Amit Bray once said, “Everyone has the fire, but the champions know when to ignite the spark.” So what does this process look like? What really separates the ordinary from the extraordinary?
If you’ve been with me for a while, you know that I don’t do average — I do greatness. There’s something exceptionally inspiring about the legends who reach the top of their game. It’s even more amazing when they can maintain that state of high achievement again and again, despite the odds, the competition, and their own personal challenges.
As a former football player myself, talking with top athletes is always moving. But no matter what field you’re in, you can learn lessons from the pros. It’s the most victorious athletes who face the enormous pressure that comes with being at the top. Simultaneously cheered on and envied, they must find reserves of power from within no matter how their life trajectory moves. In learning from legends, I hope you’ll find inspiration to push boundaries, challenge yourself, and discover just how much is possible for you.
It was my great pleasure to talk to Lindsey Vonn, the most decorated ski champion in the world. I never made it to her level, and I was truly honored to connect with her, pick her brain, and dive into questions about both professional and personal mastery.
For many people, my guest needs no introduction. With 82 World Cup victories, Alpine Skier Lindsey Vonn is the most decorated ski champion in history. Among her many accolades, Lindsey has won an Olympic Gold Medal, two World Cup titles, four World Cup victories, and 16 Crystal Globes. Lindsey’s wins far exceed any other skier in the world.
Lindsey’s journey wasn’t without challenges. She battled depression, overcame self-doubt, and suffered numerous injuries, which eventually led to her retirement in 2019. Since retiring, she’s focused on her personal life and philanthropic pursuits. She’s written two books: the autobiographical Rise: My Story and the New York Times bestseller Strong is the New Beautiful. In addition, she runs the Lindsey Vonn Foundation and supports Wings for Life and the Wounded Warrior Project.
Not only is Lindsey an incredible inspiration, but she also has great insight into one of the most challenging processes we all go through — change. Having centered most of her life around skiing and competition, Lindsey met the challenge of transitioning away from competitive racing head-on. In ending one cycle and beginning a new one, Lindsey learned to let go of the past and move forward into the new, exciting chapter she’s in now.
Talking with Lindsey was fascinating. It’s always wonderful to hear of the attitudes, processes, victories, and struggles of the most successful people on earth. I loved hearing about what fueled her amazing athletic achievements and how she’s embracing life in a whole new way post-career. Let’s get started!
Lindsey brought an almost superhuman ability to the slopes without fail. There’s no doubt that she had a natural talent and a dedication to training. So what else plays into the recipe for Lindsey’s success?
“I’m a really competitive person. … I’m like a perpetual one-upper. … I think one of the things that most people said about me when I started to succeed [was,] ‘Now she’s got this, she’s going to … relax, and it’s not going to happen again.’ And that’s the exact opposite [of the] way that I think. … I’m like, ‘If I get this, and I’m going to get this … I need to get that.’ … I always try to get better and better … because that’s the fun of a challenge.” – Lindsey Vonn
Obviously, Lindsey isn’t one to rest on her laurels. Instead of sitting back after a win, she was always hungry for more. Of course, not everyone is naturally competitive and needs to outshine other people. A competitive nature might be great for an Olympic athlete, but maybe you have a softer approach to life. But even if your biggest comparison is to your best self, how can you let that propel you forward? Do you want to stay stagnant, or do you want to expand? Whether it’s advancing in your career, improving your mindset, or cultivating relationships, where is there room for growth, and how can you surprise yourself by doing something new?
It’s that same long-term view and stamina that fueled Lindsey even when things didn’t work out. In her field, athletes train for decades to perform for a matter of 60 seconds. And if something goes wrong? They have to live with the weight of knowing that those decades of training are, in a way, gone.
Haven’t we all felt like that? Have you pursued a job, a relationship, a dream for years and years only to have it dissolve in a matter of days or minutes or seconds? I asked Lindsey what helped her in the moments she felt like this.
“I always felt like if I worked hard enough, things would turn around. Like whenever I had a really bad moment, I said, … ’The good guy is not going to finish last. … I’m going to come back. I just have to double down, … reinvest everything in myself, and come back. … Sometimes you just need a little bit of a reset. … You need to take a break and come back to it sometimes. … It’s more of just a mind over matter.” – Lindsey Vonn
And remember, the journey is as important as the destination. So remember that the lessons you learn along the way are just as valuable if not more valuable than the end result.
Lindsey also shared a great tip for building confidence when it’s starting to wane — journaling.
“I think the biggest thing is just believing in yourself, which can be very difficult to do, obviously, especially if you have multiple setbacks in a row, … but that’s why I always journal. … I did a lot of journaling from general day to day to when I was racing and training. I would write everything down, especially when things are going well because everyone thinks when things are going well like, ‘This is great. It’s so easy,’ and they forget about what they’re doing. And then all of a sudden, one day, things aren’t going well, and you think, ‘How do I get back? So I always kept notes of everything — what runs felt good, what skis felt good, what foods felt good — and then I always had a reference point to go back to.” – Lindsey Vonn
I don’t know about you, but I’ll be using this technique from now on. Why only journal when we have an issue to work out when we can document and remember our successes?
Life wouldn’t be worth living if it weren’t for challenges. It’s the tough times that make the great times that much more rewarding, and it’s the obstacles that teach us the greatest lessons. But for many, an obstacle or a loss can debilitate them. I asked Lindsey what kept her going after each setback or injury:
“I always went back to, ‘Why am I doing this?’ You know, I’m doing it because I love it. I’m passionate about it. And you know [that], even if I have setbacks, I’m still happy every time at the starting gate. So it’s kind of like always going back to the root of why I’m there. Yes, I love winning, and that’s always what I wanted to do, there’s no doubt about that, … but you know, at the end of the day, … I always remembered I loved it, and I wanted to go fast again, whether I won or lost.” – Lindsey Vonn
What an insight. It’s a great reminder that if we’re committing to something wholeheartedly, it’s best to be sure it’s something we want to be doing because there will be setbacks. There will be things we can’t control. There will be gains, and there will be losses.
So what’s your reason for doing what you’re doing? Is it your life purpose? Even if it’s not, what other reasons are you doing it? Maybe your job isn’t great, but you know it’s supporting your family, or maybe it’s giving you the security you need to pursue your passions. If your passion is acting, and you don’t get a role, go back to why you’re doing it. Why do you love it?
At the same time, we can learn from our mistakes. Now, some people cringe when they look at where they went wrong. But in order to improve, you have to be willing to look at what happened. Lindsey experienced an insane amount of injuries during her career. She shared why she thinks they happened and what her approach was to them.
“Every time I would crash, they would stop videoing, … and I’m like, ‘You have to keep videoing. I want to see the whole thing.’ … I just would analyze my crashes, what I did wrong. … I think for me, you have to push the limits in order to find your limit. And I always wanted to be right up on the limit. And then obviously you go past it sometimes, [and] you crash, … but if you’re not pushing yourself that hard and you’re never crashing, you’re never going to find your limit. That’s how I think.” – Lindsey Vonn
Two important takeaways here: One, don’t be afraid to look at your mistakes. Even if you cringe, bring a kind, compassionate approach to your self-assessment and just analyze what happened. Lindsey found that her crashes were a result of pushing things just a bit too far. What is it that pulls you off track or causes mistakes? Only you can answer that, but it’s worth considering.
As for the second takeaway — sometimes we have to crash in order to push boundaries. If we never take risks, we’ll never expand, and we always want to be expanding in some way. Now obviously, there are some things you want to push and some things you don’t. And unless you’re an Olympic athlete with a team of doctors, hopefully, you’re not pushing yourself in ways that could do you serious physical harm. But think about it — where could you stretch to your edge just a little bit?
“That’s just kind of how I raced, it was always 110%. … So I think that’s the reason why I was able to be as successful as I was and downhill for as long as I was, but that’s also the reason why I crashed a lot. So it’s kind of a double-edged sword, but … I wouldn’t change it because I think every injury taught me something.” – Lindsey Vonn
Like so many others, Lindsey has struggled with mental health challenges. She spoke candidly about her experiences feeling isolated on the road and feeling depressed. No one is immune from these feelings, even high-achievers.
“Success doesn’t equal happiness. You have to find that on your own.” – Lindsey Vonn
We’ve heard it a thousand times, but it’s worth mentioning again — we’re responsible for our own happiness. Nothing external can create it for us. Since the external world is filled with impermanence, we have to cultivate the ability to be joyful on our own.
Let’s take Lindsey’s career for example. Eventually, she sustained enough injuries and had spent enough time competing to the point where it was time to retire. It was a very difficult decision for Lindsey, and she had to process it the same way we all have to process major life transitions.
“I process it as a death … like it’s gone. It’s never coming back, because the second you think, ‘Oh, well maybe I could come back,’ it’ll really mess with your mind.” – Lindsey Vonn
That’s gotta be tough. Yet, we all have life transitions we have to go through. When you get married, it’s the death of being single. When you have a kid, it’s the death of being totally free. And when you end a career, it’s the death of an old identity, but the birth of the unknown. Lindsey shared that she’s actually happier now than she’s ever been because she never knows what the day will bring. Instead of being entirely focused on skiing, she has the chance to open up to new possibilities, which is a great alternative to living in the past, as many people do.
Remember, the death of something is always the birth of something new. Natural cycles of birth, life, and death are a part of our human experience. That’s why I’m an advocate for ritualizing these experiences. When you do some sort of ritual to process it, you can honor what has been done properly while giving yourself the space to grieve it as you move forward.
I asked Lindsey what she considers to be the keys to success. While she shared a number of great points, such as having a dedicated work ethic and building confidence, what struck me was her insights into the people you surround yourself with.
“Surround yourself with people that believe in the same things that you do — people who will help … facilitate your success and not bring you down. … I think it is oftentimes really hard to actually find people that want you to succeed. … There’s external people [who come] in and pretend to be one thing and they’re not, and so it’s good to make sure you keep yourself surrounded by people that want to see you succeed and will help you get there. And you know that if you have to make a sacrifice, they’re going to pick up the slack for you.” – Lindsey Vonn
We’ve all been there. If you realize that someone isn’t who you thought they were, realize that it happens to everyone. So be very discerning with the company you keep. On the other hand, trustworthy and supportive people are essential to your success. Without a team, most people wouldn’t make it. Lindsey shared that without her coaches, her physical therapist, and even her equipment, she wouldn’t have been the success that she was.
“You absolutely need a team. And so it goes with everything that you’re doing, whether it’s in business or sports or whatever, … you can’t do everything by yourself. So surround yourself with people that will help you.” – Lindsey Vonn
Is that the recipe for success? It’s amazing to realize that even the most talented and brilliant of us still need other people to make it. Truly, no man is an island.
Guys, this interview is jam-packed with so many words of wisdom from my wonderful new friend, Lindsey Vonn. Listen to the full episode for more, and don’t forget to share the episode with someone who needs to hear it — you could change someone’s life.
I want to acknowledge Lindsey for showing us her path to greatness. She’s a true warrior who, even after reaching the summit of her career, is now soaring to new heights as an author, mentor, and inspiration to us all.
“Greatness is overcoming all obstacles. … It’s when you’re at your absolute limit, and … you’re scratching and clawing to get to the finish [line], … and you push yourself past where you think you could ever go.” – Lindsey Vonn
Friends, join me on Episode 1132 to learn about overcoming self-doubt and developing habits for success with Lindsey Vonn. It’ll change your life!