I’ve been a casual fan of figure skating since childhood, admiring the soaring artistry and powerful athleticism of figure skaters like Michelle Kwan and Alexei Yagudin whenever I’ve had a chance to catch a competition on television. I’ve always found their drive inspiring. It offers us all a lesson in what pursuing your dreams actually looks like (namely, a lot of hard work, blood, sweat, and soul).
This year, I decided to take things up a notch and watch every single figure skating event at the Winter Olympics. I upgraded my Apple TV, purchased a Sling subscription, arranged the couch just so in order to optimize my viewing position, and enjoyed every moment on the ice at PyeongChang—from Mirai Nagasu’s historic triple axel in the team competition to Yuzuru Hanyu’s stunning gold medal performance (the first back-to-back Olympic gold medal since Dick Button in 1948 and 1952). It was a thrilling and rewarding experience, just perfect for the winter hibernation season when my entrepreneurial mojo tends to dip a bit lower than usual.
Now that the 2018 Winter Olympics are over, I’ll admit to feeling a bit like this guy:
Me looking for Olympic events this morning, only to remember the closing ceremony was yesterday pic.twitter.com/HksUCTyl32
— Alex Fitzpatrick (@AlexJamesFitz) February 26, 2018
So, to relive the glory of the Winter Games, I’m going to share four freelancing lessons I learned from this year’s figure skating competition in PyeongChang.
1. Be true to yourself
Adam Rippon was a breakout star and fan favorite at this year’s Winter Olympics, but those of us who’ve been following figure skating have admired him for a long time. He’s a true original and deeply committed to his artistic vision (much like Jason Brown, another gifted American skater I wish we’d been able to see compete in PyeongChang). And, as several writers have eloquently noted, Rippon’s bold queer excellence is in itself a revolutionary step forward in this dark Trump era, when LGBTQ representation is incredibly consequential and urgently necessary.
As Rippon’s success has shown us, a commitment to authenticity isn’t just the moral or healthy path forward for yourself as an individual—it opens up new opportunities for you to connect with supporters and fans of your work. This is as true for self-employed professionals as it is for elite figure skaters. Knowing who you are and then being transparent about it with others is key to creating a career that has meaning. Misha Ge embodied this approach at the Winter Olympics, opting for pure artistry while eschewing the medal-worthy technical elements that could have landed him on the podium. Being aligned with your true self produces beautiful results, as we’ve seen from his skating as well as Rippon’s.
2. You are your greatest competition
Of course, Olympic athletes do compete against each other. They may even have nemeses, like Alexei Yagudin and Evgeni Plushenko or, infamously, Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. Sometimes an adversary can push you to achieve greater results. But, at the end of the day, the bare truth is that you are your greatest competition. Your number one objective is to deliver the highest quality performance that only you could create.
Adam Rippon was very clear-eyed about this reality in his pre-Olympic interviews, saying that he didn’t intend to out-quad the quad jumpers but, rather, that he aimed to present the very best program of his own. Yuzuru Hanyu spoke openly about concentrating on landing a flawless program without worrying about the fancy technical elements that could derail him from an Olympic victory. He believed he could win on the merits of that core program alone, and he was right. Not only did he win, but he notched an historic achievement. When you compete against yourself, you gain the focus necessary to succeed.
3. Failure can make you stronger
Nathan Chen came face to face with something very unfamiliar to him at the Winter Games: failure. Dubbed the Quad King, this phenomenal American skater was widely considered a gold medal contender leading into PyeongChang. He had an air of destiny about him, having famously predicted as a child that he would compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics. But Chen stumbled in the team competition, raising questions among fans and analysts who were accustomed to seeing perfection from him. After Yuzuru Hanyu burned down the house with a free skate that racked up massive points and had Gangneung Ice Arena thundering with applause, Chen had the unenviable task of stepping out onto the ice—and he turned in a dismal showing wholly unrepresentative of the skater he is.
You could tell by watching Chen’s interviews that he was furious with himself—he had that angry edge in his voice. He refused to let that disastrous short program be the end of his Olympic story, landing five of the six quads he attempted in a brilliant free skate. At just 18 years old, Nathan Chen is grappling what it means to fail for the first time. If his Olympic debut is any indication, he will transform his failure into a learning experience that will make him an even stronger skater in the future. All of us, regardless of our age, can make great strides by treating failure as a mentor rather than a punishing disciplinarian. Those of us who do reap the greatest benefits from the valuable mistakes we make.
4. You are capable of more than you know
We saw breathtaking athletic feats in PyeongChang, from Nathan Chen’s rapid-fire quad assault to a mind-bending five-jump display in Alina Zagitova’s practice session before the ladies’ free skate. As we heard from the NBC commentary over and over again during the Games, figure skating is in a period of transition during which incredible exploits like these are quickly becoming the norm. As Olympic athletes are testing their capabilities, we are witnessing the stretching of athletic limits beyond what anyone thought was possible.
Had our favorite figure skaters simply decided in advance that they were incapable of breaking these barriers rather than pushing themselves beyond where they thought they could go, we might never have known what they could have achieved. Life as a self-employed entrepreneur is much the same. You have to explore new ventures and test your limits. In doing so, I’ve discovered that I have skills and abilities I never knew I had. If you’re also self-employed, chances are very good that you’ve found this out as well. It can be exhilarating to push the envelope further, building on your newfound capabilities to reach greater professional heights.
Now that the Winter Games are concluded, we have to wait until Beijing 2022 for our next Olympic-level figure skating fix. But in the meantime, we’ve got Tokyo 2020 to keep us rapt with a summer competition featuring other sports. I know where I’ll be: ensconced in the couch, watching intently, and enjoying every incredible moment.