What Olympians Can Teach You about Career Management: Michael Phelps
As perhaps the most well-known American athlete at the Summer Olympics, swimmer Michael Phelps carries the expectations of a nation on his enormous shoulders. But a fairy-tale beginning to his quest for further Olympic glory was not to be as he finished fourth in his first event in London.
Everybody faces setbacks. The key is not to dwell on them and instead move on, as Phelps did. He made no excuses, admitted that he had a “crappy” swim that night, and started talking about other races to come. Professionals take ownership rather than casting blame or trying to hide. Swift, honest action restores faith and keeps the event from further clouding the future.
After the disappointment, Phelps and his coach decided to make some changes. They concluded the swimmer should cut one event out of his Olympic schedule in order to put his focus and energy on other races. This demonstrates how everyone needs to prioritize. There are only so many hours in the day, and thinking about how to use them is time well spent. Aiming high is admirable, but knowing how to balance obligations to maximize success and keep from burning out is necessary.
Some reporters have noted that Phelps hasn’t looked quite as sharp in some qualifying heats. The thing to remember, though, is that perfection isn’t required in every task one does. As long as he makes it into the finals, it really doesn’t matter much if Phelps placed first in the preliminaries. Knowing when maximum effort is required and when “good enough” is adequate can be a smart strategy.
When encyclopedia entries on Phelps are written, that first event in London may be a mention in late paragraphs at best. A track record of quality performance is going to be what is remembered. So next time you’re worried that a mistake is going to tarnish your reputation, put it into perspective. A look at the overall picture probably will reveal that you’re still a winner.
If you missed yesterday’s article, check out Jordyn Wieber.
Tomorrow: Kerri Walsh Jennings