Choosing Success in Times of Transition

By Kathleen Hersey – March 1, 2014

Transition is the process or period of changing from one state or condition to another and, arguably, as humans, we are bound to change, develop, and grow just by existing. It’s the inevitable truth of life—you must grow until you can’t grow no more!

Whether you are an Olympic athlete navigating your new dream toward a career in a publishing company, a passionate CrossFitter put on the bench because of a shoulder injury, a college student making the seemingly interminable shift from school to the workplace, a triathlete who just cannot seem to get excited about training, or a parent finding a new purpose because the kids are off on their own adventure, there is this underlying theme of newness, of struggle.  

The source? Identity.  The International Olympic Committee put together a fact sheet titled “Athletic Identity and Sport Transition.” It mentions that, while “each person has different identities, your athletic identity comprises your goals, values, thoughts, and sensations.” In essence, a hard-working, goal-oriented, high-achieving person will have larger, more noticeable transitions—and even struggles—because there is a holistic dedication of one’s life to achieving this goal.

That being said, how does one ensure that a time of transition does not become a time of crisis? If transition is inevitable, then we must embrace the opportunity to change as an opportunity to create.

Here are eight rules I have learned through my own transitions:

1. Proper planning prevents poor performance
In the sports arena, this is a given. Always bring two pairs of goggles behind the blocks, always have an extra cap, pack an extra racing suit, always bring a parka (for some reason, swimming pool decks are always cold, especially in the summer), and expect the unexpected. Taking away the specifics, we can see a broader commentary: always keep your eyes open for opportunities (goggles), always think through your decisions and intentionally set goals (cap), you can never, ever, ever over-dress for an occasion (swimsuit and parka), and be so prepared that you have a backup plan for your backup plans (expecting the unexpected).

2. Find a direction and set goals
Use affirmative language, be direct, and have a due date. Don’t be afraid to fail and fail royally. Failure is part of success and often determines the magnitude of that success. Think about the last time you failed. Now think about your last success. Which one did you not want to think about? Which one taught you more? You choose your life, and you choose your direction. Was getting eighth in the Olympic Final and adding two seconds to my time the goal? No. But was I a more motivated athlete because of this failure on swimming’s largest stage? Absolutely.

3. Talk about your goals
People want to help. It’s a golden rule engrained at a young age, but people can’t help you unless you either ask for it or tell them what you want. Be clear. Making your vision known can lead to fruitful conversations, connections, and even open up new possibilities. Be bold.

4. Capitalizing on your talents and passions
Know thyself, know thy interests, and know thy talents… Ready, set, fervently pursue (or go)!

5. Finding a community
Life is not about accolades, accomplishments, or the like. Life is about the connections, the interactions, and the learning. Learn something from everyone you meet. Finding a unique story and/or connection is true value, true growth. 

6. Set little goals
Having daily goals can make the day more intention-filled during a transition period when a schedule is less consistent or familiar. By being intentional about even just one thing per day can change a mindset. Small goals such as: quiet time in the morning, walk the dog for ten minutes, write in my journal for 15 minutes, read one chapter of a book per day, or call Dad today. These small accomplishments can have big impacts. If sport is 90 percent mental, and sport is also a metaphor of life, then is life also 90 percent mental? Food for thought… (Maybe you’ll write about this for 15 minutes)!

7. Be compassionate; be of service
If you are getting a little bit lost in your thoughts or if you are feeling a bit directionless, do something for someone else. Every person wants to be heard, so try being the one who wants to listen.

8. Use this time to take a deep breath
In high school when I got my first bout of mono, Jack Bauerle, longtime friend, mentor, and 2008 Women’s Olympic Swim Team head coach, wrote me a brief note telling me not be discouraged by this sickness. This was nature’s way of telling me to slow down and take a deep breath. Thank you for these words to live by, Jack! You were totally right. I made my first Olympic Team that next season.

To exist is to change, to change is to transition; therefore, transition is constant. Be grateful you are still transitioning. 


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