This is an excerpt from In Pursuit of Excellence, 5th Edition by Terry Orlick.
Transitioning Out of High-Performance Pursuits: Kerrin Lee-Gartner
Many high-performance athletes and performers in other meaningful high-performance pursuits experience challenges or difficulties when transitioning out of their high-performance pursuit. I asked Kerrin Lee-Gartner, an Olympic gold medalist athlete with whom I had the pleasure of working over the course of her entire career, if she would update me on her life since winning her Olympic gold medal in downhill skiing at the 1992 Winter Olympic Games in Albertville, France. She sent me the following update in July 2014.
When I reflect back and share moments and lessons learned on my journey, it is clear just how important my belief and mental strength was to my success. As a shy little girl, I always dreamed I would win at the Olympics. It was wished for on every birthday as I blew out the candles and on every falling star. I would shake the Magic 8 Ball until it gave me the answer I was searching for. I was relentless.
As it turns out, the dreaming was the easy part for me. I could dream big, it was the first step, but I had no idea what I could do with my giant imagination.
I was extremely fortunate to work with Terry Orlick. Terry taught me the next step, the methods and importance of mental training and imagery. He gave my imagination focus. He taught me to learn, and he taught me how to apply the lessons learned, which ultimately unlocked my true potential.
My commitment to the sport and to my dream was always automatic for me; it never wavered. But with that said, my confidence was fleeting; one moment I had complete faith in my abilities while the next moment was filled with undeniable doubt.
I learned to counter this negativity and doubt with positive images and positive self-talk. I nurtured the positives in any situation. My imagery, mental readiness, and fully focused connection became precise, accurate, and reliable, and my mind became one of my greatest strengths. My confidence grew as I developed the mental attributes needed to win and to overcome adversity.
I retired from racing in 1994 and started work as a sports commentator and motivational speaker as well as my favorite full-time job of being a mom. Now, more than 20 years later, my confidence is stronger than it has ever been, but it remains somewhat fragile. It wavers at work and at play, as a woman and as a mother. At these moments when my doubts creep in, I am thankful for the "athlete trained" automatic positive refocusing that takes place!
Learning to overcome my fear of failure as a racer has helped me in business and in my daily life. When those doubts and nerves present themselves before a speech or a live broadcast, I feel all my "prerace" positive self-talk taking over. I accept the feelings for what they are and refocus on the task at hand. Whether in a boardroom, on air, or on a tee box, when I know I am prepared and have done my homework, I can trust myself to give my best effort.
As I age, I am still learning. I have learned how empowering self-awareness is, knowing my strengths and nurturing them. At the same time, I am keenly aware of my weaknesses and how they affect me. The importance of being kinder to myself has been a blessing, and when I make a mistake I am more forgiving, but this is most definitely an ongoing battle!
At the age of 40, I finally gave myself a break and realized that it is fine if I am not always confident or strong or don’t do a perfect job. This milestone has allowed me to recognize all my little successes instead of letting them go unnoticed.
Looking back at my time working with Terry, I am thankful for learning such valuable life lessons. Belief in myself grew because I learned how to focus on the right things; this works in everyday life. Seeing the positives isn’t about blind faith or about wearing blinders. It is about owning the skill to see something good in an otherwise negative or stressful situation.
I am happy to still be working with my husband, Max. We both remain passionate about high-performance sports and are sharing our insights for business success and athlete mentorship through our company Gold Mettle.
Our two daughters have been raised with many lessons from the sports world and have been encouraged to dream big, imagine, and believe.
Thank you, Terry, for focusing my imagination, for teaching me the strength of a positive mind, and for building my belief system.
Most importantly, thank you for teaching me to learn.
Focusing Through Transitions
Life is full of transitions, from the beginning of your life to the end of your life and everywhere in between. The better you become at focusing in positive and life-enhancing ways, the happier and more fulfilling your life will be. Every day you make choices and move through a variety of transitions. Some of your choices are positive and some perhaps not so positive. When you wake up every morning, do you focus on thinking about something positive you are going to do, or are you thinking about something negative you have to do? If you are thinking about something negative, the best thing you can do is shift your focus to something positive.
From the time we wake in the morning until the time we go to sleep at night we are usually focused on something - some thought, feeling, experience, hope, regret, memory, wish, dream, or worry - negative or positive. Your thoughts and focus lead your reality, for better or for worse, so my advice to you is to focus on the positive and the positive possibilities!
Positive performances, positive transitions, and ongoing positive living and learning become possible when you find a way to remain positive and fully connected through the many challenges, opportunities, performances, and transitions you experience or have the potential to experience every day of your life. When you choose to fully embrace simple opportunities every day and continue to find, share, and embrace simple joys that live within each of those opportunities every day, your life and the lives of your loved ones become infinitely more joyful.
Take a few minutes to think about the following questions and write down your answers.
- What do you love most about your life?
- What makes you feel most fully alive?
- What do you feel you are missing in your life right now, if anything, that could make your life feel more complete or more joyful?
- What is it you are doing or not doing, or feeling or not feeling, that you would like to do or feel more often or more fully?
- What are you doing that you don’t want to do? Why are you doing what you don’t want to do?
- What do you wish was in your life right now that you do not have in your life right now?
- What can you do or change in your life or your focus right now to live the life you really want to live?
The circumstances of your transition out of high-performance sport or any other high-performance pursuit, or out of a relationship, can determine how challenging it is. For example, if your transition out of your sport, performance domain, or relationship is something you want and are looking forward to, it will be easier than transitioning out of a sport, performance domain, or relationship that you do not want to end.
When you are contemplating a transition in any part of your life, it is helpful to think about the positives and negatives - the potential benefits and probable drawbacks - of staying or leaving. Think about your reasons for wanting to transition out of your sport or high-performance domain. Maybe you are tired of the same old routine or feel like you have been doing this your whole life; maybe you would like to try something new or different; or maybe your performance is declining, your body is hurting, and your injuries are increasing. Or maybe you are tired of being on the road all the time or have financial concerns or relationship issues at home. Maybe you are just ready for a change.
One of the primary reasons high-performance athletes and performers in other demanding high-performance pursuits begin to think about transitioning out of their performance domain is that their performance begins to decline. At some point in your life as a high-performance athlete or high-level performer in any demanding pursuit, you have to transition out of something you excelled at to something else. One advantage in making a transition is that it can lead to a new positive challenge, and you might finally have some time to do other things you have not been able to do because of your complete commitment to your high-performance pursuit. Having time to explore other positive opportunities or find other interesting or positive things to do or pursue might be joyful and challenging in ongoing positive and life-enhancing ways.
Many high-performance athletes who leave their sport initially experience a sense of loss of purpose, value, or personal meaning. The athlete might think, I have been a high-performance athlete and a member of this team for most of my life, so what am I now? However, with time that initial sense of loss can be turned into a golden opportunity to learn or experience something new or different about yourself or find something new that is challenging in positive and life-enhancing ways.
When you are transitioning out of high-performance sport or other performance domains, it is OK to feel disappointed or even a sense of loss, but I can assure you it isn’t the end of the world. It doesn’t mean that you are a worthless or less valued person. It has nothing to do with your overall value as a human being. Choose to keep things in perspective and learn from your ongoing experiences (good ones and not-so-good ones) by looking for positive lessons in each of those experiences.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What have I learned about myself from my sport or performance experiences?
- What have I learned about my best and less than best performance focus?
- What did I learn from my coaches, teammates, and the people around me?
- What did I learn about how to perform my best in important competitions, challenges, or events that could be applied to other learning or performance pursuits?
- What did I learn in my sport or performance experiences that can help me feel better, connect more fully, or focus in more positive ways in my future performance pursuits or ongoing life challenges?
By reflecting on and applying your best focus to new and exciting challenges, you will move forward quickly in whatever pursuit you choose to fully embrace. When you bring a positive perspective and fully connected focus to any future work or performance pursuit, you will contribute more and gain something of real value from each experience, especially when you continue to draw out and act on the ongoing lessons learned.
Learn more about In Pursuit of Excellence, Fifth Edition.