How do you talk to yourself? What do you do when you face defeat? And how can you build better habits for success?
What’s up, guys? Welcome back to The School of Greatness! I am especially glad you’ve chosen to join me today because my guest on this episode is very inspiring to me personally.
You’ve probably heard of her. She’s an Olympic gold medalist — no big deal or anything. She’s been building an impressive career in professional beach volleyball for more than 20 years, and she has more championship wins under her belt than I would have thought possible!
Her name is Kerri Walsh Jennings, and she’s a total badass. I’m so glad she agreed to join me in the studio and share her wisdom with us!
And here’s the thing: Kerri is this legendary athlete, but like everyone who’s ever tried to go for the gold, she’s hit hard times. She’s experienced her share of adversity both on and off the volleyball court in the last 20 years. She’s overcome a lot of negative self-talk in her relentless pursuit of success.
But Kerri’s learned a lot, and today, she’s sharing her life lessons with you and me. In our interview, we talk through Kerri’s struggles in her athletic career and how she overcame a particularly tough loss.
We also go deep into Kerri’s personal life. She and her husband, Casey, have experienced major struggles too, and they almost called it quits after about four years of marriage. But through a combination of faith and dedication to growth, Kerri found a way to re-engage with her marriage and rebuild a healthy relationship. It’s an inspiring story, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to share it with you!
And finally, Kerri and I get into some of the best ways you can overcome your own negative self-talk and build habits for success. Kerri’s got some brilliant advice to share, and I can’t wait to get into it!
Kerri Walsh Jennings is one of the great legends of US Women’s beach volleyball. She’s been killing it on the court for over 20 years now, and she’s participated in every summer Olympic games since 2000.
In that first try for an Olympic medal, Kerri participated on the women’s indoor volleyball team, which placed fourth. The heartbreak over losing the medal drove Kerri to push herself harder than before, and that’s when the world saw her rise to major success.
In 2001, Kerri partnered-up with player Misty-May Treanor, and together the two dominated the beach volleyball scene on the world stage. They took home Olympic gold medals from Kerri’s second Olympics in Athens in 2004. As if that weren’t enough, they also brought home gold medals from the Olympics in Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012.
During that time, Kerri experienced some major shifts in her personal life. She married fellow beach volleyball player Casey Jennings in 2004, and in 2009 the couple had their first child, Joseph.
But while it should have been a happy time with a child on the way, Kerry and Casey were at a low point in their marriage. Casey was ready to leave, but Kerri knew they could give it another shot. The two reconciled — more on that later! — and went on to have two more kids, Sundance and Scout.
They also founded a company called p1440, which is a digital platform for people involved with beach volleyball. They wanted to create a platform to honor the 1440 minutes we get each and every day, commit to using each of them with intention. The company is a celebration of beach volleyball, and the website features awesome stories, video content, and training resources to help beach volleyball players strive for greatness!
But eventually, Kerri’s volleyball career took a blow. At the 2016 Olympics in Rio, she and her partner April Ross lost their semifinal match and came home with the bronze medal instead of the gold.
It was exciting, but also crushing. Kerri had been on such a powerful winning streak for so long, so the loss was devastating.
“… I’ve lost so many times in my career, but it’s losing a certain way, like not playing great. And it was my fault. That’s how I framed that entire match. And so to miss out on this opportunity — not only my dream but my partner’s dream and our family and our team — that’s how I framed everything. So the less-than-24 hours between the semifinal match loss and the time we played, I was a wreck…” – Kerri Walsh Jennings
But Kerri didn’t let that keep her down for long. Let’s dive into the interview, where Kerri explains why that loss was one of her greatest lessons.
Can you imagine winning three gold medals three years in a row and then not even qualifying for the opportunity to play for the gold on your fourth try? For an athlete who puts in as much work and takes as much pride in her effort as Kerri does, that defeat would be incredibly discouraging.
And Kerri’s negative self-talk reflected that discouragement. She was incredibly hard on herself. Any relief or excitement she felt from winning the bronze was only because she felt she hadn’t completely failed by not placing at all. She took responsibility for the failure of herself.
“I feel like my framework for so long in my life was ‘just do it right and don’t F up,’ you know? And then you fail … I was so supported, but there’s a lot of excellence in my life and a lot of very high expectations … but the flip side of that is that you identify yourself with your victories, with your successes, [and] with your performance. … And Rio helped me breakthrough that a little bit …” – Kerri Walsh Jennings
Athletes put a tremendous amount of pressure on themselves. There’s pressure to perform, to win, and to play at the top of your game all the time. You don’t want to disappoint your coaches, friends, family, and the people who have invested in you. And if you’re on a team or in a partnership like Kerri, you want to carry your weight and bring your best so the whole team succeeds.
But here’s the thing: losses are inevitable. Sometimes you just have a bad day. We’re all human, and we all make mistakes — nobody can win every single game all the time.
So how can we shift our mindsets in order to keep the drive and intensity without letting negative self-talk beat us down and make us feel too discouraged?
Now, Kerri will be the first person to say that she still struggles with this, but she suspects it involves this essential change in our thinking:
“… It’s just that mental framework … ‘if you’re not winning, you’re failing.’ I need to shift that … That fear of failure — it pissed me off. It motivated me, but now it makes me smaller, and it doesn’t serve me … I’m creating momentum with those thoughts and with that internal dialogue, and I need to stop it, and I need to be like, ‘Kerri, you’re on your way. This is a process.’ And so what I’m coming to learn [is] I have to love the process.” – Kerri Walsh Jennings
I think that idea of “loving the process” is critical to success — in sports and in life. If you don’t love the process of working hard, struggling, winning, and losing, you’ll never feel like you’ve done enough. You’ll never be truly satisfied. But if you can fall in love with that process, you’ll be a lot kinder to yourself and be able to grow and become a better, greater version of yourself.
Kerri has learned a lot of key lessons from her sports career, but sometimes life throws you curveballs you just aren’t ready for. As I mentioned earlier, when Kerri was pregnant with her first son, she and her husband, Casey, nearly divorced. They experienced a lot of anger and uncertainty, and there was barely any hope that their marriage would survive.
“I was so selfish and so driven and so focused on winning the 2008 games. I just lost sight of my people, And I will never do that again.” – Kerri Walsh Jennings
Kerri realized that she needed to change. To save her marriage, she needed to work on herself and become greater than she had been until that point.
“So I just went to work on me. And then Casey, my husband, was going through his own stuff and my … only prayer was … for clarity for both of us. Because neither of us were clear, and we were so angry and so hurt and acting out and lashing out … And so I just prayed for clarity [and] then goodness. He went out and did his work … and we just worked our asses off, and it took time.” – Kerri Walsh Jennings
Kerri attacked her mindset issues with the same intensity that she attacks her volleyball practices. And it totally turned things around.
Today, Kerri and Casey continue to have a healthy marriage. They’re thriving! And all because in that moment of crisis, they chose to buckle down and do the work rather than give up.
“… All the major heartbreak in my life, aside from losing my loved ones, has led me — which is so cliché — but it’s led me down profound paths of self-growth and deeper intimacy with God, with my husband, with my partners, and with the sport. So it’s truly a vehicle for self-growth — failing and kind of living a messy life.” – Kerri Walsh Jennings
Remember what Kerri said earlier — love the process. In sports and in life, don’t throw in the towel when you run into an obstacle. Never give up — instead, go to work on you and do what it takes to become better and to shift into a healthier mindset. You’ll be glad you did!
One of the things I respect most about Kerri is her honesty and authenticity. She’s always the first person to admit that she still struggles. She doesn’t have a perfectly healthy mindset all the time, and she admits that!
“… I cannot wait to become the woman I need to be to walk this life and the greatness of this life. And yet, I want to rush it — part of me wants to rush it. It’s such a disconnect, and I think it’s just fear behind it. So whatever that fear is, I need to name and look at and give it a hug and be like, ‘We’re buddies! It’s okay.’” – Kerri Walsh Jennings
But you know what? She’s still working. She humbly acknowledges that she’s still not perfect, and she puts in the hours to become better. She wants to show up and be her best for her team, her family, and herself, so she is continuously implementing tools and strategies that help her improve her mindset and grow into the best version of herself.
Her number one daily practice? Meditation!
“Meditation, to me, is the one thing in the world I wish everyone did. … But it’s really hard for me. It’s like pulling teeth, even though I believe in it with all my heart. I believe it’s more important than going and busting my ass in the gym. I believe it’s that important. And yet it’s still hard. So that’s where my work lies. … So now I just [have] to create habit and routine and I just gotta chill the F out.” – Kerri Walsh Jennings
Meditation is so powerful. Just taking that time to be with your thoughts and maybe do some journaling or say some affirmations to yourself can improve your mood, shift your mindset, and give you clarity and purpose you couldn’t find otherwise.
The real purpose and work of meditation is in slowing down. It’s about experiencing stillness and silence in the midst of our crazy and chaotic lives so that you can think straight for a minute!
If you find yourself wanting to rush through the day and just work more and work harder to become great, remember to slow down. Spend a few minutes every day meditating. Get clear on your thoughts, and take that time to fill up your cup! I guarantee you’ll find yourself feeling happier in the long run.
Kerri Walsh Jennings is an incredible person. She’s this insanely talented athlete and also a dedicated wife and mother. She knows who her people are, and she takes care of them.
She also knows that all her greatness starts with her. She has to get up every morning, commit to spending that time meditating, and get her own mindset in the right place before getting out in the world and being the best that she can be. I have so much respect for Kerri because she does the hard work it takes to become great. She struggles and perseveres — what could be greater than that?
I asked Kerri for her definition of greatness, and her answer was gold:
“What do the greats do? They showed up every day with all they had 100% of that day, and they had such mastery of themselves and their craft because they had lived the fundamentals, and the fundamentals became part of who they were. And so they were able to execute at the highest level consistently. And because their founding principles were so strong — body, mind, and spirit, and craft — they were able to have careers of ten, twenty years. Greatness doesn’t happen once — flash[es] in the pan, that doesn’t equal greatness. … It’s over time.” – Kerri Walsh Jennings
That is so true. Greatness never happens all at once — it’s about constantly striving to be better and to grow.
I am so grateful to Kerri Walsh Jennings for joining me on this episode of The School of Greatness! This interview was absolutely incredible. If you loved it too and want to connect with Kerri, check her out on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And make sure to check out Kerri’s company, p1440! It’s a great place to find inspiring stories and content centered around athletes striving for greatness.
But don’t click away yet, though. If you want to learn more about Kerri’s story and some tools you can use to overcome negative self-talk and build success habits, stay right here and listen to Episode 983 with Kerri Walsh Jennings!