Watching the Olympics a couple of weeks ago left me thinking about what we could learn from them. Here are a few quick thoughts I had about the games:
1. Winning is relative. I know that sounds like a strange thing to say about games that reward a clear winner. But despite what the press often seems to be trying to sell us, winning means different things to different people. You had to look closely (and sometimes watch the live streams of various events) to catch some of those nuances. But I did see a swimmer who was absolutely thrilled just to make the finals of his events, swimming a personal best in a semifinal heat. He was dead last in his final, but he’d done better than he’d ever done before in his life, against the best in the business, and was totally thrilled about it, despite the lack of medals. A little-regarded runner in the track and field events won a bronze medal against all expectations. He was so excited you couldn’t tell he hadn’t won gold. My takeaway – compete with the best but celebrate all achievements, no matter how small, and keep striving to do better.
2. These are the best in the world at what they do. They’ve gone through rounds and rounds of trials that eliminated a lot of other candidates before they even got to the Olympics, and then they go through several more rounds of heats in many sports before ever getting to the final rounds we see on television.
3. The performance in the spotlight is the tip of an iceberg that includes years of practice and work to get to that position. Not to mention an almost absurd level of talent. But raw talent will only take you so far. It has to be trained and refined through practice, practice, and more practice. More practice than most of us could handle. It takes a single-minded self-discipline most of us can’t even imagine.
4. And even after all that, nothing is guaranteed. A badly timed injury or even a slight mis-step, a small wobble, a twitch, or a sniffle at an inopportune moment can make all the preparation for nothing. And if you happened to be born at a time when several other even better contestants come along, you can be out of luck, too.
5. The best make it look easy. It’s not. I did some casual gymnastics in high school and college, so I know that what all the gymnasts at this level are doing is ridiculous. Ridiculously hard. Ridiculously risky. Damn near impossible to learn and harder to perfect. And yet they make it look like it’s no real effort at all.
Lots of life lessons here. I’m still working out what they are and how to apply them.