I can count on one hand the number of keynotes that I’ve attended that have left a lasting impression. I’ve attended many that are entertaining, and some that were… seriously meh. But when someone stands on a stage with a message that strikes a chord with every word, leaving you standing on your chair, yelling "YASSS!" - that’s rare.
Enter Michael Phelps.
I’ve seen every Olympic event where he won a medal. And I watched as the world judged and condemned him after a photo surfaced of him smoking marijuana and his very public DUIs. (We’re so quick to jump to conclusions, aren’t we?)
It was easy for most of us to sit on our couches, remaining anonymous, never remotely understanding the pressures and rigors that athletes face, and to hop on the judgmental bandwagon. Maybe you were like me and never really stopped to think about what he may be going through. I certainly never imagined how anything he could share could make an impact on thousands of HR professionals.
One of the best outcomes of the last 18 months is that the topic of mental health has catapulted to one of the most important topics facing our organizations. Finally.
Mr. Phelps spoke so eloquently and openly about his struggles with depression and thoughts of suicide. I was blown away by how candidly he was able to share that one of the hardest things he ever did was to ask for help – something that so many of us (me included) find almost impossible. He passionately advocates for treating mental health the way we treat physical health, and how we need to be prepared physically and mentally in order to show up at our best every day. He shared how showing vulnerability isn’t a weakness, it’s a sign that you want to learn. He has used his experiences as an opportunity to help others so that, he hopes, they don’t ever feel what he felt.
Michael Phelps was funny, articulate, compassionate, tender, vulnerable and 100% relatable. And I hope that we continue to engage in this conversation so that we stand up to the stigma.
There was a lot to take away from this year’s Annual Conference. But I can’t think of anything more important or more relevant to our profession at this very moment than to help our employees be both physically and mentally prepared.
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