The curtain has closed on the Olympics and we can now return to our regularly scheduled programming. For two weeks I resisted writing about the Olympics. But, before I completely close the book on the Olympics, there are a few reflections that I want to share.
Olympics athletes are the poster children for mastery. They practice extensively, prepare both mentally and physically, and focus for four years on being the best in the world in a very narrow set of abilities. Every athlete has talent for their event, but these athletes take their talent and cultivate it through hard work into something truly exceptional. When we think about our careers, when was the last time we put four weeks, let along four years, into becoming the very best at any part of what we do? When was the last time you practiced some element of your job that is critical to your performance? Or, do we just lean on our talent because that’s good enough to get us by when compared with those around us? Perhaps that’s because we aren’t striving to be the best in the world (the company, the region, the industry) at what we do. Achieving mastery is rare but the human desire to strive for mastery is part of our wiring according to Dan Pink’s research in Drive. Striving for mastery is how you become exceptional at what you do in a way that sets you apart and puts you in control in your career.
I am always inspired by Olympic athletes because they are truly “all in.” Can you image spending 4 years of your life (or perhaps most of your adult life) preparing to perform in a single moment to earn a gold medal? Olympic athletes are committed completely and totally to doing everything they can to put their best performance forward at the right moment. No hedging, no excuses. I think that’s why we see so many athletes who appear to be disgusted with a silver medal. I admire that commitment and focus on the end result. Silver is not gold. When you are completely committed to winning the gold, silver isn’t good enough. But, when they get the silver, they know they ran their very best race and that someone just happened to be just a little better that day. Again, as we try to put this in context of our professional life, maybe it’s time to consider again if you are “all in” on your current path. If so, the next question is whether you are truly committed to do what it takes to compete for the gold. Are you willing to find the courage to remove every excuse, to prepare yourself to put your very best effort forward in the moment that counts despite the possibility of failure? That’s how the best of best become that way.