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August 01, 2016 | 5 min read
Rio 2016: What We Can Learn From Olympic Athletes


The Olympic Games are comprised of a group of athletes unparalleled in their achievements, who become a symbol of hard work, perseverance, and success to their home countries. Throughout the rest of their lives, they are praised for bringing home the gold, and they are idolized by children who one day hope to achieve greatness like them.

While you may not be heading to the Olympics, the qualities these athletes possess are incredibly admirable, and they are worth applying to your own professional life.  In order to get that promotion or land that coveted job offer, you’ll need to exhibit the same traits that make an excellent athlete—leadership, confidence, and of course, you must be highly skilled.  Here are some of the most admirable merits from highly anticipated US Olympic athletes, and the stories behind them; while applying these ideas to your career may not land you on a Wheaties box, you’re bound to succeed:

Keep a balanced life

Simone Biles barely missed the cut off age for the 2012 Olympics in London, but now, at 19 years old, she is competing in her first Olympics as a part of the US Gymnastics Team.  In those four years, Biles has emerged as the one to beat in Rio—some are calling her the best gymnast in the world.   Why?  While it’s only her first Olympics, she’s won the last four consecutive World Gymnastics Championships all-around titles—the first woman ever to do so.

However, as a nineteen-year-old, Biles lives a lot like any other teenage girl.  While many gymnastics coaches are incredibly strict on eating, having free time, or even smiling, Biles’ coach knows that she performs at her best when she’s stress-free and able to have fun.  Together, they ensure that Biles’ personality shines through her routines, and she is able to act like a normal teenager while still scoring far higher than any of her competitors.

Being the best at anything requires not only the physical skill, but also mental health and balance.  Remember in your own career that you need to take time for yourself in order to do great work.  If you don’t take care of yourself, you could burn out too early, and you may not stay in the game long enough to get your gold medal.

Diversify your skills

Two US favorites heading to Rio are multifaceted and fierce, showing their skills in a number of events.  Gwen Jorgensen is a triathlete and Ashton Eaton is a decathlete—that’s ten events!  Jorgensen swam and ran separately in college, where she earned a master’s degree in accounting—it wasn’t until after she was hired as a CPA that USA Triathlon recommended that she try the sport, where she received a Rookie of the Year award.  Eaton was also encouraged by someone else to try the decathlon; as a multitalented athlete, he played football, basketball, soccer, wrestling and track and field from a young age.  Eaton may have taken a chance on the decathlon, but it paid off, as he now holds a world record.

At any point in your career, you may hit a wall and feel stuck.  Take a moment to think outside the box, and seek advice from others—you may find a career path you hadn’t considered before or pick up a new skill you hadn’t thought to learn.

Strike your own path with confidence

Kerri Walsh Jennings is better known as one half of one of the most successful women’s beach volleyball teams in history.  With her former partner Misty May-Treanor, the duo won back to back (to back) Olympic gold medals in Athens, Beijing, and London.  Prior to the London games, May-Treanor had already announced her impending retirement, which meant that for 2016, Walsh Jennings had to find a new partner.

Approaching Rio, Walsh Jennings now finds herself no longer a part of an historic team, but nonetheless a top contender.  With her new partner, April Ross (who lost to the famous team at the 2012 Olympics), no time was wasted.  After the final point in London, still at the net, Walsh Jennings nodded to Ross and said, “Let’s go win gold in Rio.”  Walsh Jennings’ ease in immediately moving onto her next partner shows self-confidence and her ability to adapt to change.

When considering your own career, it can be difficult to leave your comfort zone.  However, many wonderful opportunities wait just outside of the box.  A key part of making the decision to carve your own path, however, is not to question or anguish over your choices.  Remember to trust your intuition, and know that you are good enough to stand on your own.

Focus on your personal best

While the Olympics are focused on who is the best in the world, in sports like Track & Field, one of the most important records is the personal best.  Sprinters like Allyson Felix or Justin Gatlin who are headed to Rio are not only hoping they can beat their competition, but also their own records.  At the 2012 Olympics, Felix won 3 out of 4 Gold medals—in the fourth event, the 100m, she placed fifth, but she still ran a personal best time of 10.89 seconds.

Gatlin has gone back and forth with Usain Bolt recently, each beating the other in race after race by one-hundredth of a second.  However, Gatlin’s personal best, which he improved last year, raised his standing as the 5th best performer of all time.  While he doesn’t hold Bolt’s world record status set in 2009, Gatlin’s ability to focus on a personal gain has allowed him to remain competitive with the best runners, including Bolt.

Throughout your career, you may feel at times that you deserve some recognition for your hard work that you don’t receive, or perhaps you’ll feel overshadowed.  However, remember that recognition is not the objective; the goal should be to perform at your highest level, regardless of where others may be.  Once you learn to focus on improving yourself and your skillset in the workplace, the rewards will follow.

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