One of the great stories to emerge already from the Rio Olympics is the return of Michael Phelps.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the Michael Phelps story however, is the fact that just months after London 2012 – Phelps was retired and pondering a life beyond swimming. For the first time in a decade, he had lost in his signature race – the 200m butterfly – and had to face up to the fact that he was not invincible after all.
The problem was he did not know how to do life without swimming. It had become his passion in order to become the great champion he was.
Passion is wonderful and absolutely a prerequisite for anything you want to excel in.
Purpose however, is something different.
Michael Phelps found himself without purpose in his life for the first time ever and at his lowest point, turned to alcohol and drugs. He wanted nothing to do with swimming ever again. He despised the image of perfection he had come to personify.
He even contemplated suicide and said in a recent documentary, “I figured the best thing to do was to end my life.”
A close friend and fellow Baltimore sporting icon, Ray Lewis gave him a copy of the New York Times best-selling book, The Purpose-Driven Life and everything began to change. He went into rehab for forty-five days, did swimming drills in the pool (even though in his own words, he would go end to end with a mere two strokes!) and faced his demons.
Like so many people – irrespective of their sporting or life achievements – Phelps had had a difficult relationship with his father, who divorced Michael’s mother when he was nine years old. As Michael found a deeper, more secure purpose to his life that was not governed by his tally of medals, he was able to enjoy the fruit of being reconciled to his father, make a lifetime commitment to his girlfriend, and become a father himself for the first time.
And then he rediscovered his passion for swimming. He made it in to the U.S. Olympic team for Rio 2016, and is now back to his best, winning Gold medals.
What can we learn from Michael Phelps?
Find your Passion for sure.
Maybe it is linked to your Purpose also but never confuse the two.
Your Purpose in life is always far deeper and more significant than anything you may do.
Your Purpose defines who you are and is not about your achievements or lack of them.
Your Purpose is bound up with the ones you love not the things you win.