Clouds rolled past the airplane window as we began our descent back to Detroit. I pulled my phone from my pocket to see if we were low enough to get reception. As I unlocked it, my phone buzzed with Twitter notifications, “Women’s Triple Jump American Record, Previously Held by Tori Franklin, BROKEN!”
I flared up like pinecones in a fire.“Okaaayy,” I thought to myself. My lips tightened and my inner lioness bellowed a dominating, territory-enforcing roar. I was on an airplane, but I wanted to go straight to practice. I would’ve stood up and started doing triple jump technique drills in the aisle if I wasn’t cornered in the window seat. There was a new sense of urgency to get better, be more focused, do extra, and do whatever it takes for me to get the American Record back.
When I was young, my sole focus was to win. I didn’t care who I was up against, I didn’t care to know their name or where they were from. If they lined up next to me, they were getting their butt “Hwhooped.” For many years, winning was the only thing that motivated me. But when I got to college, suddenly I wasn’t such a big fish in a little pond, and I didn’t win all the time. I began to realize that my focus had to change, or I would be destined to always feel unmotivated and inadequate for not being the best athlete on the track.
Lately, I’ve been looking to other athletes for inspiration… the ones who have been in the game for 8, 9, 10+ years. The athletes who deliver, year after year. Lebron James, who’s been playing professionally since 2003, has won four championships, been dubbed MVP four times, yet he keeps coming with the same intensity, the same focus, and the same mindset year after year. Allyson Felix has been running professionally since she was 16, and 14 years later she continues to show up and show out. Tom Brady, Serena Williams, Christian Taylor… in the game and never missing a beat.
How do they manage to stay focused, driven, hungry? What keeps them motivated to bring that fire every time their name is announced?
I obviously can’t speak for any of them, but from my experience, it’s not easy, and the things that motivate you change as you grow and mature.
I did a “very scientific” poll on my Instagram story, @livehappii. I asked my followers what motivates them and found that the answers varied by age. One thing that most athletes have in common, regardless of age, is the motivation to simply do their best. But the younger athletes who responded were most motivated by winning, recognition, and money. Many of the athletes in their twenties were motivated by making their family and friends proud. And the mature group, the ones who have been around a while, were largely motivated by reaching their goals, inspiring the youth, and striving to be their best. And 87% of people over 25 said that their sources of motivation have changed as they’ve aged.
My personal journey closely matches these results. When I was young, all I wanted to do was beat the boys. I wanted to be the best in the room, at whatever it was. If I managed that, I’d try to be the best one in the building. If that was possible, I’d go for the best in the town, then state, and region. I dreamed of the money and recognition that comes with being so awesome at what I pursued. That was my drive, that was my motivation. But, this motivation of achieving status, of ‘being the best’ is relative to others. It is an externally based source of motivation.
The problem with this is that it can alter your perspective of yourself. What do you do when you aren’t the best? What happens to your mind when you aren’t winning?
When you’re focused on all the external acknowledgments of your success, you tend to subconsciously create your identity around your accomplishments. You become the superstar athlete, the award-winning coach, the top salesman, the straight-A student. Your sense of identity sways with the wins and losses.
Some moments you’re on a high because you are winning, people love you, family and friends are proud of you, you KNOW that this is your calling. But when you haven’t been doing so great (and the time will inevitably come), you start reconsidering your life choices. You want to quit.
When I broke the American Record in the women’s triple jump in 2018, that wasn’t my main goal. My motivation that day was to “fuck shit up”… simply to bring everything I had on that day to the competition. My speed, my attitude, my power, and my energy. I knew if I did that, then whatever I accomplished on that day was good by me. I was essentially motivated by being my best.
It is my ego that craves the status of a 2-time American Record holder, my ego wants to use that as its primary fuel source.
I began receiving DM’s of fans saying “GO GET IT BACK NEXT WEEKEND!” and “YOU’RE STILL The GOAT.” And of course, I appreciate and LOVE their support, but at that moment I knew my motivation no longer comes from what someone else has done (unless it’s actually in competition). That ego-based fiery passion isn’t sustainable in me anymore. It takes too much energy to be focused on other people or worrying about what “more” I need to be doing. So, I let that subside.
The motivation that feeds me now is internal. I have a plan, a process, and a work ethic that I know will get me to where I need to be when it’s time. I’m motivated by being the absolute best that I can be. I leave it all on the track, and I know that if I do that my goals will be reached.
Focusing your energy on things you can control nourishes your drive to be better. Whether you’re “the best” at what you do or not, let your goals be what motivates you to keep going and keep climbing.