This past July 28th, Simone Biles, one of two of the most decorated gymnasts in the world (along with Larisa Latynina of the Soviet Union), dared to walk off the mat at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and leave the competition. Her reason? Mental health issues. Feeling “the weight of the world on her shoulders,” Biles chose to place her personal safety and mental well-being first.
With 32 Olympic and World Championship medals under her belt, this young woman’s audacious move was harshly criticized by some commentators: She was accused of being a "quitter,” selfishly depriving another athlete of the chance to compete and abandoning the U.S. Olympic team. Russian state-owned media slandered her with racist, sexist and transphobic undertones; it even accused her of being a “drug cheat.”
I was relieved to also learn that multiple gymnasts defended Biles' decision and opened up about their own struggles on the mat. Thankfully, Biles' decision to prioritize her mental health was generally praised and even credited with initiating a wider conversation about the role of mental health in sports.
As a wellness educator, it’s probably predictable that I’d applaud such a decision supporting mental health and self-care; and my perspective was formed long before Ms. Biles entered the scene…
My first job in education was working with small children with language and learning disabilities. One of the most important initial skills I was taught was making observations and queries about the kids’ art pieces rather than offering raves or approval. “What a bright yellow sun in the sky you’ve colored! And the children look like they’re having such fun!” or “The eyes of this little girl look very blue and also very sad. I wonder what she’s feeling?” vs. “Oh, I love this!” “Great job!” or “This is wonderful!” and “You’re so talented!”
Our approach encouraged the children to develop a sense of competence and worth from within rather than looking to sources outside themselves for direction and approval. Encouraging self-awareness and confidence were always the ultimate teaching goal.
Less than a year into that job, much to my surprise and disappointment, I started getting in touch with my mounting stress and anxiety levels. When I recognized my own mental health was being compromised, I made the difficult decision to quit. As a farewell gift, the staff gave me a ceramic mug filled with lots of yummies. Even after 45 years, numerous moves and multiple chips, I’ve kept the mug because its message has remained so relevant to me:
TO LIVE YOUR LIFE IN YOUR OWN WAY
TO REACH FOR THE GOALS YOU HAVE SET FOR YOURSELF
TO BE THE YOU THAT YOU WANT TO BE
THAT IS SUCCESS.
It’s wonderful to have a collaborative, team spirit, to work at times for the good of the whole or for something larger than yourself. At the same time, it’s important to heed the wisdom of Socrates:
This above all: To thine own self be true.”
I chose those words for my high school senior yearbook quote. Little did I know then how difficult such a commitment would be! As a woman of my generation, placing others above yourself was the ideal. Today, many of my wholistic life coaching clients are mature women who are striving valiantly to break that unhealthy pattern. Accepting their own worth, identity and vision as being every bit as important as others’… that their own needs and desires must be honored in order to sustain healthy giving to others… these are challenging notions considering the messages we’ve received throughout our lives.
In fact, current research reveals that, even in utero, we begin to receive and absorb unconscious emotional programming that influences our ideas, values and choices throughout our formative years and beyond. Even with all the advances made over the decades, females especially are still encouraged to be other-focused and to derive their worth through the eyes and judgments of the world outside themselves.
Research also reveals that, at the end of life, most seniors—female and male--share a top regret: Not choosing to walk one’s own path more frequently or with more confidence. That regret is often expressed this way: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
Simone Biles said this after withdrawing from the team final last month:
"I say put mental health first. Because if you don't, then you're not going to enjoy your sport and you're not going to succeed as much as you want to. So, it's OK sometimes to even sit out the big competitions to focus on yourself, because it shows how strong of a competitor and person that you really are — rather than just battle through it."
At the ripe old age of 24, Ms. Biles’ winning spirit and wisdom provide an inspiring example for all who recognize the importance of living a life of their own.
If you long to make more progress with that goal, I invite you to consider my wholistic life coaching services. It’s never too late to start listening to yourself more honestly and honoring what you hear.
May I, we & all beings choose to live our one precious life with increased courage, authenticity & confidence.
Deb Langhans has worked in the wellness field as a coach/counselor, writer & speaker for over 25 years. She currently owns & operates Journeys to Healing on San Juan Island where she offers "wholistic" life coaching, mindfulness & grief recovery coaching, reflexology, Inner Journey Collage© & a developing line of products designed to encourage healthy habits.
Most services are available in Deb's studio or via phone or Zoom. For more information or scheduling, please go to www.journeystohealing.com (website). email@example.com (email), or 360.317.4526 (texts preferred).