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August 2008

Olympians A Lesson In True Grit And Determination

Olympic athletes have a lot to teach us about grit, determination and perseverence. If many of us adopted the habits and ways of thinking common to world-class athletes, perhaps we would experience the same amount of success in our lives.

I've always loved to follow events at the Olympic games. The stories are real and often heart-wrenching...the athlete who comes from nowhere to take Olympic Gold, the "comeback kid" who's back to compete on the world stage after a stream of multiple injuries...and the superhero who's expected to pull in no less than 10 gold medals.

What's amazing to all of these stories is the incredible amount of will and determination it takes en route to Olympic gold. This year, we have the story of the "comeback kid" Kyle Shewfelt. This world class Olympic gymnast broke both legs last year during training at the World Championships. There were some in the medical community who wrote him off, but Kyle knew better.

091307shewfeltIn spite of (yet another) round of controversial judging at the Olympic level this year, Shewfelt remained positive. In an article published in the Calgary Herald, he said that in spite of the questions raised about judging in the pre-qualifying event, he was determined to rise above petty politics and acknowledged that "Life is full of possibilities...Maybe it isn't always fair, but it is always interesting."

Think about it. You break both your legs in training, go from being an Olympic athlete to being dependent on having people help you get out of bed...and a year later you're competing in the Olympics again - against the odds set by the medical community. Now if that isn't a lesson in grit and perseverance, what is?

Another lesson in hard core grit and elite athleticism is provided by American swimmer Michael Phelps. Phelps, a renowned Olympic superhero, is out to shatter Mark Spitz' 1972 record in Munich and claim his share of no less than 8 Olympic Gold medals. Put simply, the man is a machine. Everything he does is focused on the moment and on one particular race. In the game of world-class sport, it's winner take all and only the strongest and most prepared will achieve Olympic gold. That's what Olympic sport is all about. It's not about achieving your personal best, but about going out there on the world stage and putting everything you have on the line.


How many of us wish we had this kind of fire in us? How can we use their ways of thinking to help us excel in our everyday lives? What is it about Olympic athletes that tells them never to give up - ever - in spite of all the odds facing them?

Failure IS An Option: If You Want To Succeed!

Michael Jordan, J.K. Rowling, Henry Ford, John Grisham, Oprah Winfrey, Winston Churchill...they all failed at some point. Failed to be accepted on a high school basketball team, failed to have literary manuscripts accepted, failed to get the job or finished last in class.

When I was in my early teens, I attempted to earn a senior Red Cross swimming badge and failed. The instructor said that my style wasn't up to par. Funny thing was, I had grown up around fresh water lakes and was known to swim long distances with no problem.

Just as Hollywood has been able to capitalize on the value of a good story, so too do failure, tenacity, ordeals and rewards play starring roles in virtually every business success story.

One of my favourite TV news shows is CBS News Sunday Morning. This morning, they ran an interesting story called "If At First You Don't Succeed...What Are The Hallmarks of Failure, And Why Should We Ignore Them?"


Remember the old analogy that the more times you make it up to bat, the greater the propensity for success?  

Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones puts it this way " have to be able to accept learn from your come back, you applied what you learned, your previous at-bat to your next at-bat, and hopefully you get a base hit. Hopefully you get a home run!"

Isn't it the same in business? How many businesses and/or product ideas were rejected in their first few rounds? How many product ideas were rejected because they were light years ahead of their time? (the copy machine was invented in 1937, but the idea was rejected by GE and IBM - Xerox introduced the idea about 10 years later...)

The story cites the example of the I-35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis to demonstrate that we learn more from our failures, than from our successes. If people get complacent, they cut corners and disasters can happen.

Many great artists and/or products don't become famous until well after their death. Vincent van Gogh apparently sold only one painting in his lifetime. The Edsel bombed, although it's valued today at around $200,000 apiece.

So if you're trying to succeed at something, take some inspiration from author J.K. Rowling's words who told an audience that she was at one point just one level above being on the street..."It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all - in which case you fail by default."

What have you accomplished, that at one point people said you couldn't do? What characteristics do successful people have, that they can deal with rejection and still come out on top? How is it possible to maintain a positive attitude and belief in yourself, when you're faced with obstacle after obstacle in achieving your goals?