Career Advice

3 Career Lessons From Olympic Athletes

With opening ceremonies for the 2012 Summer Olympics tomorrow, we’re about to be fascinated by stories of individuals who have the vigor and dedication to truly excel at their passions worldwide. It’s a likely story for Olympic athletes, but what about us common folk who are working to excel at our decidedly less flashy desk jobs?

Believe it or not, we can learn a lot from these larger-than-life athletes when it comes to cultivating a successful career and personal brand. Although their training and workout tips are obviously helpful, when it comes to career, work, and life goals, we can actually derive a lot of wisdom from these passionate individuals and apply their lessons to our own lives. Check out these three career lessons we can learn from Olympic athletes:

1. Remember to search for purpose and meaning.

Many Olympic athletes have been dedicated to their sports since childhood, but it’s okay if you aren’t yet sure where you want to end up. You don’t have to have a singular, set goal in mind for your career—although if you do, great! The key is to identify what kind of work you’ll truly feel engaged and excited about. What types of activities do you naturally gravitate toward? When you have free time, what do you find yourself doing, reading or thinking about?

There’s no reason to pursue a career in a field you’re not passionate about, despite external factors like pay, prestige, or other people’s expectations. If deep down you know you were born to be a muralist, don’t settle for a job you’ve been pressured into by society. If you’re doing something you love, you’ll be more likely to excel at it, anyway.

2. Always keep your mental health in check.

Although any sort of career comes with its frustrations, Olympic athletes have to be the epitome of sound mental health if they want to effectively deal with the competition and tough training that comes with their profession.

If you’re prone to bouts of frustration when it comes to your career and work, learn what sorts of things trigger these emotions and work to tackle the issue before you’re overwhelmed. While Olympians are dedicated to keeping tip-top physical health to help their teams excel, they know their hard work is for nothing if they aren’t happy themselves.

3. Don’t just go through the motions—advocate for change.

Too many people fall into autopilot once they’ve landed a job. Many end up feeling like their actions don’t translate to the greater good.

To combat such a mentality, it’s important to be a constant advocate for change and improvement where you see fit. Thanks to the work of gender activists, Saudi Arabia will include female athletes in their Olympic lineup for the first time ever. And when both Australian and Japanese officials came under fire for affording their men’s team better travel privileges than the women’s team, the female athletes knew it was important to continue for excellence and fairness regardless: “When we won the World Cup, our seats were changed to business class for our return flight,” said Homare Sawa, the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year. “I hope we can produce a good result again and be treated the same way.”

It can be easy to get hung up on the excitement of the Olympics without thinking critically about how their professional integrity could relate to our own lives. Take these lessons with you as you gear up to enjoy the games.

What are some other career lessons we can learn from Olympic athletes? Share your thoughts below.