I love the Olympics because there are always so many amazing stories of dedication, perseverance, and sportsmanship. The recent Olympics in Rio de Janeiro were no exception.
But one of the best life lessons I observed this year was not an example of any of the noble qualities listed above. This life lesson comes from the tragic and cautionary tale of Chad le Clos from South Africa.
Chad le Clos is a star freestyle and butterfly swimmer, having won a world champion and Olympic gold medal. In the 2012 Olympics he even beat Michael Phelps in the 200-meter butterfly, Phelp’s favorite race. When Phelps announced he was coming out of retirement to participate in 2016 Olympic Games, an instant rivalry match was created.
The day of the race came. In the ready room prior to the preliminary race, Le Clos’ shadow boxed in front of Michael Phelps who sat quietly thinking.
But to me it got stranger than that. When they climbed onto the blocks before the final race, le Clos continued to stare over at Phelps. It was like he couldn’t take his eyes off of him, staring him down for long moments at a time. Phelps never seems to notice.
The whole thing culminates in a moment in the water towards the end of the race. Phelps has a small lead coming towards the wall and in the lane next to him, le Clos is swimming with his head turned towards Phelps. Instead of focusing on his own stroke, he is watching to see where he is in relationship to Phelps.
In the end, Phelps won the gold medal and le Clos got…4th place! The world champion didn’t even get a medal and I believe that it was because of how much he focused on everything but himself.
I’ve seen this same scene play out in my life and the lives of others around me. In fact, with the proliferation of social media, it has become incredibly easy to spend our time looking at, and comparing ourselves to, the lives of others. The danger is that when we are focusing on others, we don’t have time to focus on making ourselves better.
We don’t improve our life by focusing on others, no matter how wonderful they may seem. We improve when we focus on where we are at right now and what we can do better. The truth is that those in the habit of comparing themselves to others will never get to a point where they are content. Even if they look around and see that they have more money, a better job, a bigger house, or more talented kids than everybody in their neighborhood, there will always be somebody who has more. The constant comparison and fighting to be “the top” only leads to a lifetime of disappointment, criticizing others, and bitterness. There is no “top”.
Is there a better way? I think so.
Here are 4 tips for focusing on the best possible YOU:
#1 – Understand that nothing is as it seems
We all need to realize that just about everybody is putting their very best online. The things we post are meant to show how much fun we’re having, what extraordinary place we are visiting, or how much better our kids are than yours. It is what we do. Social media is where we go to compare our best to everybody else’s best and see where we “rank”. Sometimes we’ll feel better about ourselves and sometimes we’ll get upset because someone seems to have more than us.
We all must realize that everybody has their ups and downs. They only post the ups so you won’t focus on the downs. But if you looked into anybody’s real life, you’d see they had their own set of struggles and difficulties, a whole set of things they aren’t happy about and want to work at…and so do you. Just accept it. It is okay.
#2 – Stop staring at Phelps
Is there somebody in your life or that you follow online that makes you angry? You know, that person that makes you upset or roll your eyes every time they post something on Facebook or Instagram, especially when it is about their latest vacation or accomplishment.
If so, I give you permission to delete them as a friend or as someone you follow. Get them off of your feed. What good does it do to have them popping up all the time and making you feel bad about yourself? The more time you spend focused on them, the less time you have to improve yourself. Remember, Chad le Clos was already the fastest swimmer in the world at this event! He shouldn’t have had to worry about Phelps. But he couldn’t help himself. Don’t be a le Clos!
#3 – Set your own goals
If somebody else has accomplished something that you would like to accomplish, set some goals for yourself and start working towards it. Any thing you see from others around you can also be accomplished in your life. But it will never happen by watching them. You need to move forward for you and because you want to be better for you. Your goals should ever be based on having, doing, or accomplishing as much as others. Look at what you want out of life and set goals that make you excited. Don’t worry about the people racing in the next lane over. As the popular phrase goes, “You do you.”
#4 – Identify your “Why?”
Any time you set a goals for yourself, you should be able to answer the questions, “Why do I want to accomplish this?” and “What would this do for me?”
If the response to either of those questions involves beating somebody else or having more than somebody else, you will fail miserably, even if you achieve the goal. Happiness comes from achieving goals for the right reasons and the right reasons shouldn’t ever involve our position in life relative to someone else.
If you can set goals that are focused on making you a better person, you will soon find that you not only achieve the things you want, but you won’t care what anybody else is doing because you will feel content.
Going for Gold
Life isn’t so much a race as it is a journey. We’re all traveling along trying to get the most out of it. We all have our ups and downs. One minute you feel like the world champion, the next minute you feel like you lost. I do know this, the more you focus on improving yourself, the more often you feel like the world champion. The more often you focus on others, the more often you will feel like a loser. Don’t focus on Phelps! Swim your own race and do the best you can. Do it for you and you will always be the best.