Olympic Gold & The Power Of Going Big

I love the Olympics. As I watched Shaun White’s epic third run to clinch Olympic gold in the Men’s Halfpipe in Pyeongchang, the emotion and exuberance of the moment was truly inspiring. It was made all the more poignant because it was part of a larger narrative, that included an awe-inducing comeback story. With two gold medals under his belt from 2006 and 2010, Shaun faltered in 2014 and came up empty in Sochi. More recently, he suffered a devastating injury in New Zealand leading up to the 2018 Winter Games. But he went on to make the team and in his final run in the halfpipe event in Pyeongchang, he pulls out an amazing run to reclaim the top of the podium from younger rival, Ayumu Hirano of Japan.

There’s another part of the story and one that Shaun shares with every Olympic athlete. Their dreams and goals are big! And the work and sacrifice to achieve them is big as well. Let’s face it, you don’t make it to the Olympics by being like everyone else.

A wise friend, Carin, recently commented to me that society has two types of people. There are the herd members who basically follow the societal norms and live ordinary lives and there are rogue members who step out of the norms and conventional comfort zones. Herd members can admire the rogue members, whether it’s an athlete who is achieving amazing feats or someone overcoming huge obstacles and fighting to be who they are. With that said, herd members are happy in their status quo and can rationalize their choices to “stay within the lines” as logical and common sense.

If you're one of those sensible types, you probably think that those rogue members are the crazy ones. And that’s exactly what I’ve experienced as the overwhelming reaction in my current quest for a world record, the most ironmans in one year. I can assure you that most people don’t want to be me and most can’t understand why I’m doing what I’m doing. Without a doubt, the prevalent response to finding out that I’m averaging an Ironman (a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike and a 26.2-mile marathon) every six days for 2018 is that I’m crazy.

Accompanied by the initial assessment of my sanity is a litany of reasons why they wouldn’t do it (or why I shouldn’t). One friend told me that he only had so many heartbeats left in life and he didn’t want to waste any of them on jogging, as if jogging was going to shorten his lifespan or somehow strip away his joy of living. (I think every runner I know would challenge that.) But flawed logic is still logic and many of us follow our head to rationalize what we do or don’t do, what’s normal, acceptable and fits our belief system.

In my case, I think to go big and to go bold, you have to be willing and able to follow your heart and not just your head. I would argue, without any scientific evidence to back my claim, that other rogue members have come to embrace their hearts, as well. At least for when they set big goals. The passion and the emotion from the heart leads you down a path that really drives you. That doesn’t mean that we don’t tap into both the heart and the head. In my case, my heart got me on the path for my world record quest, but the head helps me prepare to be successful. For example, I tap into my head to analyze the obstacles, assess the landscape, determine the best course of action, create the training plan, etc. In other words, the heart looks for the way to make it happen versus all the reasons why it won’t work. And then the head follows along and says, “Ok…if we have to do this, how are we going to get it done?”

I’m not sure if you ever had a big dream or goal that just consumed you. It may have started as a whisper but it built to a thunderous roar. When I came up with my Sixty@60 goal, I was so excited for days that I could barely sleep. My heart was speaking to me. And it wasn’t that my head was absent from the conversation. I just chose to follow my heart, and let my head catch up and get on board later. If I had listened to my head (or those of others who I initially shared my dream with, I would have quickly talked myself out of it.)

I would argue that big goals tap into your heart…to your passion and your emotions. And that can be scary and exciting or probably both. The benefits of following your heart are many but I find  two are most compelling to me.  The first is that it makes me feel "ALIVE." The second is that by accomplishing bold goals, you quickly start to see all aspects of your life differently. You recognize more of your potential and how fear or uncertainty or a myriad of other excuses are just that...excuses. And in so doing, you start to break through barriers and beliefs that, in hindsight, you realize were holding you back.

One of my favorite quotes that I use as a way to stay focused on the power of big is “If your dream doesn’t scare you, it’s not big enough.” To do big things, you are going to have to get out of your comfort zone. In other words, you have to get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Big, by definition, also means that it will likely take lots of work and sacrifice. There are millions of people all over the world who watched the recent Olympic coverage. Most were entertained or inspired. A very small subset of these viewers are future Olympic hopefuls who will actually make the hard sacrifices and put in the years of hard work and dedication to pursue their dream. Tonic Motihala said, “There is no success without sacrifice.” Suffice it to say, the bigger the goal or level of success, the more sacrifice is required. And sacrifice would be something that our heads may rationalize is not in our best interests.

It’s a small example, but I think it makes my point. I don’t own a TV. I don’t even have internet in my home. And it’s been that way for years. It’s not that I can’t afford it. And it’s not that I don’t enjoy watching TV or mindlessly surfing the web. It’s because I have other priorities and goals that require me to look closely at how I spend my time. It’s a sacrifice that I choose to make. We all have choices, so before you say you can’t do something, I have found it’s better to ask, “Do I really want this? And am I willing to make the sacrifices to achieve it?”

There are two other questions that I ask myself (and my coaching clients) when setting goals.

  1. What are the benefits that I will get if I achieve this goal?
  2. What are the consequences if I don’t achieve this goal?

With each of these questions, I don’t just stop at the easy, surface-level answer. I want to go deeper and get to the emotional drivers as well. Coincidentally, to put these in context, I find that some people are benefit-seekers and others are consequence-avoiders, hence the value of asking both questions. From my personal observation with hundreds of clients over the years, most folks that fall into the herd category are consequence-avoiders. They don’t want to upset the apple cart and they want to avoid bad things that could happen if they don’t do something. In other words, they want to maintain the status-quo. Benefit-seekers, on the other hand, are driven by the possibilities and are generally more roque-ish in their quest for achieving their goals and the accompanying rewards that come with their accomplishment.

In a Today Show interview with Shaun White the day after his halfpipe gold medal performance, he was asked, “What’s next?” He started sharing his big dream of “going for it” in the next summer Olympics in the skateboarding competition. He clearly continues to think big and as one of the oldest competitors in his sport at 31, he is far from done. To watch the interview, it was clear that Shaun still has a lot of passion and heart for competing and being one of the world’s best athletes.

Nelson Mandela similarly tapped into the heart when he said, “There is no passion to found in playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” So regardless of whether you’re a member of the herd or a bonafide rogue, stepping out of your comfort zone and going big, at the very least, amplifies who you are and your potential. You could even discover, like Shaun White, that there is much more of your story to come.