DaVita® Stories

Lessons from the Olympics

This post was originally published on the Family Talk Blog on Feb. 14, 2018. It was republished with permission on DaVita Stories.

I love watching the Olympics! It’s amazing to see these young athletes perform triple toe loops on the ice, aerials on the ski slopes, and unbelievable speed and daring in the downhill. In between watching events, we learn about the competitors, their lives, and how they found their way onto the Olympic stage.

These competitions break down the walls between nations and bring us together for the best of who we can be. And who doesn’t love it when their countrymen and women win gold! It’s a festival of light.

While I can barely remember the strength and power of my youth—I relish the commitment and singled mindedness of these competitors. Their love of the sport, their fierce competitive spirit, their desire to be the best, and their laser-like focus brings them to this historic moment in their lives. Most of them won’t win a medal—but they will forever savor this experience.

Yes, they also have talent. As children, they were always the best at their sport. Their muscles, nerves, minds, and bodies worked together in harmony. Being naturally good at something is pleasurable and reinforcing. It’s highly motivating.

Unfortunately, I never had any athletic ability. I did participate in sports—but I spent most of my childhood watching the grass grow in the right field. My teammates and I prayed that no one would hit the ball to me! But like many kids, I dreamed of hitting the winning home run.

What can we mere mortals learn from these superhuman, super talented men and women?

Set a goal, believe that you can reach it, and don’t give up.

Have you ever wondered why ordinary, non-athletic adults decide to run a marathon? Technically, running 26 miles is an almost impossible feat. Yet with proper training (and some luck avoiding injury) almost anyone can do it. Many adults take on this challenge to prove to themselves that they can achieve this lofty goal! And when they cross the finish line, barely able to breathe, they realize something that they may not have known—you can do pretty much anything you set your mind to do! They have won the most important gold medal—confidence.

In my late 40’s, I decided to practice Aikido again, after a 20-year break.  I loved practicing this martial art in my mid 20’s, despite my total lack of any natural ability. At 56, I earned my Black Belt, after 8 years on the mat. Much more athletically talented adults didn’t make it to their Black belt exam, but I did. I stuck with it, no matter how slowly I progressed. Today, at 66, I have my second-degree Black belt in Aikido. Talent is nice to have, but it isn’t necessary.

Maintain a laser-like focus on your goals.

It’s easy to get distracted by daily challenges, setbacks, and conflicting priorities. These everyday interruptions keep you from working towards your dreams. Our Olympians remind us of the value of singled minded focus. Ten years ago I had major reconstructive foot surgery. I was out of commission for a full year—but I vowed to get back on the mat to continue practicing Aikido. I never did ask my surgeon if it was okay. I worked like no one else in Physical Therapy and was able to get back on the mat after 2 years of rehabilitation.

Go for the gold.

My most important goal—win the gold medal for being a great Dad, a loving husband, and a good son. Everything else I’ve accomplished has been a cherry on top of that cake.

Pick your goal and go for the gold!

Dr. Paul Schoenfeld

Dr. Paul Schoenfeld

Dr. Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist with The Everett Clinic, a DaVita Medical Group, and the Director of The Everett Clinic’s Center for Behavioral Health. He specializes in working with children, families and adults. In his spare time, he’s a second degree black belt in Aikido (a peaceful martial art) and teaches aikido to children in Seattle. In addition (like many Pacific Northwesterners) he likes to hike, bike, and play in the sun (and rain).