Olympic lessons on how to stay driven

The 2016 Summer Olympics just wrapped up on Sunday and this year's games brought us many things: Excitement, inspiration, teeth clenching, and even some controversy (ahem...Lochte...). One thing that remains a constant throughout every Olympiad is the sense of awe that overcomes you when watching the world's most gifted athletes — they seem almost superhuman in their feats. But, the truth is that, beyond their natural talents, the one thing that pushes Olympic athletes to the top is their drive. They want it more than anyone else and are willing to do what it takes to become the best in the world.

With four years in between Olympic games and only one shot to prove themselves, how do Olympians stay so driven? It's something that The New York Times recently asked former Olympic athletes and their answers provide a wealth of inspiration for anyone working in an industry that doesn't guarantee success by just putting in the hours. Let's take a brief look at how each Olympian answered and see how it applies to you.

(Sarah Hughes — Figure Skater; Gold medal in 2002)

Sarah Hughes talks about how isolating it can feel when you're working so hard for something seemingly impossible and no one else around you can really relate. How many times have you talked about pursuing a career in the arts and gotten blank stares or polite smiles from people who think you're something close to crazy? It can make you question your own sanity.

For Hughes, she found a role model (on and off the rink) in Tenley Albright — the first American woman to win a gold medal in figure skating in 1956. What Hughes realized was that she could look to someone who'd actually done what she was trying to accomplish. Finding a role model can give you strength in knowing that you're not striving for the impossible — the odds may be against you, but it CAN be done.

(John Carlos — Runner; Bronze medal in 1968)

John Carlos (far right), making history.

John Carlos (far right), making history.

John Carlos made history when, along with his Olympic teammate Tommie Smith, he raised his fist during his medal ceremony in the 1968 Olympics — creating a powerful symbolic moment in the American Civil Rights Movement. For someone to make such a bold (and controversial) statement, Carlos had to be taking his own advice, which is — know yourself.

Here's what he has to say: "When I teach kids, I tell them to get in touch with the reflection in the mirror: You can’t see your gifts, and you won’t know how to use them, if you don’t know who you are." I couldn't agree more. Taking the time to know who you are and what you want before trying to make your mark is absolutely essential. It assures that you're working from a solid foundation and that you'll always have a way to measure whether or not you're on the right track.

(Dara Torres — Swimmer; the most medaled U.S. female Olympic athlete in history)

As the most decorated U.S. female Olympian, Dara Torres has had to stay driven for a very long time. In other words, she knows of what she speaks. "I'm very much a goal setter like most athletes. There were days when I didn't want to get out of my comfy bed at 5:30 AM to go workout, but I’d remember that there's no way to reach a goal while in bed sleeping. We all have those kinds of days, but to be truly dedicated, you have to push through them."

No worthy goal is going to come without some kind of challenge along the way, and this particular industry has A LOT of challenges associated with it. Often times, the difference between those who achieve their goals and those who don't is how they deal with those challenges. Keeping your goals in sight, like Dara did, can give you the strength you need to help get you through those tough days and keep you on your path. Need some extra help with this one? Check out our upcoming Path Course.

(Nastia Liukin — Gymnast; Five medals, including gold for all-around gymnast, in 2008)

Nastia Liukin at the 2008 Olympics.

Nastia Liukin at the 2008 Olympics.

For Nastia Liukin, life after the Olympics proved something of a challenge. Her entire life had been dedicated to winning Olympic medals and once that had been accomplished, she found that she had to refocus her entire life. "Now, it's not just the long-term goals, but the daily, weekly and monthly ones, that motivate me," she said. "It’s important to strive to achieve something on a day-to-day basis."

There's a reason that we break down larger goals into smaller, manageable pieces in both the Path Course and Private Coaching — it gives you something tangible to strive for every day. By fulfilling smaller goals on a daily basis, you'll feel as if you're constantly making progress towards those larger goals, and that sense of accomplishment can keep you motivated along the way.

(Daniela Silivas — Gymnast; Five medals, including three gold, for Romania in 1988)

Daniela Silivas speaks of a moment of self doubt during the 1988 Olympics after she came in second in the all-around competition. The thing that got her back on track was remembering her love of her craft. Reconnecting to that love gave her the confidence to keep pushing and ultimately earned her three gold medals.

"We all have bad days, bad performances, but even if I knew when I woke up that it wouldn’t be a good day in training or in competition, I loved gymnastics." I can't stress how important this is — you have to love what you do in order to see it through. You will face countless instances of rejection and frustration as you navigate this industry, but if you can remember why you chose to do this in the first place, you can keep yourself inspired and your goals on the horizon.