Thirty-eight years ago, my cousin, Jim Craig was part of the 1980 U.S Olympic hockey team that won gold at Lake Placid. For Jimmy there has been no shortage of recognition for the role he played in the Miracle on Ice. To this day, he is widely recognized in public and has launched a successful career as a motivational speaker. All these years later, I can easily recall the image of him wrapped in the U.S. flag circling the rink after the team’s big win.

I often think of Jimmy during the winter Olympics and the young athletes competing now for their life’s dream on the world stage. Unlike 1980, this year’s gold medalists are far less recognizable. Most of you would be hard pressed to name even one, yet all achieved the ultimate in their profession. From Kikkan Randall to John Shuster to so many other American gold medalists, the recognition has been fleeting at best.

For most of us, lack of recognition in our professional lives is not uncommon, but if these Olympic athletes who proved to be the best in the world are not widely acknowledged for their achievements, what hope is there for an accountant, surveyor, or gulp fundraiser? If employees are fortunate, they take solace in the small things: a supportive and insightful supervisor, a show of appreciation by the employer’s leadership, a positive work culture, but these motivational factors are external and cannot be controlled by most employees.

So how does one remain motivated when no one is cheering for you from the sidelines? Interestingly, studying the tendencies of Olympic athletes may help employees develop vital qualities that sustain motivation. Sometimes the best athletes aren’t the fastest or strongest, but rather the ones with the greatest perseverance, particularly when no one is watching. Here are a few recommendations for finding your own Olympic-type motivation in your day-to-day work.

  • Set Your Goals – Whether you set out to win an Olympic medal or simply want to be better at what you do, establishing challenging goals and remaining singularly-focused on achieving those goals is essential.
  • Create a Training Schedule – In order to be successful, athletes must practice in order to outperform the competition. Likewise, be sure to hone the skill set you need to be successful at what you do.
  • Identify the Big Event – Athletes have the Olympics or other competitions circled on their calendar. Similarly, you should find opportunities to stay motivated. A conference presentation or meeting your annual financial goals might be the event that encourages you to push forward and achieve results.
  • Be Optimistic – If an athlete thinks he/she might lose, there is a good chance they will. Remain positive about what you’re trying to achieve and there is a better chance that you will realize success.
  • Learn to Anticipate – Many athletes mentally prepare for a game, race or competition by anticipating what they need to do. A bobsled team visualizes the turns on the course while a swimmer thinks about how many strokes are needed in each lap before the turn. To be successful, visualize and mentally prepare for what you want to accomplish. Always be thinking about the next step.
  • Be a Team Player – The most successful teams are the ones who develop a strong team chemistry. Positive team energy helps motivate everyone. Find a team that you want to be a part of and work together to realize your organization’s goals, however big or small.
  • Enjoy the Journey – Most athletes can look back on the years when they competed and reminisce fondly about their experience. Embrace opportunities to challenge yourself, but also enjoy what’s in front of you. Celebrate the small wins and keep pushing forward. Past success is often a predictor of future achievements.
  • Embrace the Unexpected – Everyone has setbacks. Athletes get injured or have an off day, but generally that doesn’t stop them from competing. Even if you aren’t performing at your best, look for the silver lining or takeaway that will allow you be more successful the next time around.
  • Celebrate Success – If you or your team are successful, acknowledge that success and the hard work that went into making it happen. It’s okay to pat yourself on the back for a job well-done.

In addition to these recommendations, remember what really motivates people is working for an organization that makes them happy. Believing in your organization’s mission will help drive employee motivation and move your organization (and you) forward. Being blessed to work in fundraising, there is no shortage of inspiring and worthy organizations.

Lastly, congratulations to Kikkan Randall, Jessica Diggins, John Shuster, Matt Hamilton, Tyler George, John Landsteiner and every other 2018 Winter Olympic medalist whose recognition may be fleeting, but whose accomplishments can never be taken away. We look forward to seeing you in Beijing in 2022!