This week, on Small talk, we had the gift of chatting with one of the world’s most gifted athletes. From filmmaking to breaking records, battling depression to breakthroughs, we sat down and dove deep with Alexi Pappas.
After competing in the 2016 Olympics and breaking the 10,000m Greek national record, Alexi Pappas found herself in a state of elevated bliss. Having worked her entire life to get to the Olympics, her goal was reached. But what arose shortly after was the question of, ‘now what?’
Having battled post Olympic depression and lived through her darkest days to tell her tale, we dove deep into the pages of Alexi's new release, Bravey.
“It’s very grounding and humbling to be doing something I’ve never done before because I’m so new to this industry and experience.”
In releasing her book, Bravey, Alexi receiving a well-deserved influx of praise and attention from readers all over the world, as well as numerous podcasts and talk show hosts.
Oftentimes when we find ourselves being complimented and flattered, our ego’s come into play. Yet, in Alexi’s case, it’s been quite the opposite, remaining both poised and humble, one couldn’t help but be impressed.
“This time has been a whirlwind, in a good way. What I feel most proud about is that I wouldn’t change one word in my book. I can’t control who’s going to find it or what happens after publication. But what I tried to do is both communicate and capture my experience in a way that felt most authentic.”
In doing her best and speaking her truth, Alexi has released her first book, Bravey, into the world without regret in hopes of inspiring, uplifting, and empowering her readers.
“In terms of staying grounded, what’s been the most humbling is hearing feedback from teenagers, especially ones who’ve claimed to hate reading. They’re so impressionable, and being able to communicate with them, I think that secretly, and not so secretly, has been most meaningful of all.”
Alexi’s book follows her throughout her journey as an athlete and as a human, focusing on healing, learning, accepting, and growing. (Also, one that everyone needs on their nightstand). Writing such a book takes talent, truthfulness, courage and, most of all, Bravery.
Stepping away from fear and into fearlessness to share one’s story is a difficult feat. But to this, Alexi says that having already lived through the scariest moments of her life, writing them down came as a release and a sense of personal liberation.
“There was nothing scarier than having the feelings I felt and described in the book. Experiencing the darkest, most depressive feelings was much scarier than writing this book.”
Living to tell the tale, Alexi honours herself and her past experiences within the pages of her heartfelt and utterly human book.
“Also, I think that there's a joy in trying to find words to describe an experience. It’s so different than having the experience itself.”
Alexi Pappas wrote her book with a limitless mindset, meaning no limit or buffer on her experiences. In doing so, she’s defenselessly opened her heart, soul, and mind to her readers, creating a sense of trust, honesty, and vulnerability.
“I think it was also easier to be specific and detailed than to be vague and paint a different picture of my life than It actually was. I sometimes find that posturing or eliminating certain parts of your life, for example, a social media post, actually makes it a lot harder to live up to.
When we open ourselves up to the world, flaws and all, with nothing to hide, what may sound scary at first, will sooner than later be recognized as a liberating experience, both connecting us to others, as well as ourselves.
“To let people in fully, is just the truth, and the truth is always easier.”
Something that really resonated with us at TrooMe, while reading Alexi’s book is how she so beautifully encapsulated the idea that women we admire are friends and CAN BE our mentors.
Allowing ourselves to break free of the constant comparison cycle and not only admire other women but be vulnerable enough to ask them for guidance is empowering and, most of all, necessary.
“We should try to see other people’s success as not mutually exclusive to ours because it’s really not, the world is so abundant, and I truly believe that there’s room for us all to shine."
When we look up to others and choose curiosity over comparison, and vulnerability over envy, more often than not, we find ourselves forming new relationships, which sometimes grow to form beautiful friendships.
“I think that it’s important to take a look at how we relate to people and ask ourselves, ‘what is the most useful way to relate to them?’ Is it useful to feel that there’s no room for us if they're successful? Or would it be more beneficial if we begin to learn from other people?”
The truth is, we have to live our own lives. There will always be people whom we admire and look up to. Therefore, approaching all people with an open, accepting, and curious mindset allows us to grow emotionally within ourselves and relationally with others.
“We’ll never be able to replicate someone else’s life, but what we can do is get energy from them and get permission to learn from them.”
With a survival mentality accompanying her, and a craving for help since a young age, Alexi grew up seeking and searching for mentors whom she could learn from.
“That’s the beautiful thing about being on this earth with other people; we can learn from them.”
Mentorship is a resource that’s there for us to seek and accept. When we open ourselves up to the possibility of becoming a student, we unlock countless doorways that lead us towards growth and expansion.
Mentors are all around us, and their wisdom is waiting to be tapped into. As mentioned in our interview with Patrick Bet-David, drawing values and philosophies from how others have made decisions in the past is a useful tool when forming our own ideologies.
Loss of a Loved One
The loss of a loved one typically comes with sadness, resentment, anger, loneliness, longing, and confusion. For Alexi, this has been her reality since the age of four. When Alexi was four years old, her mother committed suicide, an experience that has impacted her in many ways.
Through her own personal experience, Alexi has not only accepted this saddening truth but has learned to embrace it as well.
“I wasn’t compassionate with my mom when I didn’t understand her, and I did think that what she did was really selfish for the longest time. I thought it had to do with me, and my mind would end up in so many different dark places. But I think one of the things that we can allow ourselves in life is the opportunity to outgrow ourselves and our past beliefs.”
We are not who we were yesterday. Outgrowing our past selves and what we once thought to be true is personal growth and perceptional growth. As we begin to welcome understanding and compassion into our lives, our scopes begin to grow, followed by our kindness towards ourselves.
“I’m always trying my best with the scope that I have, but our scopes grow as we go through life.”
We must begin to allow ourselves to grow and then have the kindness not to have regrets but to have lessons instead.
“It’s not a pretty thing; it’s kind of an evolving rollercoaster. But we have to start being kinder to ourselves about how challenging that growth can be.”
On December 7th, 2020, Alexi Pappas released a video with the New York times, posing the question, ‘what if we approached our mental health the way we approach our physical health’?
We wanted to know what this approach looked like and the value it had on Alexi’s life.
“Honestly, this approach simplified my own depression in a way that felt like I could heal. Before my doctor shared that what I was experiencing was a scratch on my brain, one that needed to heal, I had thought that mental illness was a foregone conclusion.”
Once Alexi’s doctor had explained that what she was experiencing was similar to an injury, her circumstances became more graspable and in her control.
“I felt like I could heal, and I also felt that it was okay if it wasn’t going to happen overnight. It gave me the space to experience the pain and discomfort, like breaking your leg, while not being judgmental towards the healing process.”
Healing is a gradual process that requires space, time, and understanding. Since approaching her mental health with a healing perspective, Alexi has been able to look at both mental and physical health as one.
“The whole metaphor works for me, on the inside of my body and the outside. I think it will speak to people because we as a society pay more attention to our bodies now more than ever. If we can classify our mental health as a part of our bodily health, a whole new approach to healing and what it means to heal comes from it.”
Gift of Giving
Giving is the greatest gift that we can receive. As mentioned in our interview with Barbara Arrowsmith-Young, the act of giving is where the real, life-enhancing treasures reside.
After speaking her truth, Alexi says that she was pleasantly surprised by the impact her work and words had on the most unpredictable of people.
“I spoke to the pentagon, and It was a huge eye-opener for me. These soldiers see themselves as athletes and hadn’t found a way to embrace their own mental health narrative. It saved my life to look at my brain as a body part that could be injured, and I think it helped them to see that PTSD is an injury, not an incurable illness, it’s an injury.”
It’s truly amazing to see how our messages and actions can reach both far and wide. Each of our efforts are like stones being dropped into a pond, creating ripples further than we may have ever believed possible.
Pain into Purpose
Alexi Pappas turned pain into purpose, finding strength within her struggles. With so much pain in the world right now and uncertainty at its highest, we as a collective must begin to use our hardships as opportunities for growth, expansion, and, most of all, contribution.
“I like that word, contribution. We can’t always matter in the ways we would like to, but we can always matter. I think that contribution is a goal that we can all attain, and one that we should seek in every situation.”
Our ability to be of service and contribute changes from day to day. Whether it means we contribute by supporting people around us or simply showing up and doing our best, there is always a way to matter.
“During this time, a lot has been changing and is out of our control, but I still think there are things that we can do, even if it's not what we thought we could do. As best I can, I’m trying to do things that I can look back on and thank myself for years down the line.”
What we can do for ourselves, and do for others, looks different in every moment. Perhaps what you need right now is rest, recovery, and restoration, all of which contribute to the bigger picture.
“It’s been a challenge for me because I always want to feel like a winner and feel like I showed up and gave it all I had. But I’m beginning to accept that contribution is healing and supporting, just as much as it is succeeding and overcoming.”
As Alexi stated, the truth is we can’t always matter in the ways we want to. But sometimes, we must matter in the ways we have to, even if it feels counterproductive and uncomfortable at first. Healing, like contribution, is not a straight path forward, it has many ups and downs, but each up and down plays an important role in where we need to go.
After reading Alexi’s book, a piece of advice resonated deeply with us here at TrooMe, which we now know as ‘The Rule of Thirds.’
“The rule of thirds was taught to me by my Olympic coach, and he basically said that when you’re chasing your dreams or doing anything hard, or just life in general, you’re meant to feel good 1/3rd of the time, okay 1/3rd of the time, and crappy 1/3rd of the time.”
The philosophy of the rule of thirds is that if we were to feel too good all of the time, it might mean that we aren’t pushing ourselves hard enough or that we’re not growing. Growth is uncomfortable, and it requires us to accept and embrace it. Yet, if we felt overly tired all of the time and discouraged, it may be a good indicator that our actions are not sustainable, and we need to take a break.
“What’s helped me the most is that crappy 1/3rd. I used to think that it was a red flag, but the truth is that now I can embrace it as an indicator that I’m doing it, and I’m in the dream.”
Whether relationally, personally, or socially, all areas of life are an ongoing negotiation that requires ups and downs. When we can accept the downtime just as much as we embrace the uptime, we give ourselves a personal permission slip to feel the way we need to feel, when we need to feel it.
No Longer Pursue
“I’m trying to have big goals and big dreams, but no longer chase them as a solution to solve my internal problems. I’ve started to make more smaller goals, like how I carry myself or react to situations throughout the day. I still have big dreams and aspirations, but there’s a lot that I can’t control in my day to day. So, knowing that I have control over myself in each moment has helped me find success in the small things.”
When we strive towards something and link the outcome of our objectives to our personal worth, we miss the purpose of our journey and the growth it offers us. If we could begin to place care and attention on each step, appreciating every stage and phase for what it is, we may come to find that gratification no longer lies in the achievement of our goals but is in the steps it took to get us there.
We asked Alexi Pappas what she knows one hundred percent to be true, her answer;
“I know one hundred percent to be true that I’m stuck with myself. So, I’m going to try and stay on my own team.”
At TrooMe, we believe that healing and happiness go hand in hand. The best things don’t happen overnight; like a flower, they take time to grow and bloom. So, we too, must give ourselves the care-filled time to become all that we are.
May we follow in Alexi Pappas’ footsteps, making each one meaningful, knowing that somedays we might step in mud, but when we do, it serves a purpose, and the green grass is only a step away.