Sport

Colm Cavanagh: I found out the hard way the personal toll of chasing success at all costs

Mental health is its own pandemic now, but hopefully it is becoming easier for people to talk, it is so important to confide in someone, anyone, just don’t keep your worries to yourself because they will just escalate      Picture: Getty Images
Mental health is its own pandemic now, but hopefully it is becoming easier for people to talk, it is so important to confide in someone, anyone, just don’t keep your worries to yourself because they will just escalate Picture: Getty Images Mental health is its own pandemic now, but hopefully it is becoming easier for people to talk, it is so important to confide in someone, anyone, just don’t keep your worries to yourself because they will just escalate Picture: Getty Images

Some of us go through life forever chasing things; financial freedom, sporting success, business accolades and it is driven into us at a young age that we must strive for these things to be considered a success.

Growing up, my goal was to play for my club and county and be the best sporting player I could be. There is so much personal hard work and dedication required behind the scenes to deliver success, whether it be in sport, business and life.

It often goes unnoticed and unrecognised. We are never very good at giving ourselves credit for our successes. We always deflect and look to the next challenge. However, from recently experiencing what I will call a ‘speed bump’ in my own journey, I had to take some time to reevaluate and reset as everything was becoming a challenge for me mentally.

There is an expression ‘Comparison is the thief of joy’. The GAA is a close-knit community and naturally as we are growing up and breaking into teams, we are compared to other players.

I had the difficulty of constantly being compared to my older brother who is four years older and considered as somewhat of a superstar within the GAA family. It has taken me 15 odd years, but I have realised that the years of operating on autopilot and comparisons had led me to my breaking point.

I have been lucky enough in the sporting field to have had some incredible successes both as a team member and personally, but looking back, it has come at a cost for me.

Thinking my road was mapped out for me, following a path rather than doing my own thing has led me to making many decisions in life without even thinking.

Putting all my focus on trying to be better on the field year after year and just floating along with the rest of my life has meant that celebrations, the loss of some very significant people, holidays, everything that I should have been processing and feeling has been taken with a pinch of salt and with no real emotion. I would just move onto the next thing, file those days away without really caring.

It was all about the next game of football and what I had to do to be the best I could be. Stepping out of that cycle and looking back, it was absolute madness, but at the time, nothing was getting through.

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I quit Tyrone in 2020 after the pandemic and it is only in the last six months that I really know now why I did.

I simply wasn’t enjoying the experience and all the years of going along with others and following the process had caught up on me. We are told that life is all about balance. I simply didn’t have any. I wasn’t able to switch off, ever. I just wanted to get to the next training session, the next match, the next anything on the list, it was all consuming.

It was all about the next game of football and what I had to do to be the best I could be. Stepping out of that cycle and looking back, it was absolute madness, but at the time, nothing was getting through.
It was all about the next game of football and what I had to do to be the best I could be. Stepping out of that cycle and looking back, it was absolute madness, but at the time, nothing was getting through. It was all about the next game of football and what I had to do to be the best I could be. Stepping out of that cycle and looking back, it was absolute madness, but at the time, nothing was getting through.

On my own experience, I think I could have done many things better, made better choices if I had been more present, but sometimes success comes with selfishness and that’s exactly how I was living my life. No-one else’s priorities mattered. I was going to win that All-Ireland and be the best player I could be. The pressure I put on myself was insurmountable. I couldn’t sleep the night before games as I believed I had to live up to other people’s expectations.

I look at young people now starting out on their path of achieving their version of success in education, their career or sport and the best advice I could give them would be to take your time, and make sure you keep balanced in your approach. I know I still have to work hard, that will never leave me, but I’ve finally accepted the importance of not just having down time but actually enjoying the downtime.

Mental health is its own pandemic now, but hopefully it is becoming easier for people to talk, it is so important to confide in someone, anyone, just don’t keep your worries to yourself because they will just escalate.

My lifestyle simply had to change. It now revolves around still working hard while respecting boundaries of my home life and achieving a much more enjoyable approach to my sporting career.

My priority is my family and having the time with them is the most important thing to me. It is easy in today’s world to get lost in technology (I still do), but we need to take time to relax and enjoy the simple things. My own personal favourite is a game of monopoly with my kids.

I use all tools at my disposal to keep present - breathing work, meditation, yoga, swimming, sauna, you name it, I do it. However, I do it together with my friends and family. I find it really important to keep a social connection.

The youth are our future. We have nurture them in the right way and remove the pressures of comparison. It is important to drive healthy competition in life for both work and sport, but I think we are all losing the element of balance.

I will always encourage my children to chase their dreams, but I’ve learnt the hard way the importance of enjoying the journey, otherwise the destination will never live up to expectation.