After the glory, what next?

There’s a fascinating article in today’s New York Times about the sudden let-down an Olympic champion can sometime face after years of preparing for a challenging goal that, even if met, can be followed by a form of post-traumatic stress when athletes find themselves without the structure, regimen and goals that previously defined their lives.

Some of the champions were able to redirect their drive into professional careers (Eric Heiden is a surgeon, for example) and entrepreneurship while others seem to fall off a cliff or live their lives as if they’re a character in the Bruce Springsteen song, “Glory Days.”

It doesn’t take winning an Olympic Gold Medal to find oneself wondering, “What next?”

This morning on NPR, I also heard a story about the challenge many soldiers returning home from war face in transitioning back into civilian life. I’ve read recently that it takes new corporate executives twice as long to transition into new jobs as previously thought — and many never do, often fixated on how things were done at their previous company.

The solution? I believe there must always be a goal in front of you. Something you are moving towards. Make it a big goal. Make sure it involves skills you don’t have so you’ll be required to learn and practice new things. Make sure it requires you to have an open mind and stimulates your curiosity. At the same time, make sure it’s something that requires you to have the same focus and discipline that got you to where you are today.

It’s great that you have been a champion. That you were a success at something previously. That you were at the top of your class, made lots of money or led a big department at Procter & Gamble. But if that’s how you see yourself, you’re looking in the rearview mirror and worse, you’re not propelling yourself forward, you’re coasting.

What’s your goal? What’s next?