Culture Scan

At the intersection of real estate, media, and pop culture.

Phelps Opens Up About Goal-Setting, Mental Health

Good Neighbor Award - Phelpes Elizabeth Mendenhall and Michael Phelps

Capping a General Session featuring inspiration from Good Neighbor Award winners, the REALTORS® Relief Foundation, REALTORS® of the Year, and cooperating associations from more than 60 countries from all over the world, National Association of REALTORS® President-Elect Elizabeth Mendenhall was especially excited to welcome retired Olympic Gold Medalist Michael Phelps to the stage.

“Swimming is a demanding sport that takes focus and dedication, and there is no better example of this than Michael Phelps,” said Mendenhall, who herself is a former competitive swimmer. She also noted his dedication dovetails nicely with the theme of her upcoming year as president: “Own it.”

Phelps encouraged the audience to take responsibility for both the wins and losses in their businesses and lives. “At the end of the day, you’re the only person who’s holding you back,” he said. Phelps attributed his success to goal-setting, a practice familiar for many of the 20,000 attendees at the 2017 RELATORS® Conference & Expo in Chicago this week. Phelps said he posted a list of his goals in his closet, where he would see them every day.

But simply dreaming and posting goals wasn’t enough to get Phelps to the top. He encouraged attendees to push their own personal limits, even when a far-off accomplishment feels impossible. “If somebody raises their hand and says, ‘I love going to work every single day,’ I will say, ‘You’re a liar.’ To be the best, you have to do things when you don’t want to,” he said. “If it’s something that’s important to you, you’ll have to figure out a way to get it done.”

Phelps also acknowledged the role that his coaches, teammates, and support staff all played in his historic success as the most decorated Olympian of all time. “I had an amazing support team,” he said, encouraging audience members to recognize and rely on the many resources around them every day. “I tried to do a lot by myself, and I ended up failing because of that.”

It wasn’t just failures to win medals that haunted Phelps. In his onstage interview with Mendenhall, he shared that his public run-ins with drug and alcohol use caused him to rethink his life in 2014. “I had no self-confidence. I had no self-love,” he recalled. “I’d had a very successful career, but I wasn’t happy.” Still, Phelps said he had no regrets. “Those were learning experiences for me,” he said. “They make me the father I am today, the husband I am today, and the son I am today.”

Phelps also addressed his struggles with depression, recalling a time when he’d lost the will to live. He acknowledged that mental health is not an easy subject to broach, but it’s important to talk about publicly. “People look at it as a weakness. We’re not supposed to be weak; we are supposed to be strong, macho athletes,” he said. “But being able to find help, and being able to talk about what I was going through changed my life. … I understand that it’s OK to not be OK.”

Having covered a lot of ground in the interview, Phelps at one point apologized to Mendenhall and the audience for skipping around and telling stories from different parts of his career out of order, but Mendenhall shrugged it off. “Those are the moments when we know you’re real,” she said with a smile.


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