University life is pretty wonderful. As a student, I have access to so many free and low-cost resources that aren’t necessarily easy to come by outside of the university bubble. Health services, academic counselling, career workshops, and the occasional free midnight breakfast during exam season are a few of these perks.
Throughout my undergrad, I’ve also had the opportunity to meet and hear the stories of so many inspiring people. This past Tuesday, Clara Hughes visited Western’s campus — an event that was free for all students and faculty to attend.
For those of you who don’t know who Clara Hughes is, here’s the quick version:
Clara is a Canadian athlete who has won 6 Olympic medals:
Two in the Summer Olympics for cycling, and four in the Winter Olympics for speed skating.
(I know, I know… you’re fan-girling aren’t you? Excelling at just one thing is extraordinary enough!)
But Clara’s story is so much bigger than her athletic achievements. Speaking openly about her struggles with depression and disordered eating, Clara is the spokesperson for the Bell Let’s Talk campaign — a Canadian campaign that aims to shift mental health conversations to a state in which they’re comfortable, common, and stigma-free. Clara is also an Athlete Ambassador for Right To Play, and a member of RTP’s International Board of Directors.
I don’t know about you, but I sometimes catch myself subscribing to the notion that elite athletes have it all together. My Instagram feed is filled with incredible snapshots of incredible athletes doing incredible things, day in, day out. Their lives as I know them through TV screens, Instagram filters and other social media channels are entirely focused on and dedicated to their craft. From my couch, it’s easy to forget that these people are, in fact, people, and (like you and me) they are not immune to pressure, stress, illness, insecurity, masochism, injury, and self-doubt.
While Clara’s book Open Heart, Open Mind, does share the triumphs of her athletic career, more importantly, it provides insight into what was really going on off the screen and inside Clara’s head throughout her career. (If you haven’t read the book, I can’t recommend it enough. Plus, all the money raised by the book goes straight to charities like Right To Play and Take a Hike!)
Anywho… back to the event. The Q&A portion of the event was small and intimate — we all cozied up in a circle and Clara took off her microphone. After reading her book, I had so many questions for her, but I opted for one that had been running through my mind consistently. In Open Heart, Open Mind, Clara wrote that
“… as a pro athlete… narcissism was defined as ‘commitment.’ It became an invisible cloak I was encouraged to wear.”
I think there’s a fine line here for anyone that’s trying to pursue something at a high level — athletic or otherwise. Whatever your passion, it takes time, energy, and focus to become your own version of ‘great.’ For example, as athletes, we need sleep, proper fuel, and time for both workouts and recovery. Where is the balance between healthy commitment and unhealthy narcissism? How can we remain committed to continuous improvement without becoming self-absorbed?
I don’t know what I was expecting Clara to say — maybe something about meditation, consciously grounding ourselves, or not taking ourselves too seriously — all of which make sense in theory, but aren’t entirely tangible and are much easier said than done.
Her advice was not what I was expecting. It was simple and practical. If you want to maintain your humanity, try something new. Get outside of your comfort zone — your daily grind — and try something new: something difficult; something that will kick your butt; something that will remind you of your own humanity, and will bring lightness and perspective into your life. Humble yourself. For Clara, this was achieved through hiking the Appalachian Trail, but for you or me it might be through rock climbing, learning how to oil paint, or taking up yoga.
Simple, yes, but a great reminder to keep ourselves human. There comes a point where we might begin to treat ourselves as machines, forgetting that variety is, indeed, the spice of life!
Challenge: You already know… This week, try something new! Recognize that joy can be found in places that you haven’t looked yet. In the process, be kind and light with yourself — remind yourself that you are human — you are not defined by your sport or your ‘skill;’ you are more.
Earth is a big place. Go explore!
Earth is a big place. Go explore!