Rio. For 16 days, the entire world agreed upon one thing – if you could not get to Rio, you had to get to a TV somewhere and watch the games, or at least your favorite sports and athletes. There are two things that the Olympics serve to remind us: First, people from countries that are enemies can come together, live together, compete with one another in peaceful ways, and go back home with a wider perspective. Second, there are people with such commitment to their goals, that they will sacrifice whatever is necessary to achieve them. So, what do remarkable athletes show and tell us about life? What lessons can we learn? Here are 8 from some of the most successful.
1. Your successes are not your own. Along the way, others have supported you. With your success, it is time to give back – support others on their paths to success.
Lionel Messi, captain of the Argentine National Football (Soccer) Team, is now considered the best soccer player ever to take the field. Life was not always so good for Messi. He was born to a steelworker father who could not afford the $900 treatment for hormone growth deficiency. Fortunately, the kid had talent and the treatment was ultimately paid for by a youth football league. Messi knows that his ability to continue in soccer– aside from having tremendous talent– came from somebody who arrived at his financial aid when it was needed the most. Now, he gives back. He is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, active in the support of HIV and AIDS research to help families in Haiti, and has committed $8 million from his team for all of these efforts.
2. Fear is destructive, and fear of failure condemns you to failure.
Michael Jordan did not make the team when he first tried out for basketball in high school. In his own words, he was embarrassed by the team list that was posted for days. Fear of being embarrassed again could have held a grip on him. Instead however, he overcame that by simply working harder. He eventually made the team, and when he began to play pro ball, his team lost the first three seasons. Again, he could have let embarrassment fuel fear, but of course, it did not. Today, Jordan says, “I know fear is an obstacle to some people, but it is just an illusion to me.”
3. Talent is a gift. But without hard work, it is meaningless.
Eugenie Bouchard is one of the youngest internationally ranked tennis players, and her story is a lesson for anyone aspiring to take his/her raw talent and turn it into success. Her interest in tennis was not initially strongly supported by her family. In fact, no one in her family aspired to any athletic achievements. All on her own, she began to play tennis at the age of 5, and the talent was obvious. By the age of 12, her parents were on board, and she and her mother moved to Florida so she could be coached by one of the all-time greats. Her training was grueling, and she gave up the life that other “normal” teenage girls usually have, to do it all. Today, she is worth about $2 million with a long career still ahead of her.
4. Don’t measure your success by comparing it to that of others. When you are disappointed, you lose your joy and motivation
Tiger Woods. He had only one golfing goal since childhood – beat the record of Jack Nicklaus’s 18 major tournament wins. This was what motivated him. What he hadn’t counted on, were injuries that kept him off the circuit and a personal life that was a huge distractor. As he realized that he would not beat the Nicklaus record, he lost his joy for the game. And as he lost that joy, he lost his motivation, and his performance continued to decline.
5. Believe in yourself and become your biggest fan, not by being a braggart, but by loving who you are.
Serena Williams grew up in Compton, California, playing tennis on public courts littered with glass and practicing within hearing distance of gunshots. From that, she moved to the largest tennis stages of the world to be ranked #1. Aside from Arthur Ash, tennis has always been a very “white” sport, and when the Williams sisters first hit the professional scene, they were not graciously welcomed. As they began to win, many in the tennis world saw them as interlopers. The wins continued, but rather than developing an attitude, the sisters continued to be who they are; very comfortable. Lo and behold, the tennis world now loves them too.
6. Be willing to reconcile with those whom you have fought if there is a greater good to be achieved.
When Lebron James announced that he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers to join the Miami Heat, owner Dan Gilbert wrote a scathing public letter in which he called James a traitor to the hometown that had loved him, among other things. James grew up in Cleveland and always loved his town. Gilbert knew that he needed James back on the team. Gilbert flew to Florida and sat down with James, apologized, they reconciled, and James returned to Cleveland. The ensuing championships are history. Cleveland has not always had a great reputation, but the Cavaliers have done their part to change that.
7. “It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.”
This is a huge lesson from Muhammad Ali, boxer and philosopher who was so beloved. The lesson is to stop every once in awhile, and remove the small things that are slowing you down – some bad habits, some resentments, some guilt from the past. All of these things should be addressed and resolved. When you do it, you can move forward without the baggage and tackle those mountains.
8. Sometimes you need to be the bigger person and apologize, even if it’s not required, in order to keep the peace.
The Olympics has brought us amazing athletic prowess and some wonderful events. Athletes are bringing home medals to countries that have never won any before. There have been comebacks and records broken. Michael Phelps, for example, has now won more gold medals than any other Olympian, a nice finale for his career. There have also been a couple of controversies. When the U.S. women’s gymnastics team was presented with their gold medals, as is tradition, the National Anthem was played. Gabby Douglass did not put her hand over her heart, as is custom. Immediately, Twitter lit up with posters condemning her for this “lack of respect” for her country. At times, it was vicious and certainly bullying. Fans came to her rescue with their own Tweets about all of her hard work to represent her country proudly, and about the fact that many do not put their hands on their hearts during the playing of the anthem. Ultimately, Gabby felt the need to post a Tweet explaining that this was not something she was taught to do but rather, to stand erect in silence instead. She then re-affirmed her patriotism and apologized if she had offended anyone. She was the bigger person, and Twitter has rewarded her for it now.
Athletes are a special breed. They represent courage, commitment, belief in selves, and amazing sacrifices. Yet all of us have the potential to do remarkable things (small or large) on a daily basis!
Featured photo credit: Javelin Thrower in Action at a Competition via flickr.com