Tag Archives: stuff I learned watching the Olympics

Get Ready To Grab That Baton.

usain bolt running

I love the Olympics, and I think there’s a lot to learn from watching them. I’ve written before about the Yellow Line Theory. I’ve written about the importance of keeping your eyes on the road ahead. And with the Olympics just a few days away, here’s this year’s big Olympics idea.

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I’ve talked to a few groups of journalism students this summer. They’re graduating next year, and they’re starting to ask: How do I get the first job after college? How do I successfully make the transition from college to the real world?

Here’s the way I think about it: College moves fast. Ever since you first got accepted to a university, your family’s been telling you: Enjoy it, because it goes by fast. And it really does. Three years blow by, and the last year moves even faster. The transition between the end of school and the start of your career is a blur.

In a way, it’s a lot like the baton toss in the 4×100 relay at the Olympics.

You’ve seen that race on TV. Each race has four legs, with the tiniest of transition areas for one runner to hand the baton off to the next. If you’re one of the last three legs, you go from a standstill to a sprint in a matter of yards.

Nail all four handoffs and you’ll save precious seconds, and maybe win the race. Botch even one — or, worse, drop the baton entirely — and you’re out of the medals.

the handoff

Whenever I watch that race, I always keep an eye on the men and women who have to run the final legs. Being a later leg of that race is fascinating to me. Those runners know what’s coming, but they still can’t move until the previous leg finishes. And then suddenly, there’s a moment when they go from a standstill to a full-on sprint.

That anticipation is a lot like what you feel as you approach the end of senior year. You start getting the big question: What are you going to do after college? You start applying to jobs. You realize that once you graduate, you’re going to have bills to pay, and you won’t have the crutch of college to hold you up anymore.

Except that you can’t full start the next phase of your life until that first one ends. You have to pass the baton from College You to Real World You.

So you sit there, full of anticipation, just waiting for the next leg of your life to arrive.

Some of your classmates will nail the handoff, and good for them! You’ll look at them a year or two after college and think: They’ve made it already. They’re so far ahead of me.

Some will botch the handoff. A few years after college, they’ll still be trying to figure out what career paths to take and what happens next. Sometimes, the next phase of your life shows up, and you’re just not ready to hit the ground running.

It happens.

The important thing to remember is: No matter how well or how poorly that transition goes, just keep running. Your career isn’t a race, and you’re not competing against your classmates. Once you get that baton, you get to forge your own path ahead at your own pace.

It doesn’t matter where you go, or how fast you go. The only thing that matter is: Are you bold enough to grab that baton and start running?

Get ready, class of 2017. You’ll be off and running before you know it.

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Those GIFs from the 4×100 relay in 2012 come via this video.

Staying Ahead Of The Line.


Here’s another hard truth about doing the work: It’s largely about setting goals and accomplishing goals. And accomplishing goals is really freaking hard.

The work usually goes like this:

1. You set your goals.
2. You start accomplishing some of your goals.
3. You feel great about how much you’ve accomplished already.
4. You feel like you’re accomplishing so much so fast!
5. You look at the calendar and realize that it’s almost the end of the year and you’ve still got a million things left to do.
6. You flail wildly and struggle to the end of the year.

And this is in a good year.

As soon as you set your goals, you basically become Missy Franklin, the swimmer in this GIF:


The yellow line represents the world record pace. In order to beat it, she has to stay ahead of that line. And no matter how fast she goes, she can’t seem to get ahead of the yellow line.

This is the nasty secret: You won’t ever really get ahead of the yellow line. You rarely get to feel like you’re way ahead your goals, because — and this is really, insanely annoying — as soon as you do beat your goals, you’re going to set new, more outrageous goals. And then you’ll flail again in hopes of catching up to those.

You set the bar, hit that new height, and reset everything. But you never really get ahead.

Mentally, it’s a massive adjustment — there are no true end goals, just carrots that you’re forever chasing down the road. But over time, you learn to adjust. You learn to celebrate your smaller victories, and to cherish the really big accomplishments.

And then you go and chase the next big goal. That’s just how it is.

That GIF of Missy Franklin breaking the world record in the backstroke at the 2012 London Games comes via this YouTube video.

An Olympics Lesson: Keep Your Eyes On The Road — And On Your Work.

“Driving using only the rearview mirror will cause you to crash.” — Joshua Fields Millburn

So there’s this moment that happened in the Olympics road race on Saturday. In a six-hour race, this little moment — and it barely lasted 10 seconds — defined the event.

There’s less than two-tenths of a mile left in the race. Alexander Vinokourov of Kazakhstan and Rigoberto Uran of Colombia are dead even — and far ahead of the rest of the riders. They’ve been even since there were six miles left in the race, when the two of them broke away from the rest of the leaders. Right now, there’s a pack maybe 15 seconds behind them, and the full peloton is another 35 seconds behind that.

This is the home stretch, the final minute of the race. They’re passing Buckingham Palace. Vinokourov takes a peek back to see if there’s someone making a frantic push to the finish line. No one is. It’ll either be Vinokourov or Uran on top of the podium.

But Uran keeps looking backwards — once, twice, a third time, then a fourth. These men are traveling at speeds surpassing 25 miles per hour, and there’s less than a quarter mile left in the race. I don’t know why Uran’s looking back. He’s seconds away from the finish line. He’s on the verge of winning a gold medal in the Olympics.

With two-tenths of a mile left in the race, as Uran’s looking over his left shoulder on that fourth peek to figure out if someone’s behind him, he doesn’t notice the rider beside him. Vinokourov makes his move, takes his five hardest pedals of the entire race and pulls ten feet ahead on on Uran’s right. By the time Uran looks up, Vinokourov’s got a lead that can’t be made up. After 150+ miles of racing, ten feet of separation is too much. The Kazakh takes gold.

Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 7.59.10 AM

It’s a massive mental error by Uran. After six hour of biking, with the finish line in sight, he started driving using the rearview. He kept his eyes on his competitors, not on his goal. That’s no way to do work — or to win an Olympic gold medal.

There’s only one way to do things: Looking forward, focusing on your work. When you think more about the competition than your own work, you let the competition govern what matters in your world. You can’t let that happen.

Uran was in control of his own destiny until the moment he took his eyes off the road. As soon as he did, he lost sight of the work he needed to do to win gold.

So keep your eye on the journey ahead. Focus on what you’re doing. Be a man of action, not reaction.

Your work — and your work alone — is all that matters.

Those images come via this video of the 2012 Olympics Road Race.