7 Career Lessons from a Coterie of Captivating 2016 Olympians
Let’s just say you don’t need Bob Costas if you are with my mom. She gives play-by-plays, highlights and personal stories about the Olympics every few years, and she (really) enjoys posting just a fraction of this on Facebook. She kept me well-informed about the Olympics, and I couldn’t help but notice the strength, beauty and excellence of many of the U.S. women who were triumphant this year.
You and I, will most likely not be Olympians. I was thinking about how the career of an elite athlete, can apply to all of our careers. So, here are some lessons that resonated with me from some amazing 2016 Rio Olympians:
1.Allyson Felix (Track & Field)— Don’t let an unexpected failure on the job allow you to lose focus of your goals. Allison Felix is the most decorated Olympic woman in U.S. Track & Field history. So, when she lost gold in the 400 meter finals by .07s., it was surprising. If that wasn’t enough, in the 4x100 qualifier a collision — at no fault of Felix’s — almost prevented the team from competing in the finals. This was enough to knock anyone off their game. Felix stayed focused and led her team to 4x100 victory, and then anchored her team to gold in the 4x400. She reminds us all that we can overcome moments of unexpected failure in our careers, by choosing to stay focused.
2. Gabby Douglas (Gymnastics) — Accept the fact that your work will attract both constructive and nonconstructive feedback, and learn how to filter the two to achieve your goals. Gabby Douglas has been criticized for her hair. Her hair. She is an amazing gymnast, literally twisting, leaping, bending and flipping with strength, precision and speed that is so good that she is an Olympian. Hair seems irrelevant, but that doesn’t stop people from negatively commenting on it. At work, even when you are performing well, people may find fault in things that are irrelevant, whether it’s your personal interests, style, office decor or some other difference. Douglas reminds us that as long as you are performing with excellence, nonconstructive feedback does not need to be entertained.
3. Morolake Akinosun (Track & Field) — Set high career goals, share them and then work towards them. Morolake Akinosun tweeted five years ago that she would compete in the Olympics in 2016. She was 17 then, and now she is an Olympic gold medalist. When she was asked about her tweet and her success reaching her goal on the ABC interview below, she emphasized that it wasn’t just writing the goal, but working towards it for five years that made it happen. What is your five-year plan for your career? We may not know all the details, but a vision for where we want to be and outlining basic steps we can take to get there is a great start.
4. Simone Biles (Gymnast) — Find a career path where what makes you different can be used to your advantage. At 19, and 4'8" tall, Simone Biles is arguably the best American gymnast of all-time. At 4'8" she is half a foot shorter than the average American woman. In the world of gymnastics Simone’s height is an advantage. What makes you different from the average in the world of work, i.e. your thought process, aptitude, background, perspective, experience or interests, may be advantageous in a type of job/career that you haven’t considered, or may be straying from pursuing. Embracing what makes you different can be your ticket to success.
5. Simone Manuel (Swimming) — Just because no one has done what you aspire to do in your career, doesn’t mean that you can’t be the one to achieve it. Simone Manuel is the first African-American woman to win a gold medal in an individual swimming event. She had no examples of anyone who looked like her achieving that goal. She is a trailblazing 20-year-old who reminds us all to persist in our careers with excellence even if we are “the only one.”
6. Jenny Arthur (Weightlifting)— Finding the best career for you, can come from working hard at the one you have now. Jenny Arthur started weightlifting to improve her performance in other sports. That one decision led to her breaking an American record in the Rio Olympic Games. Your effort and investment to increase your knowledge, aptitude or performance in your job by advancing your education, getting a certification, or even coaching in areas of weakness, can open the door to a new career where you can thrive.
7. Michelle Carter (Track & Field) — Don’t limit what you pursue in your career based on other people’s perceptions. Michelle Carter is the first American woman to win Olympic gold in the shot put. She is also a licensed cosmetologist, with a cosmetics line. Some might say they are too dissimilar career paths, but she is doing what makes sense for her. If you enjoy tech, but you also want to be a personal trainer, why not pursue both? Define your interests, set your goals and do it.