Olympic flag

I’ve always loved watching the Olympics. The personification of perseverance, determination, strength, competition, and success enthralls me every cycle. I look forward to it; I study up on the hopefuls; I watch—often on the edge of my seat.

So it’s no surprise that this Olympic season has captured my attention as usual. but for the first time, my young daughters are old enough to be rapt, too. With their big, absorbent eyes glued, I find myself watching through a different lens.

My girls are watching people who are the best in the world at their sport, and I find myself holding my breath, not in anticipation at which athletes will finish first, who’ll stick the landing, or hit the bullseye (yes, I even think archery is fun to watch in the Olympics), but with a watchful eye that the winners respond to their successes with graciousness, gratitude, good sportsmanship, and team spirit. In other sports finals, you only have the chance to see how the one victorious person, or the single winning team responds. But in the Olympics, you get to see a lot of winners, and you get to see how they handle their success and what message it sends.

Indeed, on the night that Michael Phelps won his 20th gold medal, I had to turn away as he pounded his chest, waved his index finger, and seemed, well, ungracious. I even tweeted:

Contrast that with the spirit, gratitude, and love of the “Final Five” gymnasts—they beamed with pride for their team’s accomplishments; they wasted no time thanking their coach Marta Karolyi and their parents. They even mentioned the crowd and the fans and their country when they received their medals. The humility and warmth was palpable without compromising any of their strength or success.

There is no question that the athlete deserves a celebration and I’d be the first to throw the party if I had the opportunity. Their excellence is awe-inspiring, and the tens of thousands of hours poured into training and practice is truly remarkable. Think of how many times they’ve practiced those flips, turns, leaps, dives, and shots without any cameras, flashing lights, fanfare, or media coverage. But success in the Olympics like success anywhere else is not a single-handed victory. Others play a role and others watch you win. So when your moment to shine arrives, what do you want others to see?

The reality is that few among us will make it to the Olympics. I’m definitely never going to compete, and my girls are unlikely to participate either. But regardless, we’ll all still have the opportunity to experience success as well as failure. Our audience may be significantly smaller than the 100 million to which NBC is broadcasting, but we’re not doing things in a vacuum. Our colleagues, friends, family, and children are watching. So make sure they’re watching you at your best.

Your workplace is an excellent petri dish for experimenting with your own Olympic spirit. Say yes to the project that sounds overwhelming and daunting, and test your own perseverance. What’s your breaking point? How can you lengthen your stride? Set a goal that forces you to stretch, but that is attainable—for example, if you’re afraid of public speaking, don’t volunteer for a 100-person presentation as your first foray. Find a “meet” that fits your skills, and grow from there.

When it comes to competition, don’t avoid it altogether. Think of Simone Manuel and Maya Dirado who weren’t even expected to medal in their individual meets and came away with gold.

Instead of assuming you’re not the one for the job, ask yourself why not you. And keep in mind that before any success can be enjoyed, there will be a lot of hard work that often goes unnoticed. It would be great if the feedback gods were always with us, but just like the cameras don’t show up everyday, neither does workplace recognition.

And when the shining moment does come—you nail the sales pitch, your product is soaring, your brief helps win the case, the hire you fought for is crushing it—remember that how you respond sets an example. Take the credit; accept the compliments; be proud, but also be thoughtful, appreciative, and respectful.

Your fans will love you even more. What do you want your fans to love about you? Tweet me your goals.

Updated 6/19/2020