Six Olympic Lessons for Working Life

By Kim Furman, Synthesis Marketing Manager

The Olympics are the coalescence of excellence across countries and cultures – a showcase of the best doing their best. However, this year is tinged with something different – a world shaken by a pandemic, a fervent longing to see human triumph and athletes without their fanbase to cheer them on. It has been a place of massive learnings. These learnings hold true for life and particularly for working life:

  1. Together we go further

This Olympic game was so different that it led to the change of the Olympic motto which has been the same since its inception – Faster, Higher, Stronger – Together. The word together was added to show solidarity through Covid which caused the delay in event. The tweet that introduced the change read: “We move forward when we move together.” This is true for business. Together, we go further, develop solutions faster and are stronger. Teamwork matters. There is fact behind this according to Darwin: “It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” It is not only survival of the fittest but the collaborative.

  1. You can celebrate the victories of others

When Tatiana Schoenmaker epically broke an eight-year-old world record with a time of 2 minutes and 18.95 seconds in the women’s 200-meter breaststroke, her competitors immediately rallied around her in the pool. There wasn’t a look of defeat on their faces but joy in what their fellow Olympiad just accomplished – true sportsmanship. The lesson: there is more to be gained when we celebrate others. Celebrate your colleagues’ achievements. Admire the achievements of your competitors – they are setting a new standard for you to reach next time around.

  1. Bravery means saying yes to ourselves

Simone Biles, United States gymnast caused a stir when she withdrew from the women’s team event siting a need to put her mental health first. In doing so, she turned down one of the greatest opportunities in her field, but she also turned down harming herself both mentally and physically. She stated that it’s okay sometimes to even sit out the big competitions to focus on yourself, because it shows how strong of a competitor and person that you really are — rather than just battle through it.

The notion of battling through needs to be debunked – a notion prised in our society. The old-school adage of walking it off is often ill fitting.  Perseverance in times that require pivoting has all the glitter and none of the gold.

Bravery is being able to say yes to ourselves over the expectations of those around us. Her actions bring to mind Brene Brown when she said: “You either walk inside your story and own it or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.”

At work, in life, are we owning our own story or just battling through because that is what is expected. It may not be to this degree, but we need to ask ourselves, are we agreeing to deadlines or targets that we know are dangerous to ourselves and our teams. Are we battling through rather than speaking up?

  1. Consider the emotional sprains

If Biles would have sited a sprained ankle, would there have been the same amount of discussion? I don’t think so. A “sprained” mindset or a mindset not equipped for success does not yet hold the same weight as a physical injury in society yet the mind is the epicentre of our being.

We need to create work cultures where people can discuss both their physical and emotional sprains and receive receptions of understanding.

  1. Eliminate the ego & go team-first

Biles said that she didn’t want to risk the team because they’ve worked way too hard for that so she just decided that team needed to go and do the rest of our competition without her.

Great talent is often a place for great ego. They can see themselves as the star of the story. As teammates and leaders, it is imperative to put the team first and the ego last. We don’t need to be on every project or attain the limelight for every venture. We need to look at the objective and ask how do we best achieve this? What is best for the team on this journey? These questions still consider the I but they work to eliminate the ego.

  1. Know that it can be done

Olympiads break records time and time again. Surely there is a maximum output to what the body can do? Yet for every standard an Olympiad sets, another eventually comes along and breaks it. We have not reached the ceiling on human potential. Technology and other factors drive this progress but there is nothing as effective as the human mind. With work, as individuals, with our teams, we can excel, reach further, be better. We just need factors that support us (emotional as well as physical). Al Oerter said it well when he said: “I didn’t set out to beat the world; I just set out to do my absolute best.”

 

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