I like the idea of being extraordinary. I think most of us want it. But, we cannot all achieve it.
I started reading Mark Manson's book titled, "The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life." Within the first few chapters, I immediately related my life and athletic career with his notion of feeling extraordinary.
I believe this is part of the reason why retired athletes struggle with life post-sport. Sure, we miss the competition, the team atmosphere and the busy schedule. But, we can somewhat mimic those things by joining adult leagues, bonding with colleagues and filling our schedules with meetings, events and chores.
What we have a hard time replicating in "real life" is the feeling of being extraordinary. We miss the feeling of being important. The feeling that we are doing something only a small percentage of the population gets to do,
I think today's culture heightens the emotions we feel related to this absence. As Manson puts it,
"It's the extremes that get all the publicity... All day, every day, we are flooded with the truly extraordinary. The best of the best. The worst of the worst. The greatest physical feats. The funniest jokes. The most upsetting news. The scariest threats. Nonstop."
As athletes, especially at highly competitive levels, we are constantly bombarded with the extremes. Our lives are far from normal. They are based on a lot of highs which come from immense success and deep lows that come with agonizing defeat.
Our happiness and joy are based on wins, recognition, praise, awards, publicity and triumph. In contrast, our sadness and anxiety comes from losses, ridicule, punishment and defeat.
We consistently bounce from one extreme to the other. All we know is extremes and that our lives are unlike many others.
Now, take the athlete away from that environment and place he or she into everyday "normal" life without sport.
Suddenly, an athletes' world is flipped upside down. We are forced to find the same source of adrenaline and fun in completely mundane things. I am not saying that extremes do not exist any more.
The extremes have just changed.
The struggle now lies in feeling important without praise and recognition through physical feats. It lies in feeling successful without attaining a measurable goal. There is a struggle to assign the same meaning of our athletic extremes to ordinary life.
Athletes go from feeling like one in a million to just another one of the millions.
I love being ordinary, but it took some time to get here. I realize and understand that life's greatest pleasures do not come from the cool places I traveled, the medals I won or the publicity I received.
It comes from the people I love. Life's little moments. It comes from giving back and being present. Another quote from the book that resonated with me,
"You will have a growing appreciation for life's basic experiences: the pleasures of simple friendship, creating something, helping a person in need, reading a good book, laughing with someone you care about.
Sounds boring, doesn't it? That's because these things are ordinary. But maybe they're ordinary for a reason: because they are what actually matters."
I believe the constant need for approval and feeling of doing something cool and important has made the transition for athletes a little tougher. But, we need to start recognizing this while still playing. Athletes must find joy and appreciation in the mundane things in life. We must find as much normalcy as possible, in order for the transition post-athletic career to be somewhat smoother.
Understanding that sport is what we do, it is not who we are.
Sidenote: I am taking a little break from volleyball as Team Canada makes the transition from Winnipeg to Richmond, B.C. I decided against playing overseas and wanted to see what life is like at home. At first, it was a shock to the system. I was constantly thinking about what I could do to replicate that feeling of being important and "extraordinary." Should I start a business? Create an app? Write a book? I had this feeling that I needed to do something big and meaningful. How can I experience the feelings, thoughts and emotions I had when I played professional volleyball? The truth is, I probably won't. That's okay. The last couple of months have been refreshing, as I am learning to love and appreciate the simple and "boring" things in life. Accepting that not everyone is meant to be or do extraordinary things.
One last quote from the great and inspring, Mark Manson:
"After all, if everyone were extraordinary, then by definition no one would be extraordinary."