Olympics, Leadership, and a Better Identity

A recurring struggle in my life is finding my identity in something other than Jesus – which is always something less than Jesus. I think being a leader who loves the role and the people can exacerbate the struggle with misplaced identity. Of course, we are to love our roles and the people we serve, but in our sinfulness, we can start to find our identity there.

The recent Olympic games reminded me of a convicting article I read after the 2016 Olympics – convicting because I saw myself in the article. The Atlantic published an article called “The Dark Side of Going for Gold.” The article chronicled the struggles successful athletes have after the games have ended. Their sport and their winning have become such a part of who they are, that many of the athletes struggle when they go home as the identity they have at home feels less than the identity they had when they were competing and winning. Here is a section from the article:

Spitz then retired at the age of 22, and spent years trying to find his identity outside of the swimming pool. He scrapped plans for dental school. He tried acting. He started a real estate business. At 42, still hungry for Olympic competition, he attempted a comeback but failed to qualify. Caroline Silby, a sports psychologist and former competitive skater, spent 14 years training to make the National Figure Skating Team. “Some athletes go through a period of time … where they feel like an impostor,” she says. “They recognize that with a blink of an eye the result could have possibly turned out differently. … The instant idolization of their achievements can lead to intense and constant worry about rejection, criticism, and being ‘found out’ that they aren’t as good as everyone thinks—or that they themselves think.” So, what can Olympians do to avoid a post-Games crisis? According to Kristin Keim, a clinical sports psychologist who runs a performance consulting business, the key is in an athlete’s readiness to build an identity off the playing field.

The convicting part of the article: We too can find our identity in what we do. It is an unsustainable place to find our worth. We too are crushed if we find our identity in our accomplishments, in our roles, or in what we do.

The comforting part of the article: While therapists and friends invite the athletes to find a new identity, the invitation from Jesus is better. We don’t find a new identity. He gives us one. We don’t have to live with the burden of achieving a new identity; by God’s grace we have already received a new identity.

Before you are a leader, you are His son or daughter. Greater than belonging to your role, you belong to Him. You are His friend, His child, His bride, His servant, and His treasured possession. When Jesus is our greatest identity the lesser identities in our lives can change without you losing who we ultimately are. As we follow Jesus, we still retain our identities of our family, our profession, our hobbies – but Jesus is the greater identity. Thus, we can more confidently navigate the challenges of this life as our greatest identity cannot be taken from us.