2022 Winter Olympics are upon us! As the Olympics start today, I thought it would be fitting to have an Olympic themed post. As part of my book writing journey, I was fortunate enough to take part in a conversation with the most decorated US Winter Olympian in history: Apolo Ohno.
This was definitely a “pinch me” moment as I vividly remember watching Apolo sprint around the ice rink and crush the competition during the 2002, 2006, and 2010 Olympics. Apolo won 8 Olympic medals in speed skating during his historic career.
In our conversation together, we talked about when he needed to hang up his ice skates and retire at the young age of 28.
Take a second to imagine that. From the moment he won his first speed skating championship at the age of fourteen until the age of twenty-eight, everything in his life revolved around speed skating. Everything from his diet, sleep routine, training regiment, and daily rituals were dictated by the sport. Then, at the age of twenty-eight, he found himself too old to compete in his profession any longer and had to retire.
While most of us are not Olympians, we will still have to navigate multiple life transitions throughout our lives. Things like marriage, career change, birth of a child, severe illness, and death of loved one cause many of us to reevaluate our lives and make drastic changes. In fact, research by Bruce Feiler shows that most of us will have to deal with 3-5 major life quakes (major disruptors) in our life.
As such, I wanted to share some of my key lessons learned from my amazing conversation with Apolo:
1) Life transitions are inevitable and hard no matter who you are
One of my favorite quotes from our discussion was when Apolo said:
“Pivoting in life and reinvention is really hard. All of us have our self-perceived…identities associated with what we do and who we are; and those are somehow intrinsically tied. So, as someone who didn’t care about anything outside of the Olympic realm for fifteen years, I didn’t know anything about what I was good at, what I was interested in, what I wanted to do next, and what my life purpose and true north was. It took a lot of self-discovery, self-realization, and self-work.”
Even Olympians, who are literally are the best at what they do in the entire world, struggle with identifying the right path and how to navigate a life transition. So when you are in the middle of such a transition, remember to be kind and patient with yourself!
2) Figuring out your next steps requires brutal honesty and reflection
This one is hard as it requires a lot of vulnerability, patience, and time – things that many of us unfortunately don’t give ourselves. On identifying his next steps, Apolo shared:
“That means doing the thing that’s the most important and most difficult in my view, which is looking in the mirror and having that radical, transparent conversation with yourself. And if you can’t have it with yourself, find someone who you truly love who has the best interests for you…
“But I believe such a huge part of us growing as humans is accepting who we see in the mirror—in all of our flaws, inconsistencies, and ‘less thans.’ Only then can we start to move the needle forward and say, ‘Alright, that’s who I was and this is who I believe I can and will be, and it’s going to be a long, arduous process of transformation.’”
3) You’ll make mistakes along the way – and that’s OK!
Apolo has blossomed a new career in a plethora of new areas, but it didn’t happen overnight. By continuously trying new things and admittedly making “a ton of mistakes” along the way, Apolo has become a world-renowned speaker and author with a new calling in life.
“My life’s mission is to help people unlock their potential, to become the best version of themselves possible, so they can live, laugh, love, and produce their best work on earth.”
He also continues to stay engaged with the US Olympics by sitting on the bid committee for the 2028 Summer Games, serving as an NBC sports analyst (you can see him all over the TV starting today!), and acting as a global ambassador to the Special Olympics and Winter Olympics.
Life transitions are inevitable, and there’s a lot of great research and science to prove that. Although those times in life are difficult, we should take solace in the fact that even Olympians struggle with it! More importantly, we need to remember that with honesty, patience, and acceptance we can make it out on the other side as a new, better version of ourselves.
You can read more about Apolo’s amazing journey as well as the science behind life transitions in Chapter 7 of my book, Redefining Success.