I’ve been wondering.
When is it time to stop doing what we’re doing when it doesn’t feel right for us anymore? Even if we have put years and years of work into it.
This week U.S. gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from competition at the 2020 Olympics.
She withdrew due to medical issues. I can only imagine that it took a great deal of courage to make that decision.
I also wonder if a door might have opened for other athletes to do the same if they are struggling with the rigours of being a high performance athlete and what it takes to do compete at this level.
As well as wondering about the rest of us watching and learning about when it’s time for us all to sit down and have a rest.
I was listening to CBC radio and learned of Simone’s withdrawal from competition. I heard various callers recounting the decisions that they have made to break the destructive cycle of stress and sufferings in their lives.
I felt my own inner Olympic athlete’s head pop up curiously inside of me as well as the competitive singer who has been holding the reigns of my life for a while now working hard for perfection in singing.
I started competing early in sports. I was on all the teams – basketball, volleyball, track, soccer and was really good at it all. My specialty was the 100, 200 and 400m and in High School I won the award for the top female athlete in County of Strathcona.
When I was 16 I joined the Olympians, a group of young athlete training at a high level and began training at the Kinsmen Field House.
At some point early on in this training I realized it was too much for me and I pulled out from this direction and went down a very different path of singing and consequently competing in this area as well.
I have been singing and performing now for a very long time and I have had a some might call a ‘successful’ career in performance, songwriting and recording. I’ve performed in various parts of the world, written 3 National theme songs, produced 4 albums and so on.
In 2001 both worlds of sports and singing came together when I wrote the theme song for the World Championships in Athletics and got to perform it at the opening ceremonies. I also sang a solo in David Foster’s song ‘Can’t You Feel It’ at the closing ceremonies of the Olympics in 1988 which was another coming together of music and sport.
We put athletes, actors, hockey players etc on pedestals and don’t think of the whole person? The one who is feeling big emotions behind the scenes of the sport or concert. We don’t see them as human beings that have huge obstacles to overcome to do what they do.
There is an agreed upon understanding that this kind of work ethic is GOLD and anything else is failing and not good enough. Societal structures teach us to push against ourselves from a very young age.
Olympics, competitions, working really hard and overriding feelings, mental health is a cultural norm and systemic in our society.
This society celebrates and applauds super-human strengths and turns a blind eye to the ones who turn towards themselves and decide to drop out of the race.
Simone Biles broke the mold on this cultural norm when she stepped away from competition.
Yes the Olympics is designed for these very focussed individuals who have chosen to push past normal barriers and to break through any and all obstacles to get that perfect score, that win, but at what cost?
Once every 4 years we all sit down and watch these super athletes do feats that are incredible and unimaginable. We have feelings of awe about how could they possibly do that and imagine what is possible for ourselves in some small way.
We might step out of our regular lives for a moment and tell ourselves we must work harder, get going, push past our limits, stop being so lazy and I mean just look at them!!
But for the rest of the time we don’t watch them, we don’t see them train and work hard and push past their own inner voices that may or may not be begging them to stop.
They push beyond their inner voice because, maybe 10 seconds on a track or in a pool they might get a chance to number one in the world.
And then what?
How are you striving, pushing and working hard in your life and creating a one-sided conversation with yourself that polarizes you away from your basic human needs of connection and love?
This culture of competition and the survival of the fittest pushes us farther away from our humanity away and toward the imagined gold medal that we foresee coming one day. One day. If I can just get over myself…
We all want to be seen and heard for both our unique talents that force us to stand out in our life, as well as the right to stand back and just exist without needing to prove anything.
Simone put herself first. Before the gold. Before the press and all of the nay sayers who will likely criticize and shame her for her decision.
In the CBC radio show I heard compassion in host Ian Hanomansing’s voice as he asked many callers about their opinions of Simone’s stepping down.
The callers were were mixed on their opinions but for the most part I heard people saying that they too felt proud of her for withdrawing from competition.
They all shared their own inner battle with what I speak of here.
This conversation is radical and so inspiring for us to listen to the inner athlete in us all and know when it’s time to stop and rest. To know when enough is enough.
My athlete mind is trained to compete, to beat the component and to win so that other people will look at me and say ‘wow look at her!’
I have worked for a number of years to soften my inner athlete/singer so that I can sing without competing with myself all the time.
I am learning to open up to my softer more vulnerable side and to sing from this place instead.
It’s so embedded in our culture to step on our emotions and personal needs to get the approval from others.
I was taught that in life that I need to push past what I feel in order to get to the gold, the gig, the job etc.
As I listened and watched Simone Biles step back and withdraw from this kind of torture I knew that in some way I am still competing and trying to be perfect. My journey continues with perfection.
I don’t think that the need to push our boundaries and discover what we are capable of is going to end anytime soon and I am not suggesting that it should.
However, maybe as part of this search and push for greatness we can include and honour the inner search for what real acceptance of ourselves is, as well as listening to our bodies physical, mental and emotional needs. Even if others don’t approve.
As the pandemic ends and my roles of singer and teacher resume to a greater degree I am taking Simone Biles with me in my heart.
I am holding her there as a reminder and to help me to know when exactly enough is indeed enough and to turn inside to what is essential, natural and loving in me.