Last week, Gwen Jorgensen won her first Olympic Gold medal in the women’s triathlon. In 2009, she was a 23-year old tax accountant for a Big 6 accounting firm. Her Olympic journey began with an unexpected phone call at work.
It’s a story of hope for anyone with a dream.
As the story goes, the US Olympic committee was frustrated the US hadn’t had more success in the triathlon and went searching for candidates to recruit into their program.
The ideal candidates were runners and swimmers. Jorgensen had been a swimmer and runner at the University of Wisconsin, so her profile was a perfect match.
The Olympics was not in her career plan.
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Can you imagine being a first year accountant at a Big 6 firm, immersed in the non-glamorous world of tax accounting and getting that phone call?
Surely this is a prank call, right?
Getting discovered is a ticket to easy street. Goodbye problems! Hello, Lamborghini!
Haven’t we all had that fantasy at some point?
Everyone’s heard the story of the one who got picked.
It’s the barrista who served a macchiato to a movie mogul and suddenly got cast in a movie opposite Ryan Gosling. It’s the window cleaner who posts a grainy Facebook video singing a song he wrote who gets offered a multi-million dollar recording contract.
What Gwen Jorgensen did AFTER she got picked defines how the victorious play this game.
The fantasy is that, if you get the call, you’ve made it.
She knew the call was just an invitation:
You’re invited to work your ass off for the next decade and maybe get recognized for it.
It’s what she did AFTER getting picked that mattered.
Here’s the reminder for you and me.
It’s the rare person who gets a call like Jorgensen or Justin Bieber did.
For most of us, there is no call. No one picks us out of the crowd.
But don’t take yourself out of the game, just yet.
Pick yourself, dammit.
In reality, many of the chosen few who did get the call never make it out of the phone booth.
They confused being picked with making it. They had their one big hit and they waited for the next one to roll in. Nothing. Or things got hard and they quit.
Once you’ve picked yourself, follow Jorgensen’s lead:
Do the work to prepare to succeed.
Doing the work includes failing, struggling and wanting to quit. Remember, there are no traffic jams on the path to mastery.
After one terrible finish, Jorgensen was so discouraged that she told her coach she wanted to quit. He wisely suggested she take a week off before she made a final decision.
We know how that turned out.
Success is in the work.
We both know that the people you admire and aspire to be like didn’t wait to get picked.
They’ve been doing the work of preparation when no one else was watching. When their friends and peers were lounging in front of the Late Late Show, they were quietly doing the work. Hour after hour. Year after year.
Then, in some unexpected moment their hard work prepared them to do something none of their peers (who hadn’t been running the miles) was prepared to do.
Suddenly, they’re an overnight success.
But it didn’t happen overnight. It just happened out of sight.
Pick yourself, dammit. And get to work.