As you enjoy the excitement of the Olympic Games in Rio, take a moment to gather career inspiration from the amazing athletes. [TWEET]

With the Olympic Games in Rio in full swing, it’s difficult not to get swept up in the excitement. Whether you only watch the opening and closing ceremonies, follow a particular sport, or tune in randomly, there is certainly plenty of inspiration, effort and willpower on display.

You may not have considered this, but the Olympics can also serve as career inspiration! Here are six pieces of career advice that Olympians could share with the rest of us. Those lessons learned in the pool and on the court will serve you well in your professional life.

1. Perspective is important.

Pressure can get to the best of us, and Olympic athletes get their mental game on by staying grounded. Here is a great quote from swimmer Missy Franklin. When interviewed in preparation for Rio, she shared this about the importance of keeping things in perspective.

“Yes, it’s the Olympics. But it’s also just another swim meet. The pool is the same length. The lanes are the same width. It’s just the same thing you’ve done a hundred times over and over again.”

I think we can all use this powerful frame of thought when going into an interview, preparing to give a presentation to upper management or wrapping up a mission-critical project. It’s career motivation at its finest.

2. Don’t give up hope.

We have all overcome some degree of adversity in our lives – and yet, when things look bleak, it can be easy to slip into despair. Many of us have had moments of lost hope while searching for the next job, and mentally tough weekends after a discouraging performance review.

The message from the Olympians is to keep hoping. For your job, it can be coined as career resilience. Gather some inspiration from Yusra Mardini, an 18-year-old who is competing as part of the Olympic Refugee Team. The young swimmer, originally from Syria, escaped the war-torn country with her sister in August of 2015. During their crossing from Turkey to Greece, the motor of the boat that the sisters shared with 18 other refugees broke down. As the boat began to take on water, Yusra and three other refugees who could swim jumped into the water and pushed the boat for over three hours until they got everyone to shore.  

When speaking about her opportunity to compete in the Olympics, Yusra said, “I want to show everyone that, after the pain, after the storm, comes calm days. I want to inspire them to do something good in their lives.” So, no matter what difficulty you are facing, don’t give up hope.

3. Don’t let age hold you back.

If we are completely honest, many of us have engaged in negative self-talk when it comes to age. Perhaps you felt you were too young to reach out for a leadership opportunity, or maybe you have talked yourself out of trying something new because you felt you were too old to change gears. Olympic athletes inspire courage and curiosity at any age.

Here are just a few examples of Olympics career inspiration:

Guarika Singh, a 13-year-old swimmer from Nepal, is the youngest athlete to compete in Rio this year. She survived the 2015 Kathmandu earthquake, and donated the winnings from her national championship to charities supporting the earthquake victims.

Michael Phelps, the current record holder of 23 Olympic medals, was the youngest male swimmer to break a world record when he was only 15 years old. So, if you think you are too young to ask for the opportunity to manage a project, think again!

Age does not hold back the older Olympians, either. At 61, equestrian rider Mary Hanna from Australia is the oldest competing athlete in Rio. Then there are Oksana Chusovitina, a 41-year-old gymnast representing Uzbekistan in her 7th Olympics, and equestrian Phillip Dutton who at 52 is the oldest athlete on Team USA. These athletes are proof that age is just a number!

4. Don’t let a setback define who you are.

Not everything in life goes smoothly. Whether your setback is a missed promotion opportunity or an interview that did not go well, looking to Olympic athletes can offer an example in career resilience.

US basketball player Paul George broke his right tibia and fibula on the court during the 2014 USA Basketball Showcase, stunning teammates and spectators alike. He missed most of the 2014-15 season due to surgeries. Because of the damage done in the accident, he had to learn to stand and walk all over again, to say nothing of running and jumping. Throughout the long recovery, George remained focused on the big picture. “If I can make it through this, it won’t get too much more difficult,” he observed.

Paul George made a full recovery and returned to practice in late 2014, sooner than experts had predicted. In 2016, George joined the US Olympic team competing in Rio.

Sometimes your professional progress may seem slow or even non-existent. And yet, don’t discount the value of small daily steps in the right direction, even if they do not represent your full ability.

5. Use mindfulness and visualization.

Not all of your efforts towards career growth need to be physical. Olympic athletes have demonstrated the value and the effectiveness of mental training. Using meditation and visualization can boost your results by stimulating the same brain regions that would be active if you were physically engaging in an activity. Meditation has also shown its effectiveness in reducing stress levels, improving sleep, and enhancing endurance.

Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic is a great example, as he practices mindfulness meditation 15 minutes a day. Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to your daily experiences without judgment. This practice allows the athlete to recover and rebound after difficult games by letting go of anger, disappointment, and worry and focusing on the next productive step.

Think about applications of mindfulness, meditation, and visualization in your own life. You might try to imagine yourself relaxed and at ease as you visualize your next interview or big presentation. Or you might dedicate 5-10 minutes a day to simply sit down and focus on your breathing. If you think you are too busy for meditation, consider this quote from the Dalai Lama: “I have so much to do today, I better meditate twice as long.”

6. Work hard for what you want.

Mental focus and visualization are great, but you must do the work in order to make progress. No matter what your project or your goal is, developing and then taking daily actions is critical to success. This part of the process is not pretty or glamorous, but your discipline and ability to show up and do what’s difficult will drive you forward.

"Hard days are the best because that's when champions are made," women's gymnastics champ Gabby Douglas told NBC. You may not genuinely love your own hard days, and yet seeing their value and staying in the process when it becomes difficult is the only true driver of success, in the office or on the mat.

In closing, I encourage you to consciously use the Olympics as an opportunity to get fresh inspiration to move your professional life forward. I am a big believer in looking for life lessons in everything. As you watch the incredible sportsmanship, dedication, and willpower play out, think about how you can use that same drive and resilience in your career. The results will last well beyond the Olympics’ closing ceremony!

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