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Ten Career Worthy Olympic Lessons

The extreme level of focus, commitment, determination, and relentless work ethic is something others can relate to in their non-Olympic careers.
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Whether or not you are an avid Olympics fan, there are some valuable lessons from the Summer 2012 Games in London that are applicable in the quest for a gratifying career. From the pageantry of the opening ceremony that unites the world country by country with the parade of athletes, it's clear that all Olympians have worked incredibly hard to achieve a coveted spot on their respective national teams.

The extreme level of focus, commitment, determination, and relentless work ethic is something others can relate to in their non-Olympic careers. But the majority of employed individuals and job seekers are still questing for an ideal career fit that will allow them to honor their passions and engage in rewarding work.

The Olympic athletes set a tremendous example for all careerists and remind us to dream big and go for the gold. Here are ten strategies to consider as you work towards your ideal career.

Distinguish Yourself -- Olympic runners are not equally strong as sprinters and long distance runners. They excel in a particular role that showcases their talent best. Find your niche and focus on the special strengths that set you apart from the competition. In your work environment think about how you can showcase yourself as an expert or go-to person for something you do incredibly well. Find your career sparkle and let it shine brightly.

Don't Let Ageism Get in Your Way -- The oldest athlete on record in the history of the Olympics was Oscar Swahn who competed at age 72. In this discriminatory career world where seasoned professionals are often discarded for younger, less experienced, and more "cost effective" employees, it's time to take control and showcase your value. With life and career experience comes a more refined skill set, emotional intelligence, and the ability to handle change. Be ready to prove your worth no matter where you fall on the age spectrum because you have tremendous value. Game on!

Resilience is Essential and Persistence Pays -- New Zealand Olympic runner, Nick Willis talked candidly about how he is motivated to win not by the celebration of success but by the fear of failure. It's inevitable that you will face disappointment in the career world but resilience and the ability to start fresh after a set back or a major change is something employers are seeking in candidates. Change is constant in the world-of-work. Candidates and working professionals who demonstrate resilience and persistence set themselves apart for success.

Team Work Rules -- When an individual athlete does not medal in a particular event you can bet that they will still be there to rally their teammates and cheer them on for victory. A selfless focus on a team and serving the greater mission is incredibly important in the career world as well. You've got to have the back of your team members and earn their support in the professional arena. Job interview questions often focus on the role you play on a team so be ready to give examples and learn to play well in the organization's sandbox in order to succeed.

Game Face On -- Most people can't even walk across a balance beam let alone perform a high-flying routine and dismount with perfection like the Olympic gymnasts. Fear is natural and even the most accomplished professionals succumb to self-doubt from time to time. But remember how important your professional persona is when communicating with others. Game face on -- never let them see you sweat and keep your fears to yourself. A smile also does wonders to set others at ease when interacting.

Be A Good Sport -- Before Michael Phelps became the most decorated medal-winning athlete in Olympic history, he didn't perform well in every event at the 2012 London Games. The reality is that you win some and you lose some and this follows suit with new business, job interviews, and opportunities. Give yourself a private pout, rant, and rave period (mine is 24 hours) to process the emotions of disappointment and then move on. You have more important ways to spend your energy and your focus should be on the next opportunity.

Honor Your Body -- Olympic sprinter Yohan Blake eats 16 ripe bananas per day to keep his energy and potassium levels high. Athletes treat their bodies as temples so they can achieve Herculean physical acts the rest of us can only imagine. You only have one body and it's never too late to start treating yourself well by eating healthy, exercising, and by getting enough sleep to ward of sickness and stress. Millions of people become debilitated due to burnout and stressful work environments. Honor your body so it can serve you well.

Play to Your Strengths -- There is a reason athletes play different positions on a team -- to showcase what they do well above and beyond their teammates and to serve the greater good of the team. From the server on a Volleyball team to the final leg runner in a Relay Race -- each have a unique strength to move the team toward winning. Don't focus on your weaknesses in the career world because you are not broken. Spend your time and energy sharpening your strengths for success. If you are in a role where you are not able to play to your strengths, consider a new opportunity that will allow you to shine.

Have a Support System -- Behind every athlete is a community of support from friends, family, coaches, trainers, and fans that make the work they do a reality. Rally your personal Board of Directors for career support, wisdom, and accountability check-ins. It really does take a village so don't be afraid to ask for help and be sure to pay-it-forward to others to keep the circle going.

Go For The Gold -- For an Olympic athlete, the ultimate success is a gold medal. Give yourself permission to dream big and set high goals. You can always readjust but allowing yourself to dream BIG can be inspiring and provide an opportunity to think about an ideal career scenario that would honor your values and allow you play to your strengths. You deserve it, so design your ideal career by going for the gold!

Michael Phelps set the record for the most career medals won by any Olympian during the London 2012 Games but his road to success has not always been smooth. Phelps experienced extremely tough times during the years between Olympic competitions when the next goal was not always clearly in sight. His mantra: "Get the dream. Get the plan. Reach for it" articulates the importance of reaching big dreams by setting daily goals and working incrementally to meet those goals.

Keep the 2012 Summer Olympians in mind as you navigate your personal career journey. You will experience both the agony of defeat and the triumph of victory as you move towards your end goal. But remember to dream big, and approach the goal one step at a time. Resilience is essential and persistence pays, but in the end -- passion is what distinguishes you from the competition. What will be your gold medal career moment?

Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name ( She is also the Director of Career & Professional Development and Adjunct Faculty at Indiana University Maurer School of Law. She hosts the national CBS Radio Show Career Coach Caroline Tuesdays at 5pm ET

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