I was privileged to attend a Growing Leaders seminar this week with Josh Foliart with a leadership program through Vanderbilt Athletics. The topic was mental health and its relationship to being a good leader. What we discussed resonated a lot with me, giving me a reminder of what’s important in life, and gave me insight on how to be the best leader on and off the track.
The first thing that our facilitator, Josh, said was
“Who you are is more important than what you do”
I heard this, and was just like WOW. I didn’t realize how much I needed to hear that. This simple statement is easy to forget, but it’s something we could all use as a daily reminder. Especially as a student-athlete, it is easy to define your worth based on what you do as an athlete, or as a student. For anyone, it can be easy to get caught up on the tangible things that are visible to everyone to see whether it be a sport, a job, your appearance, etc. Personally, in my athletic journey there have been times when I put more value on what I was able to do on the track than who I am as a person.
In my first couple years of college, I almost always introduced myself as “I’m Becca and I’m on the track team.” My identity was tied up with my activity. And while there is nothing inherently wrong with that, I was forgetting all the other parts of me, and letting that one, outwardly visible trait be a defining characteristic. I was becoming a “human doing” instead of a human “being.”
I have felt the pressures of the “what” as I have developed as an athlete. Being a competitive person, I always want to put my best foot forward. While this makes for a good athlete, this can also be detrimental for your mental health, and in my case physical health if you do not watch out for it. My desire to become the best athlete has lead to some unintended consequences including disordered eating and injury. In my quest to make the “what” the best, I forgot the “who.” I am not saying don’t try to be the best, and not put forth the effort, but a reminder that you are worth so much more than what a number, statistic, or appearance says about you.
Another way to describe this sentiment is the classic image of the iceberg.
The part of the iceberg that you can see is only the beginning. Whether its your sport, some skill, or another visible trait, it is only a small portion of who you are. You are so much bigger than what people see from the onset. It can be easier to work on and focus on the outside, but the 90% below the surface is what makes up your character. This certainly is something to keep in mind when interacting with others as well. You may only be seeing 10% of a person. It is easy to quick to judge (I definitely experience this), but it’s important to remember that is not the whole story. Everyone has their own iceberg and it takes time and work to fully understand a person. Growing as a leader and as a person is growing in the unseen parts, and helping others do the same.
What is your 90%
Josh gave us 60 seconds to write down 5 words to use to describe our own unseen character. This forced me to really think about who I am as a person, what I value, and what is important to me. A few of the words I or fellow student athletes reported were: passionate, determined, caring, understanding, generous, trustworthy. You can see how some of these core values help you to become a successful athlete, but they mean and influence much more. They are not defined by what they give you, but rather measures of character.
If you were to describe yourself to me right now, what type of words would you use? Would you pick the tangible, visible 10%, or would you pick the deeper core values that reach the 90% of your character? I encourage you to think about WHO you are as a person, and WHO you want to become.
What 5 words would you choose?
And as a final reminder, here’s some advice from non other than Mufasa himself: