Tonight marks the end of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.
But just because you missed your shot at athletic glory this time around (or forever!) doesn’t mean you can’t learn from the best. While some of the most famous Olympians are also savvy entrepreneurs—looking at you, Michael Phelps and Gabby Douglas—every athlete that makes it to this pinnacle of excellence has a few things they can teach us about the dedication, perseverance, and grit needed in our professional lives. Here are a few lessons we can learn from the best without ever hitting the gym once.
5 Lessons on Grit and Perseverance from the Olympics:
Andre De Grasse (Canada)
In the 200m heat, no one was talking about 21-year-old Andre De Grasse. Then again, it’s hard to get the attention of the media when you’re running next to the fastest man alive, Usain Bolt. But sure enough, as the runners sprinted toward the finish line on Wednesday night, all of them lagging behind Bolt, only one man was able to dig down and pick up the pace. Right there at the finish line, Bolt looked to his right to see De Grasse pulling up alongside him and smiled to find him there—literally giving him a run for his money. De Grasse’s efforts show us that rather than getting bogged down with negativity in competition, when we engage in friendly rivalries based on admiration and respect and set the bar high, we come out farther ahead than we ever would have otherwise.
Oksana Chusovitina (Uzbekistan)
Perhaps more than any other Olympic sport, women’s gymnastics is dominated by the young: no other event boasts quite so many teenagers in its ranks. Even 22-year old Aly Raisman has earned the nickname “Grandma” for her age relative to her competitors. But one woman defies the stereotype: Oksana Chusovitina. The 41-year-old just wrapped up her seventh Olympic games, an unparalleled career that began in Barcelona in 1992—or, five years before competitor Simone Biles was even born. Chusovitina remains a fierce competitor on the vault and came in seventh overall this year, performing feats that are considered ambitious for gymnasts of any age. She reminds us all that younger is not necessarily better, and that experience is valuable in any field—even as it seems that companies value a prospective hire’s number of Twitter followers over his number of years of experience. Oh—and in case you were wondering, Chusovitina has already committed to compete at the 2020 Tokyo games when she is 45 years old.
Abbey D’Agostino (USA) and Nikki Hamblin (New Zealand)
When Nikki Hamblin tripped and fell during the 5,000m run, all of the other runners slipped around her to avoid a similar fate. Abbey D’Agostino, however, failed to dodge the fallen runner and took a tumble as well. But instead of getting angry at the woman whose accident caused her to lose the race and injured her at the biggest moment of her career, D’Agostino urged Hamblin to finish the course together with her. They embraced each other at the finish line. These two prove that sometimes, a person can be more memorable for what they did to help than whether or not they won. In our professional lives, taking the time to mentor a new hire or to save a flailing project might be remembered—and rewarded—long after any of the accomplishments you’d be far quicker to list on your resume.
Joseph Schooling (Singapore)
Just because you’re up against the most decorated Olympian of all time does not mean that you should just give up. Joseph Schooling refused to be intimidated and managed to even beat his own hero, taking the gold over Michael Phelps in the 100m butterfly. Too often, it can seem like the workplace favorites are the ones who get all the best assignments and promotions. But Schooling shows us that by refusing to be the underdog, we can rise to the top on unquestionable merit.
Michael Phelps (USA)
Of course, no list about how to be the best would be complete without a mention of Michael Phelps. But Phelps’ performance in this year’s games demonstrates a lesson that his prior victories in Beijing and London do not. While he may be genetically built to be the greatest swimmer of all time, Phelps recognized after London that he could do better—and that’s after winning four gold medals that year. Even though he’d announced his retirement and was already the most decorated Olympian in modern history, Phelps knew that he had to put in some more hard work to beat his own expectations. So he came out of retirement and jumped back into the pool, winning five gold medals in Rio. Phelps can teach us all that even when good enough seems to be the goal, there is always more we can reach for and work harder to achieve.