I love the Olympics. I love all sports, really, but I especially love the Olympics.
It makes my heart pound. It makes me anxious and nervous. It makes me shout at the TV, rooting for people whose names and stories I didn’t even know until five minutes ago. It makes my stomach fall when an athlete stumbles. It makes my eyes fill with tears when an athlete realizes the dream they have been working toward for years and years and years has finally come true: they are an Olympic gold medalist.
I love these athletes. I love their shining moments. I love watching their dreams come true.
What we see when we watch the Olympics is the sexy side of goal setting.
We’re seeing the end result. The glitz and the glamour. The bright lights and the glory.
What we don’t see is everything that led to this moment.
Take Simone Biles, as an example. She will go down in history, at least for now, as the greatest gymnast of all time.
And how did she get there? By working her ass off, day after day.
Early morning workouts. Strict eating habits. Turning down plans and proms and dates and sleepovers with friends. Spending all of her free time at the gym. Working on her routines over and over and over again. Failing and getting back up. Succeeding but knowing she still has to get back to work.
These are all the unsexy sides of goal setting. She worked for years and years and years for the Olympics. It was all work done behind the scenes. We didn’t see all the blood, sweat, and tears that led to her final floor routine, which gave her the gold medal in the all-around competition. We didn’t see all the work she had to do internally to find her confidence and poise.
But it’s all those unsexy steps that were the most important. All the early mornings and workouts and strict schedules. Those steps led to the Olympics. Those steps led to standing on top of the podium as the best gymnast in the world.
And, can I just be honest for a minute here? I truly, truly, truly hate those unsexy steps.
They are so boring, you know? They are such a slog.
I just want the final moment.
I want the cute engagement story, the goal weight, the strong body, the published novel, the robust savings account.
But do I want to do all of the hard work it takes to get to that place?
Suffering through bad dates and terrible Tinder convos. Resisting sweets and shoving salad in my mouth instead. Waking up early and pushing my body through a tough workout. Working tirelessly on a novel that may or may not become published. Turning down plans with friends and saying no to fancy vacations.
All of it takes sacrifice. (I’m trying to make a point here, but yes, I understand that Simone’s sacrifice to gymnastics is completely different than the sacrifice of going on a Tinder date.)
Our goals take so much sacrifice, and I think we (I?) have the tendency to quit when the going gets tough, to YOLO our way out of working hard because, truly, we only get one life and why should we spend it in sacrifice mode? Why should we resist what we think our body wants?
It all comes down to the question: are our goals worth it? Is the glory of the final moment worth the weeks, months, or years (at least in Simone’s case) it takes to get there?
The answer is unique to each individual, and I do think those who become Olympians have a specific drive and competitive spirit that isn’t inherent in every person. You have to want it and you have to want it more than you want anything else.
You have to continue to push yourself, even when the going gets tough, because of the final moment. The gold medal, the published novel, the goal weight. That’s what’s driving you, that’s what keeps you motivated when you’re down in the trenches of the unsexy part of achieving goals.
We have to want those final moments. We have to live and breathe them, as if they are ours. We have to visualize how we will feel, look, and act when our dreams are fulfilled.
And then we have to go out there and press on, even when it sucks, even when it’s so hard it feels impossible, even when we want to give up and call it quits.
Achievement for most of us doesn’t mean stepping onto the top of a podium with a medal around our neck. It may only mean stepping onto a scale alone in our bathroom and cheering for ourselves when we see the number we’ve been striving for. Or taking a photo at the finish line of a 5k you worked hard to complete.
But we can still take so much inspiration from these Olympians.
The blood, the sweat, the tears… it’s all worth it. Believe it is worth it, believe there’s nothing stopping you but yourself, and work your ass off and you can achieve anything you set your mind to.
(I mean, unless your goal is to beat Katie Ledecky in any type of race in the pool because, sorry, I just don’t think that’s possible.)