What the Olympics taught me about careers and life

As the whole world is consumed by the Olympics this week with some truly game-changing feats by the Olympic greats like Phelps, Biles, Raisman, Felix, etc., I tried to justify my indulgence on TV watching by embracing what I can learn from these incredible people on top of their game, the best in the world, with history bearing witness to the power of the individual and team.

Here are 4 personally game-changing concepts the Olympics taught me:

1. Time is precious and priceless. To any normal human being, about 99% of us, a minute, an hour, a day, a week, a month, years, can afford to be lost. When you’re part of the world’s elite, even a thousandth or hundredth of a second can mean the difference from bronze, silver, gold, to missing the podium altogether. Time is worth so much more than any amount of money to an Olympian. That’s worth learning from. What I see is a stark reminder that their time is so precious, what about mine? Sadly, my whole week is probably not even remotely comparable to how much their millisecond costs.

That needs to change. In order to reach success in the game that is my own life and career, I must squeeze as much as I can from every second I have on this earth. I must learn new methods to hack productivity, do more with the time I do have. Whatever I do at whatever time, I must really enjoy it to the max and try my absolute hardest. I’m here, so I may as well work my butt off. Which leads me to my next point:

2. No talent can beat practice, and freakishly determined work ethic; no amount of appearance can beat the real thing. The Olympics doesn’t care about your personal appearance or the media’s standards of beauty. Women and men can be tall, short, muscular, slim, “attractive” or not; none of that matters. What matters is accomplishment and who can DO the best, looking the part doesn’t win you any points in this competition.

As a headhunter (and in my day to day life), I judge people by their communication skills, their character (from what little I can gather through my interpersonal exchanges with them), and their resume/written content/marketing messaging on LinkedIn, Angellist, etc. NOT their physical appearance.

Unlike interviewing where candidates/employers can sometimes fool each other by saying all the right things and looking a certain way to please the eye, the Olympics doesn’t care about what you look like, where you came from, where you graduated, how much money you have, or who your parents are!

The beauty of this type of fair approach on an international scale of applauding true accomplishments, internal fortitude, and rewarding hardwork, just makes for a tear-jerking event all week round. No wonder! It’s one of the most amazing tributes to the achievements of the human race.

3. Attitude and confidence is everything, before the games, during, and after. Nerves, self-doubt, arrogance, unsportsmanlike behavior — all will not only impact your personal performance, they may tarnish your legacy. Personal branding matters. Hate, jealousy, bullying, has no place in any realm and when it rears its ugly head at the Olympics, it detracts from the love, beauty, and cohesiveness of the games!

Even when you’re on top of the podium, being happy with bronze looks a lot better than looking sour-faced feeling like you’re owed the silver. This also means: Be happy with what you achieved; Your happiness is in your own control. It is YOUR choice to be happy with the results of life or not. Many people will leave the games in misery, but many will most likely feel a sense of accomplishment no matter how they performed. A good degree of self-criticism is important, but long-term success demands one to harness that small degree of dissatisfaction to be motivator and not a detractor.

4. Lastly, no matter how great you are, there are plenty of people better at you in every aspect of your life; you have to pick something you can do well, invest in it, and deliver. If you’re a gold-winning gymnast, that’s great, but you’re probably not going to be a gold-winning track star. Specialization is important, no one at the elite level can be a jack of all trades. Similar to job search, you can’t successfully persuade people you are an expert in 20 different industries! Be strategic and play to your strengths in every aspect of your life and career.

Thank you, Olympians, for making me realize how I need to amp up my game, work a lot harder, treasure my time more, maintain composure under any circumstance, and continue striving to accomplish my dreams!

After all, if we learned anything from: the upsets, the surprises, the new and old champions who won big, won again, or won nothing, anything is possible.

Now back to watching more Olympics! Just kidding, I’m really trying to minimize my consumption of media…

Dandan Zhu is a headhunter turned career coach, go-getter businesswoman, CEO & Founder of Dandan Global, a coaching company helping you achieve the life and career you envision.

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