Learning to be Independent After NCAA Athletics

It's been a year since I swam my last race as a collegiate swimmer, and it's amazing to me how much has changed in such a short period of time. For as long as I can remember, I've known that I care about other people more than most people do. It's both my biggest strength and my greatest weakness. I'm at a weird point in my life where I've really been able to reflect on how much I've changed and all that I've been through.

I'm in grad school now, working towards my master's and eventually a Ph.D. I've finally decided to pick up my cap and goggles and get competitive again. I've made that decision because I've learned a lot about myself outside of swimming, and that's led me to believe that my best days are still ahead of me.

I know a lot has changed since my senior year of college, but one thing that's always been constant is the compassion and consideration I've had for other people in my life. I feel different now than I did a year ago, and I know that I've changed in a lot of ways. But I don't think that's because I care about people any less than I did before. I think the big difference is how much more I know and care about myself.

For most of my life, I've been on teams. When I was swimming, it was never all about me. It was about the team. I think that's a big part of why I grew up with a mentality that was so focused on other people and doing everything I could for them. This past year has been my first year without swimming and without being a part of a team since before I was 8 years old. I've been with my best friends through four years of D-I swimming, Olympic Trials, Nationals, SEC championships, Pac-12 championships, and a whole lot more. Being outside of that has really opened my eyes to who I am as a person. I've had to learn to really be on my own and figure out who I am outside of the things I want to do for other people.

For me, loving or caring about other people in any capacity has always meant being there for them even when I shouldn't. It meant wanting to do everything I could to make them happy, no matter what I had to give up to make it happen or how much it hurt me. Everything that I have done, even transferring from my dream school and at times foregoing what I wanted for myself, has been what I believed was right for the people that I loved. That was because I knew how to love other people, but I didn't know how to love and care about myself.

I believe this has always been the biggest obstacle in my life. It's an incredible gift to know how to truly care about people, do the right things for them, and make a difference in their lives. Putting a smile on the face of someone I love means the world to me. As great as that is, it's also set me back. I've been so focused on doing the right thing for everyone else that I've hardly ever done what was right for myself. It took a year's worth of being truly on my own to realize how much giving in to everyone else's needs really threw me off track.

During this time, I've thought about my biggest accomplishments and the happiest moment of my life. What I've realized is that I've had the most success when I was the only person who believed that I could accomplish my goals. I don't believe I was born with the natural talent that most people need in order to do what I have done. I believe in work. I believe that work and the ambition I was born with are the only things that will take me wherever I want to go. But with that ambition, I was given a challenge. That challenge is the constant struggle to be who I really am in the face of everything that I have been through and everything that has hurt me.

Being on my own has given me time to face that challenge and learn what it really means to be independent. Being independent means loving myself and being happy on my own despite the fact that I can't always make other people happy. Loving myself means knowing what I want and believing I deserve it. It means caring enough about what I want to keep going, even when I'm hurting or when things get complicated. I never cared enough about myself to go to such great lengths to get what I want, the way I did anything and everything to make sure the people I've loved had what they wanted. Loving myself means caring about what's best for myself, enough to hold out for the right relationships, the right opportunities, and the right time, even if that doesn't make other people happy.

Maybe caring about other people makes you a good person, but you have to learn to rely on yourself. I've had to learn to not depend on people, because not everyone will be there for me in the way that I have been there for them. I do have hundreds of friends in all kinds of places, but even though I know I'll always have someone to reach out to, I still feel lonely sometimes. Because of that, it's been important to me to know how to handle things on my own. I had to quit thinking about the possibility that one day I'd have somebody be here for me all the time and then I'd be happy. I had to find something that would make me happy right now, without including anyone else in that picture.

At this point in my life, I believe that both in and out of sports, knowing who you are and appreciating yourself are the most important things you can do. That's also why I believe things will be different this time around with swimming and anything else I decide to do. Now I know who I am, what I stand for, and what I want outside of my relationships with other people. I don't need relationships to be successful or happy. I learned to be my own hero. I fought for myself in a way that no one else will ever fight for me. That makes me an even better person and friend. I've learned to be all the things for somebody else that nobody ever was for me. I know that when things get hard, I can count on myself to get through them. I can be there for somebody else who needs help finding their way because now I've done it myself.

I know my differences, my strengths, and my weaknesses. I know exactly who I am and what I stand for. I can stand up in front of a world full of people and say this is who I am, this is what I believe in, and this is what I want, knowing they may or may not be okay with that. I will always be the type of person that tries to be there for other people. The difference in me now is that I don't need anyone else to be there for me. Now that I feel complete on my own, I can be happy with myself no matter what happens with my relationships, and focus on what I want for myself.