Continuous Improvement

Work like an Olympian

As we watched Olympians at their best in the recent Summer Games, it made me think about the work ethic needed to get to the Olympics. Anyone who really knows me knows that I love sports. Growing up an athlete from gymnastics to softball (and many other sports in between 🙂), I always wanted to be an elite athlete. Unfortunately, some injuries got in my way. But being a highly competitive athlete throughout my childhood has had lasting effects on my life. As the Olympics kicked off, I was reminded how amazing these athletes are physically and mentally. The countless hours spent perfecting their craft makes me think that we as “normal” humans could learn a lot from their passion, dedication, and perseverance.

Passion: Love what you do, even the “shitty” stuff. In sports, if you don’t have passion for it then you won’t succeed. I mean, why put yourself through the pain and agony? But if you love it, you will do whatever it takes to succeed. There is a grit and determination in these Olympians that is unparalleled, and it translates to the working environment very nicely. When you’re faced with tough days, always remember that the more passion you have for what you do the more success you will have. Passion is a driver and will get you through doing the things that you don’t like.

When I played softball, I was a centerfielder and loved that position. I spent hours throwing to each base to perfect my accuracy. But sometimes my coach would require me to pitch in games, so I had to practice that as well. I hated it, but would do it for the team. That willingness to do the things you don’t love to support your overall passion will help you in the end. I imagine that every Olympian has similar stories of things they don’t love about their sport, but their passion for it helps them overcome it. We should think that same way in the world of work, too.

Dedication: The hours spent perfecting a sport – the mornings, the evenings, the weekends – it can feel  never-ending. That is no different in our careers.  Failure is all part of it, too. No athlete will ever say that they are perfect – they strive for perfection, but there is always room for improvement.

During our careers we will have many successes, but it is through failure that we truly learn and grow. It is okay to fail, and that’s where dedication really comes into play! How you handle failure? Do you give up? Or do you push on, learning how to overcome it? I am sure you all can look back in your careers and see those moments. I know I can – they have shaped my life, both as an athlete and in my career. It all comes back to passion and dedication.

Perseverance: What is that saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again?”  This is true in all aspects of life. When I was in gymnastics, I was in Class 3 Optional (if you are familiar with gymnastics from long ago, you will know that level) and on bars, my worst and least favorite event. I was having a mental block on a required move, toe front to kip up (imagine both feet on the bar with straight legs, your hands also on the bar facing forward, then you fall forward, ride around the bar, then you let go of your feet and hands regrasp the bar, glide under then pull yourself up). For some reason, my feet wouldn’t stay on the bar and instead would come off and pound on the floor. My coach left me on that bar until I “figured it out.” Not one to give up, I did figure it out… after easily 100 failed attempts. Our perseverance in work is no different. We will fail, which is okay – that’s how we learn. Olympians fail all the time, but they continue to train to turn that failure into success.

I admire Olympians and their abilities and truly believe we can leverage their work ethic to glean insights into our own careers. I have used my experience as an athlete to shape the way I work. Though I never made it to the Olympics, the pursuit of excellence drives me in life and in work. Passion, dedication, and perseverance are all skills Olympians have, and translate into the professional world, helping us all think through progression in our careers, and even our relationships.

Additional Thoughts

When I started this blog post the Olympics had just started. Now, as the events have unfolded, I am adding onto the bottom because I feel that passion, dedication, and perseverance has really been brought to the forefront with the US Women’s Gymnastics team.

Every single member of that team pushed through some adversity, individually and as a team. Their support of each other was amazing. From the team competition to the individual event finals, the US Women placed in every single competition. Some were not even supposed to compete, but supported their teammate. And because of their passion, they stepped in and rocked the house. Gymnastics is easily in the top 10 most dangerous sports in the world and though it is a strange name, the “twisties” are real. Just imagine hurdling yourself in the air flipping and spinning at the same time, and if you don’t know where you are you could land on something other than your feet.

For Simone Biles to compete the beam on the last day after the mental block is just amazing to me, and her teammates to be at her side and compete in her absence is tremendous. Again, I admire these athletes and aspire to work with the same passion, dedication, and perseverance they have.

Written by:

  • Kimberly Carroll

    Kimberly Carroll loves change and helping others through her role at IA. Kimberly’s clients look to her as a sounding board, therapist and mentor. She is passionate about change and using her background to influence HR leaders to truly transform their organizations.


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