Kristin Haraldsdottir ’08 has been humbled. As a collegiate rower who won an NCAA championship during her sophomore year, she had a very clear image of success. Then she graduated, and that image became foggier. “I was Kristin the rower for so long,” she says. “I’d been trying to find the next thing that I could win at, be good at, be known for.”
Right after she felt like she had made a mistake in her career path, Haraldsdottir got a call from two-time Olympic gold medalist Erin Cafaro, who was also trying to figure out her life. They bonded over their search for meaning and excitement after retiring from their sport, and they realized that a lot of other former teammates felt the same way. So in an effort to start a larger conversation, the two former athletes started Humbled. Each week, they explore the complex identity of an athlete.
Identifying with athletes
“There’s this inherent tension between your identity that other people see in you and that you want to live up to, and then the person who you feel you are but can’t articulate. What we’re talking about is just how identity is this complex thing that we all battle with, but athletes are a population that’s so easy to define, so we tell stories about identity through them, through telling their stories.
Three more podcasts to check out this month
1. Epidemiologist Dr. CELINE GOUNDER ’97 and Ronald Klain explore key aspects of the COVID-19 outbreak in their series Epidemic.
2. The second season of Bodies, hosted and produced by ALLISON BEHRINGER ’12, debuted in early March.
3. Dr. JEREMY SPIEGEL ’92 talks with holistic psychiatrist Dr. FLORIAN BIRKMAYER ’92 about aromatherapy on Optimal Living.
“The Tokyo Olympics are coming up and we’re already starting to see on TV and on Instagram — like, all over the place — about these incredible athletes. Athletes are our heroes, they do things that seem impossible, and we celebrate them for it. It’s amazing, like every Nike commercial I’ve watched for the last 10 years has made me cry, right? You see these humans doing superhuman things and you look up to them and they’re our heroes. But we never, ever consider who else they might be behind that because, once they’re done competing and being shiny and special, they just disappear and we move onto the next one.”
Starting a podcast
“I was trying to create the thing that would’ve helped me when I was trying to figure out what I was doing. I just felt like everybody around me had a sense of direction and accomplishment and I did not. You always feel like you’re having this singular experience — you feel like you’re the only person — when in reality, everyone is struggling. That’s really why we started it; we were like, ‘Let’s just find out how other people felt and tell those stories.’ I think that’s actually the best part about podcasts, honestly, is you find out, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s all these people who think about the same things I do,’ and you just feel a little less alone.”
“When I was an athlete, I felt powerful, I felt special, I felt like I was this person who was praised for doing amazing things. When I no longer was that special athlete, I was like, ‘Oh, that’s really the only thing that was making me feel that way.’ It’s humbling. You get that one thing removed from your life that made you feel strong and powerful, and all of a sudden you have to rebuild. I think that is, like, the definition of a humbling experience.
“It takes a tremendous toll to become a great athlete and then in most, or many cases, a long time to unpack it once you’re moving on. Do the guests have to have had a humbling experience? Yeah, absolutely. But they have to also be able to acknowledge it, and talk about it. That’s a humbling experience in and of itself — acknowledging the fact that you have been humbled. A lot of people don’t want to admit it.”
“I’m pretty lucky I get to sit down with Olympic medalists all the time. The thing I’ve learned is you have to really start to embrace loving to work hard at what you’re doing. That’s really it. If you don’t love working hard at the thing you’re doing, you’re actually not going to go very far, I think. And then take pride in it. I think what sets apart the person who gets the Olympic medal versus the one who didn’t even try, is that the person who gets the Olympic medal is not actually much more gifted naturally, it’s just that they loved the process.
“The thing that sticks with me the most is letting go of what I thought I was supposed to be. I’ve never been happier than I am right now. I feel like I’m finally doing something with purpose, whereas before, when I was younger, I was trying to do something that was impressive. I was missing the point of what my life was supposed to be about. I don’t think life is supposed to be about chasing glory; it’s actually about chasing something that matters and then maybe glory will follow — maybe. But that’s really not what’s important.”
“The big problem with this podcast — well, the beauty of it — is that it’s actually communicating to people who might be going through something hard and it’s making them feel less alone, but it’s not actually solving anything. It’s not giving anyone any solutions for how to get through; I have no answers for anybody. That’s my next step is figuring out the ‘now what?’ A lot of the athletes say, ‘Ask for help, reach out to somebody.’ Most of them have gone to therapy. I’m super aware that when I talk about how hard it can be, I’m not actually providing many answers for what to do. But I do consider it a big win to let people see that it is normal to feel like this in other parts of your life.”
Interview conducted and condensed by Anna Mazarakis ’16