Am I the shell of someone I once knew?

Olympic Training Center 023.jpg

What happens when you wake up and forget who you used to be? Is it a sign of growth and rejuvenation? Or have you lost a piece of yourself, a shell of who you once were?

I often introduce myself to new friends and colleagues, without mentioning a detail that at one point in my life defined me. I used to be a competitive swimmer. It’s that simple. I used to be a competitive swimmer and now-a-days I sometimes forget. 

I forget that competitive swimming defined my life and my identify. I forget that I would have sacrificed anything - time, friends, and even my grades for the chance to compete internationally and make it to the Olympics.

Identify is a funny thing. We try on identities all the time - as partners, as friends, and especially as job seekers (something I’m focused on quite a bit these days). We immerse ourselves in the language and culture of our in-group, sometimes to the point of not being able to leave; it is so ingrained in us that sometimes it’s difficult to imagine identifying with another group in this way.

At what point does our identity shift? When do we awaken to the conscious notion that we have changed and our world views are different? Passions and hobbies that once seemed so important (i.e. making that documentary in Argentina or writing a children’s book) have stopped being so important. Is that okay?

Sometimes, I remember the hours I spent staring at the black line on the bottom of the pool. I remember the long practices, the sore shoulders and the nervousness I felt as I prepared for a big swim meet. I remember the diligence by which I recorded every workout in a tattered journal now hiding in my storage unit; the obsessiveness by which I tracked competition results, labeling each medal with my time and place in permanent marker.

These memories fade into the distance; they are no longer my reality. 

We change, and the environment around us changes. As many leaders point out, change is the only constant. When we are ready to face the change in our lives, we have to accept it. We have to honor the memories of our former life and face who we are now, and what that means. I acknowledge the impact that swimming has had on me; being a swimmer has shaped how I see the world and how I approach the relationships I build and the work I do. 

Being a swimmer will always be a part of me, but it does not define me right now. That’s difficult for me to hear, and I am slowly trying to accept it. 

If you're wondering what inspired this post: Last month I was grateful to attend the Forbes Under 30 Summit in Philadelphia. On the agenda was a session featuring three Olympic soccer players which I thought about skipping because I had other more important work to do; it was at that moment it hit me: in my former life, I would have never missed an opportunity to hear an Olympian. How can I reconcile this with the obsessed swimmer-athlete that I used to be who would never miss a talk from an Olympian?

If you're wondering what the picture is above: It's of me the summer I interned with US Figure Skating and lived at the Olympic Training Center 10 years ago, standing next to my childhood swimming idol, Janet Evans.