Despite his success, he confesses that he has been his own worst critic. In a new interview, he admits his struggle with self-esteem issues have caused him to make regrettable mistakes, including his 2014 DUI arrest.
But he sees things differently now. “I’m different than I was two years ago,” he tells Adweek in its newest issue. “I’m way different than I was four years ago at the last Olympics.
“Being able to make that step and grow from things I’ve gone through, and be the real me—I look in the mirror, and I love who I see. That was a huge step for me.”
Phelps says that his new outlook has fueled his 2016 success. “It’s been a crazy year, an honestly ridiculous year, one of the greatest years of my life,” he says. “I don’t know when everything will settle down, but it’s been awesome. Coming back, going through some ups and downs away from the pool, and being able to finish my career on my terms—that’s all I wanted.”
Now, Phelps is spending time with his wife, Nicole, and their son Boomer. (Nicole told PEOPLE last month that they “have plans” for more children.) Officially retired, Phelps is concentrating on his swimwear brand, MP. “This is all such a new journey for me,” he says, “but it’s so exciting because I’ve never done it. I’m having fun, and doing what I love.”
So what’s next for Phelps? He says he wants to turn MP into the elite swimsuit brand. “I believe I have the best swimsuit in the world, and hopefully other people agree with me,” he says. “Would I like to be the best swimming brand in the world? Of course! I never want to be second.”