Photo courtesy of Press Association


Have you been watching the Olympics? I sure have, and I’ve been amazed not just at the athleticism of these amazing competitors, but at the clear impact of mental and emotional strength on who goes home as a winner, and who goes home disappointed.

Here are just a few of the observations I’ve been making as to what makes a true Olympian:

1. If you fall and you CAN get up, get up.

Mo Farah of Great Britain won the gold in the 10,000 meters after being accidentally tripped on the 10th lap. He was uninjured and unfazed, quickly returning to the front of the pack and ultimately winning his second Olympic gold in this event. Here’s what he had to say about the incident:

“When I fell down I was just thinking, ‘Try to get up, try to get up. Don’t panic, don’t panic, don’t panic.’ And then I got up, and I tried to just get through it.”

In contrast stands Russian gymnast Seda Tutkhalian. Tutkhalian over-rotated on her dismount from the beam, falling on her backside, and then made exactly the same mistake in her floor routine. In the end, it was mental gymnastics that failed her.

“I had been thinking about it and I was upset,” said Tutkhalian. “And on the floor I have fallen because I was upset after my fall on the beam. During the floor exercise, I don’t know, I didn’t have the strength anymore. I don’t understand why.”

Are you reminded more of yourself by Farah or by Tutkhalin? I recognize myself in both of them.

Farah’s attitude is one we could all stand to have when we meet with an accident, or with any kind of failure. When I make a mistake with a client (yes it does happen), or when I am made aware of a typo in my blog, I have an initial surge of despair; but I am generally able to talk myself out of panic, do whatever necessary to make amends, and cross the finish line one way or another. From now on I will have Farah’s fortitude in mind when I stumble in one of my pursuits.

2. It’s your effort that really matters—not whether you win.

I heard the gymnastics commentators say again and again that the gymnasts who go home satisfied are the ones who know they have given it their all. Yes there might be disappointment, but no “what ifs” to haunt them. There are many athletes who set records for their countries while not winning medals. They have a lot to be proud of. There are others who scored their personal best. Not everyone goes to the Olympics with expectations of winning a gold medal or any medal at all. There are many ways to win.

American gymnast, Alex Naddour, won a bronze, not the coveted gold, for pommel horse—but it was the first of any kind of medal in 32 years for the U.S. Naddour said he felt like he won the lottery. He shared, “This is exactly what I wanted since I was a young kid, to go out and hit a great routine, score the highest I’ve ever scored in my life, out of country.” For him, bronze was golden.

I happened to catch one of the quarter-final matches of women’s beach volleyball, and I hope the Brazilian team goes home proud after losing their match in an epic battle. Yes they cried, but they gave it everything in front of their own nation, and to me that’s what matters.

My own degree of satisfaction is definitely tied to how much effort I put in. I experienced this phenomenon on the dance floor this week. One night, I went out salsa dancing and felt scared to ask anyone to dance with me. I danced by myself for most of the night, and went home feeling defeated. The next night, I did not let my fear stop me and I danced with some new people, coming home having had a ton of fun.

Then on Saturday, I decided to go berry picking. I preferred to have company, so I put in some effort to ask 5 friends to come with me. I ended up going by myself and had a wonderful time amongst the raspberry bushes. Knowing I had not given up was the key to my satisfaction. Picking berries was also a sweet meditative experience that inspired the idea behind this blog!

3. When you’re winning, keep pushing, and have fun!

Swimmer Katie Ledecky took the lead from the start in the 800m freestyle, and she never let go of it. She was chasing something other than the 7 other swimmers in the pool: her own world record. And she beat it. So much for “Quit while you’re ahead.”

Katie said she knew from the start of her race that she would have a world record breaking time. I’m guessing that having that goal kept her swimming faster and faster, even with the rest of her competitors trailing behind her by seconds.

Katie won, in part, because she was there for the experience more than the medals: “I’ve just had a lot of fun this week not only in the pool but just with my teammates. The memories mean more than the medals to me.” Once again, it seems that having fun is key to performing well and maintaining the drive to win.

And how about Simone Biles, who did not rest on her laurels after winning the women’s gymnastics all-around, but scored a more than perfect score on her final vault to clinch that medal too? The smile on her face after that vault showed in no uncertain terms that she was living by her motto: “If you’re having fun, that’s when the best memories are built.”

Finally, the indomitable Usain Bolt. He ended a press conference by kickin’ it up with some Brazilian samba dancers. The man can dance!

The same combination of pushing hard and having fun will bring success in many aspects of life, including business. Too many people become the best and then forget that they need to keep innovating to maintain their leading position.

For me, it’s the ongoing striving for excellence that keeps things fun and challenging. When I noticed I was getting bored of speaking about LinkedIn, I hired a speaking coach. Already I am thinking of new and creative ways to present material, engage my audience, and promote my services. The fun is back and I’m planning to win this game.

More Olympics are coming this week. What are you taking away from the amazing athletes in Rio?


  1. Excellent, Brenda! I’m an “Olympaholic” myself staying up until midnight each night to make sure I see each event! And for sure, those athletes HAVE to have total command of themselves and their emotions to even make it to the Olympic games. Failure can either knock you over, or can teach you how to improve and succeed at the task at hand!

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