A Letter to My Younger Self

Dear Erica,

As I write to you today, I am 31 years old. You graduated from Purdue University nearly nine years ago (which seems like forever ago now). A lot has happened to you since then, too -- a husband, a sweet baby girl, a dog, the start of a career, the change of career path, two house purchases, four different homes (and cities) and several military deployments to the Middle East for your husband. You have met some wonderful people along the way, but have also had to say goodbye to many good friends. A lot of doors have opened because of these great friends as well.

Through all of that, you are able recognize that your life is truly amazing. You are so blessed in so many ways. And you are able to see this and are grateful for it almost every day.

Your swimming career was a big part of making you who you are today – as you spent nearly 15 years doing it! You have learned a lot along the way, even since that time.

As you embark on your career as a swimmer and navigate “growing up,” here are a couple of things to remember along the way:

You are driven and dedicated. You set goals, you figure out how to get there and you do it. It’s as simple as that. Sure, there are roadblocks along the way, but you find opportunities, you are resourceful and you aren’t as bad at asking for help as you might think.

You have a strong work ethic. At age 12, you voluntarily start swimming before and after school every day. That means you wake your mom up every morning to drive you to practice. This is one of the hardest things you have to do because your mom has to wake up every day at 5 a.m. to drive you and sit at practice with you, but she happily does it for you. From this, you learn to take ownership in your actions and your outcomes and that ends up being a valuable skill for you later in life. This experience also teaches you how to be selfless as a mom.

Your body is made for distance and endurance. You will hate this, but you embrace it because you are good at it. The more you fight with yourself and coaches about this, the more difficult and less you will perform to your ability. Just accept it and you will thrive.

Before college, you switch club teams a few times. During college, you switch coaches and teams during the summers. These are tough decisions every time, but you learn how to make these decisions for yourself, how to have tough conversations and how to deal with the consequences because of it.

Throughout your life you miss out on a lot of things. You miss school dances, parties, dates, sleepovers, football games, and other events. At the time, you don’t care at all because you are so focused on your goal. This also gives you a bit of tunnel vision. You aren’t able to see the big picture sometimes and you absolutely take yourself too seriously. Try to find more balance here – you can still do both well.

Throughout your swimming career, you are rewarded, directed, instructed, pushed, challenged, “talked-up,” pressured, tired, happy, scheduled, stressed, too busy and always striving to be better than the day before. You are never content and you always want to be the best at everything. And you want to be everything to everyone. You are stuck in these ways for quite a while after your swimming career too. Don’t worry, you survive it. You also eventually learn to slow down and practice patience. It’s a tough skill for you, but you keep working on it.

You learn through some ups and downs during college that everything is your choice—regardless of the consequences. You almost quit swimming your junior year at Purdue and really struggle to perform that year. Your attitude is also terrible most of the year. I’m thinking the two are connected somehow. You felt pressured and everything felt forced – again, I think it was a bit of the swimming events you were doing and your attitude toward them. Be kind to yourself, and realize it’s making you stronger.

You meet so many great people and build an amazing support system that will never leave you. You are a part of a swim team of amazing women at Purdue — many of who are still in your life today. Here you also meet the love of your life and are happily married to him today. You also have a great coach and mentor — Cathy Wright-Eger — someone who you are also still closely connected and look up to today.

You find it relatively difficult to balance school, social and your personal life while at Purdue but you manage it and are relatively successful in the end. While there are many resources that are available for the student-athletes at Purdue, you don’t utilize them enough. You take things for granted and are of the mindset that “you’ve got this.” While you’re always optimistic, you also could benefit more from utilizing these resources.

Your Purdue coaches, as well as the athletic administration continue to push the message that you are students first and athletes second. This seems obvious to you and you roll your eyes at it a lot. This is NO JOKE though and is something you should listen to as you approach your junior and senior years (or really even before that). 

You go into your senior year of college knowing that this is the end swimming for you. You are excited to “retire” and get a “real job” – yet amazingly at this point, you haven’t prepared or even talked about this transition with anyone. This year, you FINALLY qualify for the Division I NCAA Swimming Championships in the 200 and 500 Freestyle events, as well as the 400 Individual Medley. This event becomes SO memorable for you. Not only because you are performing with your teammates at one of the fastest competitive swim meets in the world, but it is the culmination of all of your “life’s work” up to that point. You finally make it to the level you have aspired to for so long. In your final race, you cry as you come into the wall for your finish. You have no idea what is next, but at the same time you felt completely relieved to be done.

As you wrap up your athletic career, you find yourself being grateful for the support of your coaches and your experiences. This gratefulness will carry with you for a long time. You also enter a new world where you feel more alone than you ever have before. Your used to being scheduled, directed and having your course mapped out for you, this is no longer the case. You are on your own to find a job and figure out what comes next. Don’t fret, you will prevail.

It is surprising to you how little you are prepared for this transition, though you don’t focus on that. You dive in head-first into a job as a public relations professional and your world is engulfed by anything and everything PR. You are good at this career, but you don’t really enjoy it and you are unbalanced. You continue to look for your “thing” in life now that swimming is over. In some ways, you spend the first four years after “retiring” trying to “find myself” and determine for the first time who you really are without the label of “the swimmer” attached to you.

You learn what’s missing from the early stages of your transition from swimming is a different kind of support. You need someone to talk to and someone to help you identify who you are and what your skills and strengths are. You eventually discover a sense of self and learn who you are a little bit more, though you wish you would have started this process earlier in life.

You will learn even more AFTER you find who you are and design your path in life. You won’t stay on that path regardless of what you design. And that’s okay – flexibility is your new friend.

Be strong. Be confident. And learn to thrive and find comfort in the unknown. Everything will be just fine.

All the love to you as you navigate these waters,

Erica

This blog post was originally published at Personal Player Development Magazine - http://ppdmag.com/.