As I watch the Winter Olympics, I am struck by the athletes their dedication, the hard work it takes to get to the event and for how quickly their event is over, for many it is a matter of seconds. The medalists will have life long memories of achievement. The participants who never really had a chance to medal, like the cross country skiers from those winter nations Togo and Mexico, will be glad they just got a chance to travel and participate. Then there are those athletes that don’t medal when expected or don’t perform to their full potential, there dreams never fulfilled. At the end of it all successful or not all the athletes will be faced with the same question – What next?
Watching a skier miss a gate, or a speed skater fall, you see years of training over in seconds. They missed the opportunity of showing us what they are capable of and their dreams might be temporarily postponed until the next Olympics. For others the dream ended and it is now time to transition to the next phase of their life.
After their event, with raw emotions still churning through their veins, the athlete will not immediately appreciate what they accomplished and what a positive impact being an elite athlete will have on the rest of their lives. Once time has gone by they will hopefully have memories of achievement no matter their Olympic result, and be proud of the skills they acquired getting there, skills they can draw on for the rest of their lives. Focus, discipline, teamwork, and commitment all great traits to have. Oh yes and winning an Olympic medal, looks pretty good on your LinkedIn profile, for that matter Olympic athlete looks pretty good too.
For most of us non elite athletes, we will never have that experience of being so singularly focused on one event, one day, one fraction of a moment, that will have such an impact on our lives. Most of us will have memories of achievement, and failure but not so poignant. We will have the satisfaction of a promotion at work, finishing a 10k race, catching that trophy fish or maybe shooting under 80 in golf. Then there will be the difficult times, not getting the promotion, dropping out of the marathon, or getting let go from your job after 20+ years.
We should all draw strength from our successes and achievements and learn from our mistakes and failings, which is easier said than done. Being an Olympic athlete puts them in the top 1% of people in the world. We may not be in the top 1% of anything but we too have accomplished so much through our hard work and dedication. Look at the life you were able to create for you and your family. Think of the people you were able to teach, mentor, and befriend. How many lives you made better? Think of all the skills you have acquired that can be transferred to new adventures or a new career in the years ahead.
Like the athlete that did not reach their goal you will need time to get over the result and move on. There is no sense blaming the judge for giving them a poor score, or blaming track conditions for the fall, the medal winners had the same conditions and were able to prevail. In life bad things happen, sure we may have had awful managers, unfair deadlines, or terrible sales goals but so did everyone else. The easiest thing to do is to blame your manager, your workload, your sales goals, and while there may be some truth to that it does not change the outcome. It is easy to blame everything or everyone else, but if you are honest with yourself you were probably sending signals that you were not happy or your work was suffering under the stress. Maybe the company just decided to go with a younger employee. Just like getting a poor score from the Russian judge, it does not change the result.
We can choose to dwell on the injustice of the result and let that impact our life forever, or as is the case with most elite athletes we can “dust ourselves” off, learn, refocus, recommit and move on to the next challenge.
Retirement is going to happen to all of us. Some of us maybe able to pick the date and end on a high note or maybe like some of the athletes we might have left a little something on the ski hill. No matter it is a transition and transition is difficult. Take some time to digest, celebrate, get upset if necessary, and then let it all go and move on.
Take all those skills you have acquired and do what you want to do with the rest of your life. Think of all the time you have been given, if you did not have time for relationships while you worked now you have time, if you did not have time to do something new, you do now. Retirement like training will not always be easy there will be set backs, but how nice is it to do it on your terms. Like the Olympic athlete recreate yourself!