December 7

Ian Thorpe—The Wisdom of a Champion

December 7, 2006

Personal Growth

Ian Thorpe is a five-time Olympic gold medalist and eleven-time world champion in swimming, and today at the tender age of twenty-four he announced his retirement from his sport, at a time when his prospects for yet additional honors were excellent.

Quoting from his press conference: “I started asking a lot of questions, and I started to look at myself, not just as swimmer, but as a person. What would my life be like without swimming? It's a very, very dark question for me because swimming has provided a safety blanket. It's been a security kind of net for me. When I'm not certain about developing other sides of my life, I just fall straight back into swimming. And what it's meant is I haven't balanced out my life as well as what I should . . . Swimming has provided that security." 

This young man competed on the Australian national team at age fourteen, so he has bathed in the light of praise and power from a young age. After years of earning all the attention he’s received, he’s realized that something is missing. He may not realize yet exactly what he’s missing, but he illustrates nicely what all of us realize at some point in our lives: No amount of Imitation Love can ever fill up our emptiness.

The people who seek praise are always looking for the next moment of applause.

Those who seek money as their source of fulfillment are constantly trying to make the next dollar.

Those who revel in power can never get enough.

The people who hope that sex will make them happy are in a continual search for their next pleasurable experience.

And so it goes with all the forms of Imitation Love: shopping, gambling, entertainment, adrenalin, and so on.

Some people even switch from one form of Imitation Love to another, hoping that the change will prove satisfying. That’s what happens, for example, when men who have tried to find happiness in the praise and power they get from their careers suddenly have a mid-life crisis and run off with their secretaries. They come to the horrifying realization that what they’re doing will never make them happy, and they hope that a switch to pleasure might fill them up, but of course it never does.

One can only hope that young Ian Thorpe will find Real Love and won’t simply move to another form of Imitation Love. At least he has recognized at an early age that the pursuit of praise isn’t nearly as fulfilling as he once had hoped.

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