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Finding Your Direction

    Imagine that you’ve been working on something that you love, perhaps a sport. Suddenly, you begin to rise in the ranks, and soon you’re going to become an Olympian. You’ve become somebody who has to get beyond imposter syndrome to be able to grasp that opportunity and make it real.

    Meet someone who did just that. We spoke with Liz Gleadle, an Olympic Track and Field Athlete, about her drive for greatness and how she overcame adversity to be one of the most elite world competitors.

    Tara Thomas-Gettman
    What is it about your makeup and the makeup of other Olympic-level athletes that results in high performance and essentially greatness in terms of achievement? And, how can others emulate that drive to achieve their own goals?

    Liz Gleadle
    With many people, you need to find your own marker of success, and you need to find something to go towards. And that’s really where that becomes interesting because that changes throughout our lives.

    For a lot of athletes that I talk to, I ask, “Why do you want a personal best and track and field? What does that mean to you?” And many of them say it’s proof that I can do it. It’s proof that I can see what I can do if I set my mind to something. When I talk to these athletes, I realize that they say they can do it time and time again and push themselves to see what their limits are to see where their greatness lies. And they’re lucky; it’s like they know a personal best is this measurable thing.

    For many people, it’s essential to have a measurable outcome, have something that you can say, “this is the number that I’m going for.” And you don’t have to measure your success based on hitting that metric alone.

    For example, I had this big realization this year that I wanted to perform on-demand at the Olympics, and I did everything in service of that. I was the epitome of someone who left no stone unturned. And then I had the best form of my life, and I tripped on my first throw. I didn’t fall flat on my face but threw out my timing and didn’t have a great first throw. I had quite a bit of time before my next throw, and I mistook someone else’s mark for my own because they were the exact same color. And it messed up my runway again, but I managed to save a throw and get something that was passable.

    I wasn’t completely cooled down during my third throw because I am 25 minutes between my second and my third throw. I didn’t achieve what I wanted to do; I did not perform at the Olympic Games at my best, even though I had done everything for it. But I realized that my goal was just something to head towards. It was the right direction to go. I realized that I had become the type of person who would do anything to make something happen. I’d learned a lot about myself, and I completely changed who I was just by heading in a particular direction.

    Tara Thomas-Gettman
    What are some of the strategies you can impart to the average non-Olympians that we can use to enhance our lives and have a better quality of life?

    Liz Gleadle
    We’re all trying to be a high performer at something. We all want to be great at something. Maybe it’s your job, raising your kids, or just getting in great shape because it’s fun to have a body that moves really well. But I think one great thing that I’ve really taken away from the track is that I’ve noticed from the people who make it to the games or make it to the next level that they start to make something in their life a priority.

    We want to have it all – crush it at work, have great relationships, have a great partnership, be in great shape, learn German, play the guitar, learn to breakdance. We want to do all these things, except the problem is that nothing becomes a priority, and you become a jack of all trades. And that’s great for certain times in your life.

    I think that ebb and flow between expansion and trying out different things and then honing in on something for a period of time is really important. But if we do want to be great at something, we have to give up other things.