I loved watching the Olympics in February. Having a front row seat and experiencing the thrill of victory and agony of defeat – with world-class skiers, skaters and bobsledders competing their hearts out – was awe-inspiring, to say the least. I must say, however, that as much as I’m amazed at Olympians’ laser-focused commitment to “go for the gold,” I’m even more amazed and impressed by their response when they don’t achieve a medal…or even come close. These competitors, who endure years of training and countless injuries and then miss the podium – sometimes by a mile – and then keep on striving for excellence in the face of that failure, are shining examples of resilience for us all.
The resilience of the US Olympic Women’s Figure Skating Team, in particular, really drove the point home for me – especially the resilience of newcomer, Bradie Tennell. Tennell was relatively unknown on the skating circuit before skyrocketing to the Olympic stage. Just before the start of Tennell’s individual “short program,” NBC commentators heralded the fact that Tennell had completed “thirty-four jumping passes in four main competitions without falling”, and that she was “the only elite international skater to come into these Olympics without a fall.” So it was all the more heartbreaking when, only seconds into her program, Bradie Tennell wobbled and hit the ice. It was excruciating to watch – I could only imagine my gasp joining with the collective gasp rising up over the country at that moment – but she was instantly up continuing her leaps and triple salchows without missing a beat. In a Time magazine article, Tennell said, “Things happen. We’re all human and make mistakes, but you get up and keep going.” That tenacity and resilience is what got Tennell to the Olympic stage, and it’s what will, in all likelihood, bring her back to that stage a more seasoned and determined skater in four years.
Psychology Today defines resilience as “that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever. Rather than let failure overcome them and drain their resolve, they find a way to rise from the ashes.”
As heartbreaking as it was for Bradie Tennell, her resilience demonstrated that she was anything but a failure – rather it demonstrated that she was on a trajectory for success both on and off the ice.
While we may not be hurling ourselves down ski slopes at eighty-miles-an-hour, or attempting to do a perfect double-axel-triple-toe-loop on the ice, we can still take a page from the Olympians’ playbook. Whether it’s rebuilding emotionally and financially after a divorce; sending out another query letter when your book manuscript has already been rejected thirty-two times; or circling back to your boss to, once again, prove you’re worthy of a raise – we can continue to go for our own “gold.”
We’re fortunate that, every two years, we have the Olympics to remind us that failure is an important part of success, and that it’s our resilience in the face of failure that helps us stay on track to achieve the success we seek. The Olympics reminds us that, even more than medals, the ability to get back up on the proverbial horse again and again is the ultimate measure of success.