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7 Olympic Lessons for Business

by Chrissy VanScoten

Whether you love them, hate them, couldn't care less, or don't even know what I'm talking about, the Olympics are an incredible training ground for so much more than supreme athleticism. I spent more time keeping up with the action this year than I ever have before; what I learned is applicable to more than just sports, but to growing a business and really, to life in general.

So here are seven lessons we should learn from the Olympics:

  1. Muscle memory will overcome nerves every time.
    I once had a CPR instructor who told me that he didn't believe 'practice makes perfect' but rather that practice makes permanent, so he made us continue to practice chest compressions and rescue breaths for several rounds rather than just saying we would do a, b, and c for however long. The idea was that in a moment of extreme nerves or stress which would normally make you freeze up, the repetition you've practiced would shine through despite the mental lockdown. Watching athletes overcome (and at times succumb to) the intense pressure was a reminder of how important repetition is to be successful. Our bodies need to know our skills even more than our minds do.
  2. What happens in the shadows dictates what you see in the spotlight.
    So many athletes "come out of nowhere" to become top performers on the Olympic stage. But in all actuality they have been practicing for years out of the public eye. We tend to think people become overnight successes: as athletes, authors, entrepreneurs, and the like. If you're putting in the hard work now while no one's watching, eventually you'll become an 'overnight success' but if you're not willing to prepare, the world will see every flaw when they turn that spotlight on you.
  3. Be weird. Stand out.
    When friends and family of the athletes get interviewed they all say the same thing: you could tell very early on s/he was different. The majority of us will do everything we can to blend in; sure, we talk a big game about 'standing out' but we'll only stand out so much as what's socially acceptable. And let's be real, that's why the majority of us don't have Olympic medals (or some non-athletic equivalent). I like how Mikaela Shiffrin said that we need to, "stop shying away from [our] ambition and to actually face it head on and work towards it." Stop fitting in and follow your ambition; you'll find more success your own way than by following someone else's footsteps.
  4. Don't just ignore fear: embrace it.
    The general wisdom around fear is to swallow and ignore it so you can push forward; I don't exactly disagree, but I look at fear a lot like I look at pain. No one wants to feel pain, but its purpose is to alert your body when something goes wrong. Its a triggering signal to stop us from doing something even more damaging. Similarly, fear is an indicator that we are right on the cusp. The problem though, is that we associate fear with pain; we use the trigger of fear to stop pressing forward just like pain tell us to. But fear isn't telling you to stop; fear is telling you to keep going. Fear is the trigger that tells you you're right on the cusp of actually living. And yes, sometimes actually living does lead to pain, but to live a full life with no regrets? That's worth the risk. So don't just swallow your fear, use it to guide you into greatness.
  5. Push yourself to the absolute limit.
    The basic premise here, is that you'll never know unless you try. How many things have a I given up on in my life because I hit a rough patch or got bored? Our culture is in a state that the minute we meet resistance in some area, we'll back off and switch gears. If every athlete stopped training the first time they got injured or the first time they got sore or the first time they felt like they deserved a break, they'd never see a medal around their necks. It's up to us to push to the absolute extremes of our capabilities; that's where we find our true success.
  6. The easier it looks, the harder it is.
    I can't tell you the number of times I've watched an Olympic event and thought, "that doesn't look so hard. I could probably learn to do that pretty quick." I mean how hard is it to let your skis take you down a track, jump off the end, and land on your feet? I could do that. (Never mind that whole jumping-the-length-of-a-football-field thing.) It's not until someone wipes out miserably, that I'm jolted back to reality. These are the best in the world in what they do and when they wreck, we become privy to just how fast and hard they're moving and how much skill is required to control the movement. So the next time you look at another business and think that it's just so easy for them, consider how much training, effort, and skill is at work to make it appear that way.
  7. Even in competition, we're united in humanity.
    As much as I love athleticism and competition, (which is a lot, trust me) the thing I love most about the Olympics is the global unity. Let's be real, the world is a scary place. Politics, religion, old alliances and new, are all merging to keep us on the edge of our seats wondering when the next world war may start. But in these few short weeks, we set all of our differences aside in favor of competition. Friendships are born, bonds are strengthened, and it seems like the closest to real peace we've ever actually seen. (Yes, I'm fully aware that tragedies have taken place at the games. I don't discredit them, and I don't fool myself to think we are immune from future tragedy. I'm speaking generally in this moment.).

    New generations are constantly taking over the legacy of the one preceding them, and the games give us a unique opportunity to shift our global culture. Athletes from differing nations are constantly supporting and encouraging each other—even in the midst of competing. If we can learn to do that as entrepreneurs, our local economies, cultures, and overall quality of life will have no choice but to flourish. I don't know about you, but that's a movement I'd be happy to endorse.

Which of these lessons do you most need to learn? Did you learn something we missed? Let us know your thoughts; we'd love to chat about them!