Choosing When NOT to Perform

Jessica Tietjen
4 min readAug 2, 2021

Anyone watching the news cycle during the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo heard probably on repeat 1000 times, in 1000 different ways, told from 1000 different perspectives, about Simone Biles decision not to perform. After practice and performing on the vault Simone developed a case of the “twisties.” A term I had never heard before but learned is when a gymnast loses their ability to sense where they are in the air and as a result it can become incredibly dangerous even resulting in lasting long-term injuries. A great debate, as seems to always be the case these days, inevitably ensued.

Was Simone being courageous for making a decision to step out of the competition in order to protect her own physical and mental well-being and health?


Was she being a coward stepping aside, losing her opportunity to perform at the Olympics, to represent her country, and to do her duty as a gymnast performing on behalf of the United States?

A few questions came to mind for me regarding this decision. When we think about someone like Simone at the top of their performance, at the peak of their performance, do we sometimes need to make the decision not to perform at all? A decision not to perform in order to stay in peak performance overall. And can that actually be the right decision?

Recently a friend of mine pointed out to me the physical response they felt to the term of performance. This feedback got me thinking about the connotations of performance. Everyone sees and hears the word ‘performance’ differently.

The definition of performance is “the action or process of carrying out or accomplishing an action, task, or function.”

Some might see performance as something we do for someone else, to meet someone else’s expectations, to meet an external standard. Maybe they feel performance implies I have to put on a show or do something I’m supposed to do in a specific and particular way. And while, in part, all of that is true, in reality our performance must be primarily about ourselves. If we are not making the best choices for ourselves will never reach peak performance.

In my upcoming book, The Exceptional Life R-Evolution, I talk about reaching peak performance. I describe peak performance not as a destination but rather as being a state of operating, a state where you’re performing at your best, in a way that helps you to have more exceptional work in life experiences. I think in order to do that, perform at our peak, sometimes we may have to make the decision not to perform at all.

We may have to make a decision to step aside, to take a break, to decide that our performance looks different than what others think it should be. Instead, we must look inward. We must ask the questions of ourselves where, what, when, and how, do I need to operate in order to be my best, in order to live my best life, to have an exceptional life.

These choices may mean upsetting others, letting people down, disappointment, frustration, possibly even anger or hostility, or judgement, as Simone is undoubtedly experiencing. And although the hurt and pain of that response can’t be eliminated, it’s likely something we will have to move through with awareness, mindset, and perseverance.

We absolutely must choose for ourselves what and when we will perform the expectations, roles, outcomes, and goals and, alternatively, when we won’t.

When we decide we need a break,

when we decide it’s not healthy for us to continue,

when we decide a relationship is no longer what it should be,

when we decide a job is no longer meeting our needs,

when we decide we need to change our parenting,

when we decide we just need to rest.

These choices, the choices of when not to act, the choice to no longer live by someone else’s expectations of us but instead define those expectations for ourselves are some of the most courageous decisions we will make in our lives.

I believe Simone Biles set a tremendous example by choosing what was best for her physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, or for any other reason she should so choose. If we don’t take care of ourselves first, who else will make sure our needs are met?

Performing at our very best, operating in a state of heightened flow, and capability is a tremendous experience. I’m quite certain Simone, if she felt up to it, would have loved nothing better than to have performed at her peak, to have performed in a way that would’ve made everyone proud, to have performed in a way that would’ve made her happy, joyous, content, and all the other things that she gets from performing her sport. But on that day, in that moment, she recognized choosing to perform had the potential to do far more harm than good. Choosing not to perform was the best thing she could do for her peak performance. Good for Her! Simone — your courage is noticed and admired by many!

We must choose to follow her example as we think of our own performance, in any role that we’re serving. We must recognize and acknowledge that the expectations we need to first meet are those for ourselves. And when any role becomes unhealthy or puts us at risk, we always have the choice to step aside, to take a break, and to choose not to perform.

Choosing when not to perform is important and necessary for operating at peak performance!

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Jessica Tietjen

A mother, wife, employee, working woman, leader, strengths coach, writer, and passionate performance advocate. Author of The Exceptional Life R-Evolution!