Do you ever find yourself losing steam in pursuit of your dreams?
Sometimes it can be hard just to get started, but even once you get going, it can be a struggle to keep up enthusiasm and drive as stumbling blocks and challenges pop up without warning.
Friends, today’s guest is the incredible Shaun White. Despite being born with a heart defect, he is a dual-sport professional athlete who maintains some of the highest accolades within snowboarding and skateboarding. Shaun has earned numerous titles and victories — including three winter Olympic gold medals — and is the only athlete to receive two perfect 100 scores during competition. He holds the X Games record for the most gold medals with 15 and the highest overall medal count to date with 23.
In this episode, we discuss how to stay energized when you’re pursuing things at the highest level, how to think about having a champion’s mindset, dealing with self-doubt, the biggest mistakes people make when setting audacious goals, and so much more.
I’m so excited about this interview because I’ve followed Shaun’s career for a long time and we even have some mutual friends. One of the things I find inspiring about Shaun is what he’s still accomplishing at 35 years of age — including four Olympic medals, of which three are golds.
Shaun White is recognized as possibly one of the greatest snowboarders of his time. Born in San Diego, CA, Shaun began snowboarding when he was just a young child. Going pro at age 13 was just the beginning of an astounding career for the young snowboarder. Shaun became a professional skateboarder a few years later, at age 16. Amid a decades-long, remarkable career, the 35-year-old continues to make history today.
As an infant, Shaun was diagnosed with a heart condition that led him to have two open-heart surgeries before five. Around the same time, his older sister was diagnosed with a brain tumor. As a young child, his time in and out of hospitals helped Shaun to resonate with other kids in the same position. Shaun has worked closely with St. Jude Children’s Hospital as a donor and advocate throughout his career.
At the 2006 Turin Olympics, Shaun captured a gold medal in the men’s halfpipe and the eyes of fans. With his fiery red locks of hair peeking out under his helmet as he soared through the air, was nicknamed “The Flying Tomato.” In 2012, Shaun decided to forego his nickname and cut his hair, but not just for himself. Shaun donated his hair to Locks-of-Love, which provides prosthetic wigs for children with medical conditions.
Shaun made news again at the 2014 Sochi Olympics after hearing of two young fans there with the Make-A-Wish Foundation who had traveled around the world to see him perform. Making sure their wishes were exceeded, Shaun went out of his way to greet the two and has since continued to do work with the Foundation. Shaun has also been a long-time supporter of and done work with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Tony Hawk’s foundation, The Skatepark Project.
Aside from his notoriety as the most decorated athlete in his sport, Shaun has starred in television shows, movies, and video games and is the guitarist of the accomplished rock band, Bad Things. Additionally, he hosts an annual snowboard competition and music festival, Air + Style. Shaun has an unmatched determination, and his abilities have no limits proving to be an inspiration to the world through his success.
Let’s jump right in!
We often see successful athletes and feel in awe of their accomplishments without truly understanding the setbacks they’ve endured to get there.
“I was on my journey to the next Olympics, and I had my plan. Everything [was] going to plan, everything [was] going great. I [was] feeling strong [and] motivated. I [had] my team, and in New Zealand I [decided] I’m going to go for this trick I’ve been trying. I’ve been procrastinating, putting it off, [but finally came to a point where I thought], ‘Let’s just get it done.’ – Shaun White
Shaun clipped the top of a 22-foot drop wall, bounced, and on the way to the bottom, caught the edge of his board in the snow. It happened so fast that after face planting on the ice Shaun was immediately airlifted by a helicopter to the hospital. Shaun had ripped his face open, requiring 62 stitches. He had also had a pulmonary lung and contusion. The bad crash couldn’t have come at a worse time.
“I was [wondering], ‘Is this a sign that I should stop?’ I had to sit with myself and think about it and go, ‘Well, this is in my way for some reason. … What’s to be learned from this?’ It straightened everything out for me, as strange as that sounds. I’ve been telling myself it’d be great to win the Olympics, and I had all my plans — and then I had this horrible crash.” – Shaun White
Shaun was given the ultimate challenge to see how badly he wanted to win the Olympics. After such a horrific injury, taking on the challenge would mean risking the same accident happening again on another run. The toughest question he asked himself was, “Am I willing to let this happen to myself again?”
Shaun used the challenge as an opportunity to develop his hunger to succeed — but that doesn’t mean Shaun wouldn’t have to overcome fear at the Olympics.
Shaun was two weeks away from the Olympics and still hadn’t perfected his competition run or perfected the move that he’d badly crashed on.
“That’s the first time I ever tried that run, so of course, I fell, and now, déjà vu, I’m sitting where I was at the last Olympics: last and with one more run [to do]. I don’t know. I just felt I was going to win this thing for sure. There’s no way I’m not going to make this run. I remember thinking, ‘Enjoy it because you’re going to win this thing.’ They had a big flag at the top, and the flag was down, meaning no wind, and it was kind of overcast that day. I was like, ‘This is the perfect moment for you.’ – Shaun White
Everything clicked into place for Shaun, and even his favorite Post Malone song came on before he started. Shaun would win gold to complete an emotional journey. Shaun had a release of everything that felt overwhelming.
Shaun took a huge gamble even though he wasn’t fully prepared, but removing all expectations of what the result should be helped create the space for him to perform a flawless run and win. It took a while for him to realize he’d won, as NBC withheld the points tally for dramatic effect.
“Finally, the score hit, and I lost it. It was so amazing. Then, seeing my family and Jake Burton, the owner of Burton snowboards who sadly passed away, [it was an] amazing moment with him. I was so proud of [being in] that place where I was sitting in the same position [last time] and [focusing on the fact that] I’m going to win rather than not. I think [that] was the proudest [I’ve ever been] after that Olympics.” – Shaun White
Dealing with setbacks is a massive part of becoming a champion, but also avoiding the trap of allowing success to define Shaun’s self-worth has been a journey in itself.
As a former pro athlete myself, I know how difficult it is to separate your self-worth from winning. Learning to deal with losing, or even coming second, can make or break us as human beings. I was curious to know about Shaun’s journey to separate his self-worth from his performances.
“I would say I’m so much cooler with losing now than I ever was before. It would just tear me apart. It’s so weird because I’d probably won 10 competitions straight going into this, got second by a point and a half or something, and I was devastated — how did this happen? That kind of self-worth being derived from those situations is difficult. It drives you to be better, but it’s unsustainable if your happiness is hanging in the balance.” – Shaun White
Shaun also recognizes that he competes in judged events, which are subjective and not something to take personally, but he has become wiser each year of competition. Of course, he wishes he had a better grasp on it as a youngster, but he’s learned how to deal with setbacks.
“I’ve won a lot of events, so I don’t feel I have as much to prove. I’ve been at events where I [said], ‘I’m not competing today [for safety reasons],’ or, ‘I’m not feeling it.’ I look at it as a marathon — not a sprint. It will be there next year, and maybe the conditions will be more favorable, and I’ll be healthy and ready to do it. I think of my career as the long game.” – Shaun White
Shaun’s strategy has changed from thinking he had to win everything to focusing on maintaining his body’s fitness for the long game. That strategy has worked as he’s about to compete in his fifth Olympics.
“After the Olympics, I take a season off, so if you extrapolate that over the years, that’s four years that I’ve been able to let the body and head rest, [and] I stretched my career out. I hate to admit I’m the oldest competitor, [which is hilarious because] I remember dropping in and being the youngest competitor.” – Shaun White
Shaun’s mindset change has taken him from being the rookie to the seasoned veteran who has become one of the most successful snowboarders of all time — and he’s not done just yet.
Another realization that Shaun had was making sure to enjoy the journey along the way.
You don’t have to be a professional athlete to have audacious goals. Perhaps your big dream is to start a company, or maybe it’s to become the top person in your field. Whatever your goal is, Shaun has excellent advice for us.
“This thought of delayed happiness is where you get in trouble. ‘If this happens, then I’ll be happy. If I get the raise, then I’ll be happy. If I could just win one more Olympics, then I’d be happy.’ There’s a way to enjoy it along the path that doesn’t have to be all or nothing — and that’s something that took me a while to learn.” – Shaun White
Shaun makes an excellent point, and he recognizes he would’ve had a much more enjoyable process of getting to where he is today in my life and his career and maintained his motivation if he’d realized this sooner. As Tony Robbins says, “Success without fulfillment is the greatest failure.”
It’s so true. How many times do you hear famous people say, “I won my Oscar — I better win another one.”
“I’m a huge believer in the little steps as well. What little thing can I do that my competitors are probably not doing that might help me? I remember winning the event, and it dawned on me that all my competitors would probably celebrate [by] drinking alcohol and party all night. I was like, ‘What if I just hit the gym?’” – Shaun White
It’s great to have a huge goal, but is that really what you want? Shaun wanted to win the Olympics in Korea and suddenly found himself sitting in a hospital with his face ripped open. Thankfully, that experience proved how badly he wanted it and, oddly enough, even helped him get there.
“People will question it. You’ll question it. Your inner circle will question, [and that’s why] you have to really know what you want. You have to listen to yourself, which is hard, but once you find it and know it wholeheartedly, then, boom! That was a huge hurdle to clear. Then it’s, ‘Well, how can we get there?’ Instead of saying, ‘Oh, we can’t do that.’ — that shuts the doors — [instead, it’s more productive to ask] ‘How could we do it?’ – Shaun White
Changing his focus to what he could do next to achieve his goal instead of on what was in his way allowed Shaun to become an Olympic champion. Most importantly, Shaun is having fun along the way and has even stated that he’s hoping after five Olympics, he’ll be so well known as a snowboarder that tech companies will be forced to change the snowboarder emoji to look like him.
Guys, this is such a powerful interview about developing a winning mindset and maintaining it across years. Listen to the full episode for more wisdom from Shaun, and don’t forget to share the episode with someone you think needs to hear it. You could help change someone’s life today.
Follow Shaun on his website or social media — he’s on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Maybe you’ve even been inspired to take up snowboarding, so why not learn from a master and head over to The Skills to start your journey?
I want to acknowledge Shaun for the way he’s shown up for the last couple of decades and has inspired so many of us by constantly showing up; even after his crash, he wasn’t going to be held back. Shaun’s commitment to injecting his style into snowboarding has made him an icon in the sport and comes through in his definition of greatness:
“I had red hair, so I leaned into it. Greatness can be taken in so many ways, but I feel like it’s seeing the same instrument but playing it your way, taking a sport, and doing it differently. It’s the same thing, but [done] a little different than everyone else. That’s what I strive toward.” – Shaun White
Lean into what separates you from others and embrace it. Who knows — it could be the exact thing to catapult you to greater heights than you ever knew were possible. Start today by believing that greatness is within reach for you, and then take the following steps necessary to achieve it!
I want to remind you all, if no one’s told you lately, that you are loved, you are worthy, and you matter. Do you know what time it is? It’s time to go out there and do something great.
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