After Success – What’s Next?

What's after success

“Records are always made to be broken no matter what they are… Anybody can do anything that they set their mind to.”

– Michael Phelps

It’s no secret Michael Phelps made history at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. In case you’ve already forgotten, the number was eight. Yup, eight gold medals in the eight events he chose to participate in.

Michael had his eyes set on this number for a long time, but it had never been done before; and what do people say when something has never been done before? “It’s impossible.”

Countless people dismissed him, even the swimmer he idolized growing up, Ian Thorpe thought it couldn’t be done. “I wish him all the best. I would love to see it happen but I don’t think it will,” said Thorpe in an interview with Fox Sports prior to the 2008 Olympic showdown.

So what did Michael do? He put those words on the inside of his locker door, he trained for 8-12 hours a day (even on Christmas), he significantly altered his diet (I’m sure you’ve heard of his 12,000 calories per day diet), and he achieved what everyone thought couldn’t be done.

But have you ever been in pursuit of something so big, for so long, that once you attain it, you have a hard time transitioning to what’s next? Maybe you got accepted to your dream school, got your perfect job, or – like Michael – achieved a certain amount of success in your sport.

After achieving such an incredible feat, what was supposed to motivate Phelps to get back in the pool?

Initially, nothing did

“At that point, I just didn’t have anything. It was weird going from the highest of the high, the biggest point of your life – winning eight gold medals – and then saying, ‘All right, where do I go from here?’”

For nearly six months, Phelps didn’t go anywhere near water. His coach thought he gave up, he gained 25 pounds, and he just had no drive to get out of bed in the morning.

Sure, he was burnt out and needed a break, but he’d be the first to say that realistically, he just had a hard time transitioning to what was next. For as long as he could remember, so much time and energy was devoted to achieving the gold at Beijing that he had never spent any time envisioning what he wanted his life to be like beyond that. That’s the danger about having a one-goal list – it makes you think about life as if it is a destination rather than an ongoing journey.

But we all know that changed. So what sparked his motivation?

There’s this saying in the corporate world – whether you’re a lawyer, a consultant, or a banker – you’re only as good as your last case, your last project, or your last deal. Sure, you might not agree with it – and it might not be entirely true – but that’s how the world views you. So when the dust from Beijing settled – no matter how golden it might have been – and it was now Ryan Lochte the one breaking records, all that history Phelps made in Beijing was just that: history.

When Phelps won the eight golds, Ian Thorpe – the man who told Phelps it couldn’t be done – was quoted saying, “I’m really proud of him not just because he won eight golds. Rather, it’s how much he has grown up and matured into a great human being. Never in my life have I been so happy to have been proved wrong. I enjoyed every moment of it.”

Thorpe makes a good point. It’s not always about your goals – goals come and go. What’s most important is the kind person you want to be – your values. This is the stuff that sticks through thick and thin – what you stand for, what you stand against, and what you expect of yourself.

So when Phelps’ was stuck in that rut, not knowing what was next for him, all he had to do was revert back to what motivated him in the first place: being a competitor and leaving everything he had in the pool.

NBA basketball star, Kobe Bryant, has always said that he will retire before he has to settle for being just another player. And Phelps has tended to agree. But still having gas left in the tank, he knew that he wouldn’t have to settle for being just another swimmer.

And now at 195 pounds, he revitalized his training program and got back in the pool, making Olympic history at the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games winning another six medals and becoming the most decorated Olympian of all time.

So if you achieve something big, something you’ve been striving towards for a very long time, make sure you take a well-earned break to celebrate – but also make sure to understand when it’s time to reassess, and a good look at your values will help you decide what’s next.

“Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.” 

– Mahatma Gandhi

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