One of the biggest stories coming out of the Olympics has been American gymnast Simone Biles withdrawing from multiple events in Tokyo. She withdrew due to mental health concerns and not being able to identify where the ground was located during her complex aerial maneuvers.
Following her announcements, Biles sent out this tweet:
“the outpouring love & support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before.”
Her quote is quite revealing. While I cannot even imagine the amount of pressure she has been under, I can absolutely relate to feeling like one is only equal to one’s accomplishments.
I’ve seen this belief pattern in myself, my colleagues, and many of my students over the decades.
The issue is one of identity. If you see yourself only as equal to your accomplishments, then every time you perform, you’re not trying to win a medal… you’re trying to win your identity — your psychological basis for existing.
If you “fail” at this vault, this interview, or this promotion, and you believe your identity = your accomplishments, then who are you?
If you succeed, your identity is intact. If you fail, then what?
In contemplating such profound and psychologically high-stakes questions, your mind can’t possibly keep track of trivial things like where the ground is located.
Years ago, I was helping a classmate practice for the case interview. This person also had a mindset of “my identity = my performance.” In this person’s mind, 20 years of work to get into college and to get the job was just too much.
In the middle of a practice case, the person was so stressed out that I asked: “What is 2 + 2?”
The person genuinely and sincerely could not answer.
I’m glad to see that Biles knows she is more than her medal count and more than gymnastics.
We are all more than our achievements and our jobs. We are all merely human beings. No more. No less.
Simone Biles is too… and I’m encouraged to see that she is starting to see that.
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