Michael Phelps on Building His Brand After The Olympics | WSJ
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Michael Phelps on Building His Brand After The Olympics | WSJ

– For me it’s just a
whole different ball game. You know for so long I was staring at a black line in a pool. You know like basically I was in the pool. I would eat, sleep, and swim. I don’t know, I’m learning
life all over again. – Welcome to you Michael. – Thank you. – Good to see you. You became the most decorated
Olympian in history. You say part of that of that
was through visualization. – [Michael] Mm-hmm. – Can you explain exactly what
you mean and how you used it? – Well, whenever we’re preparing
for a meet or for a race, we always would think of
how we want the race to go, how we don’t want the race to
go, and how the race could go. So they’re all based
off of your preparation and your training, right? So as long as you’re prepared for anything that’s gonna happen, nothing catches you off guard, you’re not surprised, you can go in, stay focused on what you have to and go out and try to
complete that mission. So for us it was just really
about the preparation. ‘Cause that’s the most important thing. I’ve competed in five Olympics, in four of them I was prepared, in one of them I wasn’t. So I’ve done it in multiple
different ways, and you know, it’s much better going to a meeting when you’re prepared and you’re ready to go instead of in La La Land
and looking at the clouds. – Right and you’re saying that, do you use it now in your life? After– – I do and it’s, you
know it’s actually crazy, ’cause it’s like, essentially it’s the same thing, right? Like it’s the same mindset of you know, what I’m trying
to do outside of the water compared to what I was doing in my career. It’s like, if I think of swimming and what I was trying to do in the sport, I wanted to change the sport, right? That was the star that was in the distance that I was always searching for. And through that was my swimming career, so it was the Olympics and everything that went on in my career. And it was a process, so now it’s just trying to figure out what I want that star to be in the future. – In a way there is a certain element of what you’re doing that is a business. How did you first expand your brand outside of being an athlete? – I mean, it just goes back to really what my goals and
what my dreams are about what I wanna do with myself,
my life, and my brand. So for me just trying to build a team, but a brand that I’m excited about and I love. So for me being able to not only start my own swimming brand but continue to work with the partners that I’ve worked with, I mean some since 2001, 2002, this has been just absolutely perfect. I mean like, I can’t say enough like, ever since I retired, being able to now continue to do everything that I love. – [Lee] Mm-hmm. – And still be able to have
the support from my sponsors and from everybody else who’s helping do what we’re doing. I mean ’cause, the stuff that we have
going on now, like you said, could change how we look at the world. And this is something that gets me excited and gets me motivated every day, and that’s all I want to
help me get out of bed. – Have you been able to speak to other similarly situated people like a Michael Jordan or a Tiger Woods? – Yeah, I mean I think Kobe is somebody who’s been super fun to kind of pick his brain about a
little bit about some things. And, you know when it comes down to it at the end of the day, it really just, it’s what your dreams and
what your passions are. That’s the biggest thing and, you know it’s finding
a way to get it done. You know, like we’ve had the privilege and the opportunity in our sports to be successful or reach that pinnacle. And we know what it takes
to get to that top level. So now it’s always a challenge, I think, for the athletes to find that drive outside of the sport, right? So it’s a fun process and a new process. – And we see a lot of
young people in sports struggle with money. – Oh of course. – Do you remember your first big check? And the realization
that made you understand that this is life-changing money and a heavy responsibility? – I honestly don’t even remember. Like, I remember getting paid, you know I signed my first
contract at 15, 16 years old. I probably couldn’t even tell you what I was making back then. Like at that point I didn’t know, and I didn’t want to know. Because I knew as long as I kept swimming, and as long as I kept training, everything else would just kinda work out. So I tried to never
really get caught up in how much money I was making
or this, that and the other. Because I was doing it because
I loved what I was doing. You know, I was just very
lucky to have some good talent and I had good work ethic. But yeah, I knew, if I
wasn’t doing it in the pool, nothing else would have come, so, I took care of my job
before everything else. – But that was a level of
maturity that’s not common. – It was just something I think, you know once I got with
Bob at the age of 11. You know, he was just different
than any other coaches that I’d ever worked with before. So I think just, how prepared he was and, I mean, how to like, very precise he is to every little small detail. I think seeing that at such a young age just kind of helped me learn, and he instilled a lot of those things at a young age where, you know, when I got older it was just easy and it’s all second nature. – So he kept you grounded? – Always. – It’s kinda like Cus
D’Amato who, with Tyson, when he says that as soon as he died, my life spiraled out of control. – [Michael] Yeah. – Because you need that one person. – You have to, yeah. And he was great for me, I mean, no matter how many times
we’d get in arguments and yell at each other back and forth, he was the only coach and probably the only coach in the world who could’ve done what we did. – Tell about your struggle
with ADHD and depression. – I mean, growing as a kid with ADD, bouncing off the wall, I’m still that way now, like, I mean my head is, I’m all over the place. Non-stop go, go , go, the whole entire day. And for me as a kid growing
up it was a struggle. I mean, I didn’t wanna
go to the nurse’s office and take my medication every day. Or I didn’t wanna go through that because I didn’t wanna
be different, right? And for me, I think that now has completely changed. Because I’m now happy with
who I am and I like who I am so I don’t care really what, if somebody else doesn’t like me or has a negative opinion on me, this is who I am. What you see is what you get. And for a lot of my career
I think I was kind of, I don’t wanna say I had a mask on but I wasn’t really truly
always my authentic self. And that’s what I’m doing now, that’s what I wanna do. And being able to kind of
grow from the experiences that I had in 2014. After my little bump in
the road that I had then. Being able just to look at myself and like who I see in the
mirror was a struggle. So kinda going through that challenge and learning more about me
and who I am as a person, I think was able to help
me make that next step to one, finish my career how I wanted to, but also become a person who I wanna be. You know, I looked at myself as a swimmer for a long time and that was it. Not as an individual. So for me, learning all of these things and experiencing these
things at the age of 30 was new and it was different. But it was something that
definitely changed my life and now, am I still gonna
struggle with mental health? Yeah, of course. I’m still gonna have
anxiety from time to time. I just came out of a depression spell, so you know, there are gonna be things that happen throughout my life that are gonna be normal for me. Because it makes, that’s
what makes me who I am. But for me now, learning some of the
things that I’ve learned and picking up some of the tools that I’ve picked up along the way, to help me get through the
struggles and the depression. I mean, it saved my life. You know, for me, just being able to stand
up and talk about it I think it was something that was a challenge but it helped me. You know, and hopefully
that can help other people. And I know there are so
many people that struggle from the same exact thing
that I’ve gone through. – You said you just went
through a depression spell. What happens? Can you just demystify it for me. – Yeah, I mean, I can always
see certain tendencies, like sometimes I’ll start
to isolate a little bit or, I might just not really be happy and kinda be edgy a little bit. And I just kinda know those signs that something’s not right so, for me then it’s like, “Okay, take a step back. “What’s going on?” Reassess every situation. So then I’ll go back in, and I start looking at basically emotions. Like, why do I feel these emotions and where are they stemming from? So I have an understanding
of why I’m feeling that way, and then I can go and talk to somebody, or I can bring it up to my wife or I can go to my therapist or I can hop online and text my therapist. So that’s why I say I’ve
picked up so many tools. I was able to sharpen those
tools along the way because I know this is gonna be something that’s going to probably continue
to happen throughout my life. – How bad did it get? What was your darkest moment? – 2014 not wanting to be
alive for a handful of days. After my second DUI, basically locked myself
in a room for five days. Didn’t wanna talk,
didn’t wanna see anybody. Didn’t wanna even be here anymore. And it got to that point and, I think me being by myself gave me time to kind of understand that there’s a different route. And try a different route
instead of taking my life. Like, what else can I find,
what else can I learn? What else can I go and do? The only thing I can think
of was asking for help. And, where do I go? What do I do? So for me I just started
kind of looking up places of where I can get off to and I can go and spend some time and kind of try to seek personal help. And obviously I needed
that with, you know, carrying a lot of the stuff I basically compartmentalized as a child and I carried it through my whole life. And I didn’t need to
carry that excess baggage. So for me it was just a
step that I wanted to take because I thought I can learn
more about what was going on. And I thought there was a way to get help. So I always like trying different
things to try if it works. Like I’m always eager to learn, and that’s something
that I’ve always been. – And now I can see that you’re a man speaking from that chair from
a position of empowerment. There’s a de-stigmatization
effect, is that? – Yeah, and honestly
really over the last year, I don’t really see a
stigma around it anymore. Like, you know, because
there are so many people that are standing up and talking about it. And opening up and expressing the feelings and the journey that they’ve gone or the struggles that they’ve had. And honestly, like, the coolest thing is showing people that they’re human beings. Right? Like, I’m a human
being just like you are. Just like everybody else in this world is. – Do people not see that? – Sometimes I don’t feel like they do. Sometimes I feel like, I
feel like as an athlete or a performer that you’re
supposed to be this person that doesn’t have any problems. Or doesn’t have a weakness. But then it goes back
to what we were saying about human beings. We’re all human beings, right? And we all struggle differently in life. But we all have similar problems too. So it’s like, you know what, for me just standing
up and talking about it has really helped me. And truly if, like I said, if I can save a life by sharing the experiences that I’ve had and continue to have
on a day to day basis. If I can save a life then that’s, for me that’s all I want. – I get the sense that you wanted to swim competitively more than anyone else when you were a kid. What drove your motivation? – When I was growing up,
I have two older sisters so I watched them in the pool. My mom put us in the
water for water safety. That was the only reason. They started swimming
internationally and nationally and I was like, “I wanna do that. “I wanna be an Olympian. “I wanna be a gold medalist. “I wanna be a world record holder. “I wanna be a professional athlete.” And the journey started
probably like 11, 12, and a few years later I made
my first Olympic team in 2000. – Was there a race or some
significant milestone, some story that you can tell that told you, “I’m talented at this “and I can be the best in the world?” – I think over time things started kind of setting in or happening. I saw something special, like I thought I was descent at it, right? I mean I had a couple of races that probably were pretty big wins and they just kept going and going and going. But I think also another aspect, or another part of that was, I had a coach who truly believed in me. And for me as a young kid, I grasped onto that really hard when he said that I could be
an Olympian in four years. So I believed everything he
told me and he proved it. So, you know, I mean four years later I made my first team and then I basically just said,
“Alright, what’s next?” Like, “What can we do?” – What was your regimen like in your earliest days
of competitive swimming? – I guess when I was like 11 or 12 I probably going five or six
days a week in the water. But it would be ten workouts a week so three days I’d have doubles. So Monday, Wednesday, Friday, I’d have a morning
session, afternoon session. Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, a PM session. At that point I was
probably just doing like three dry land days where it was basically just body weight
and push ups, running, some of that stuff. – But I think that that’s
something that people miss, that a lot of people who we’ve seen who have had tremendous success from a young age and moved forward. A lot of them wanted to do it. – I was very excited to do it. Like it was something that
got me excited every day. That was just who I was. Like, I wanted to be the
greatest of all time, or try to be the greatest of all time. That was my goal. To do something in this sport
that nobody had ever seen. – What do you say to people who say, “Well that’s too perfectionistic? “You shouldn’t always focus on winning.” There are a lot of people
out there who experience that and are trying to be the best. – But I wasn’t focusing on winning, I was focusing on preparing myself the best way that I could. Because at the end of the day
when I step up on the blocks and race another seven
people that are in that heat, I can’t control what they do. I can only control what I do. So if I am over-prepared, you can guarantee that I’m
gonna be ready to swim. And that’s what we did. You know, we just tried to make it where we were overly ready. So we had no shot of losing. You know, that was the
biggest thing, is we just, we worked ourselves as hard as we could. There was a reason why I
went six years straight without missing a single day. – You’re a paid ambassador for Colgate. – Mm-hmm. This is our second year with our Colgate partnership being able spread the important message of water conservation. For me it’s always been what fits and what is, I guess what goes hand in hand
with the beliefs that I have. And for me everything that I’m
doing now has those beliefs. You know, Colgate, we’re both hand in hand with trying to get this message out to save and conserve as much
water as we possibly can. It’s something that’s so needed. So for me, it’s kind of easy
when I see things like that, that are so hand in hand
that they get me excited, and it’s easier for me to be
me and talk about what I love. What we’re doing now could
potentially save a life, but also it’s the opportunity
to save a resource. – Would you have done
everything the same as a kid, being ultra-disciplined,
ultra-competitive, and just a kid who lived for swimming? – I would never change
anything that happened in my life to this point. Good or bad. Because it’s made me who I am today, and I like who I am today. – Michael Phelps. – Cheers, man. (nostalgic techno music)


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