Simone Biles is one of the most decorated gymnasts of all time, with seven Olympic medals and 25 World Championship medals under her belt. She is an inspiration to millions, but it isn’t just because of her athleticism. Biles has repeatedly shown courage and strength in the face of adversity, from sharing her story of surviving abuse to prioritizing her mental health and withdrawing from the Tokyo Olympics. After hackers exposed her private medical information, Biles shared her ADHD diagnosis, and used the opportunity to speak out against ADHD stigma.
In 2018, I had the opportunity to interview Biles about her college journey. While she was originally supposed to attend UCLA, she felt torn between her gymnastics career and her college education. She didn’t want to give up on gymnastics, so she gave up on UCLA. Instead, Biles chose to study at University of the People, a fully-accredited, tuition-free online university.
Time and time again, Biles has publicly chosen her authentic self. Here’s how you can choose your authentic self.
Choose your authentic self
Many of us are taught from an early age to put aside our needs and focus instead on what we “should” do. I see this happen all the time in my college admissions work. Pressure from parents, counselors, and society can color a student’s thinking and cause them to ignore their own wants and needs. It happens at work too; we choose careers or paths that don’t align with our needs. Any situation that ignores what’s important to us cannot work in the long term. Our passions and priorities determine our quality of life, and without that, we cannot truly thrive.
Instead of choosing between her gymnastics and her education, Biles found a way to balance them. While not all of our priorities are as high stakes as Olympic-level gymnastics, that doesn’t make them any less crucial to our quality of life. Biles was crystal clear about what was important to her, and to make the right decisions, we need to come into an understanding of what’s right for us. The answer to what’s right for us lies within choosing our authentic self.
Different way of choosing your authentic self
Before committing to a new school or a new opportunity, dig deep. Without judgment, consider what’s important to you. What are your values? What makes you feel energized, and what drains you? What do you need to operate at your best? If an opportunity requires that you give up something important to you, think long and hard before taking it.
Because our mental health so entwined with our personal wants and needs, listening to your authentic self is essential to your wellbeing. Regularly checking in with yourself can help you to better discern when it’s time to change course in your personal and professional life. The trick here is to free yourself from expectations and “shoulds.”
Honor your authentic self, mind and body
At the Tokyo Olympics, Biles surprised the world by withdrawing from several events. She was experiencing a phenomenon known as the “twisties,” a temporary loss of air balance awareness. An athlete’s mind and body lose connection and muscle memory fails to kick in. “I was not physically capable,” she says. “Every avenue we tried, my body was like, Simone, chill. Sit down. We’re not doing it.” It’s extremely dangerous, but Biles still faced criticism from some. The pressure must have been intense, but she chose to honor what her mind and body were telling her. Many people thought Biles “should” compete. If Biles had chosen to participate in her events – even with the twisties – she could have been seriously injured.
Authentically communicate for yourself
Authenticity can also come into play when it is time to communicate. The better you are able to articulate how you feel and what you need, the more likely you are to see a positive outcome. Biles’ own self-advocacy – for survivors’ rights, for her well being, for her ADHD, for her choice of university – has helped her to remain true to her needs and priorities. It’s an important lesson to chose your authentic self. She is held up as an example not in spite of her needs, but because she authentically communicated them without shame. It takes guts to show others your authentic self, and it’s also freeing not to have to pretend.
Biles is still keeping her priorities straight, and hasn’t yet decided if she will return to the Olympics. In a recent interview, she said, “Obviously, mental health comes first. I’m still in therapy, and I’m still doing everything so that I can be the best version of myself.” On Saturday, she announced her marriage to NFL star Jonathan Owens. Right now, it seems like she’s following her bliss, and we should follow her example.