Olympic Gymnast Carly Patterson on Pressure, Success, and Inspiring Others

Carly Patterson didn’t win Olympic Gold by harping on what went wrong.

David Madison/ Getty Images
David Madison/ Getty Images

By Megan Oliver

Olympic Gymnast Carly Patterson has accomplished some incredible things in her life (Olympic and World Championship medals, national titles, etc.), and at #MobilizeWomen, we were fortunate enough to get her insight into handling pressure, the concept of success, and inspiring the future. We were pleased to learn that her championship lessons are universal, and can apply to our own lives — so whether you’re starting your own business, pivoting to a new phase in your life, or looking to perform at the highest level, Carly has some lessons to share with you.

On Handling Pressure…

Professional women are no strangers to pressure. Whether you’re facing down deadlines or seemingly-unattainable expectations, it might sometimes feel like you’re walking a balance beam, trying desperately not to fall. As someone with plenty of experience doing just that, we asked Carly about her tips for handling pressure.

How did Carly do it? She learned that “to deal with the pressure, I need to focus on me and doing the best job that I can do personally.” Reflecting on her past struggles, she admitted, “If I would’ve focused on doing the best routines I could do and not the weight and the pressure of other people’s expectations and hopes on me, I think I could have done a better job.”

If you’re struggling with pressure, examine what is at the root of it. Is it tied to a desire not to let others down? As Carly said, “When I try to focus on it as, ‘Other people are counting on me,’ that’s when it gets a little bit more difficult to handle.” Instead, separate yourself from the weight of others’ expectations. Tell yourself what Carly did when she landed her first event, vault, out-of-bounds on all-around night: “I’m controlling the outcome of this night. I’m controlling my destiny and what I want to happen. I’m not gonna let the fear and the pressure control me.”

On Success…

At one point during our talk, Carly said, “Success can be difficult to define.” In fact, the key theme throughout Carly’s keynote speech at #MobilizeWomen was that of redefining success based on where you are in life.

Carly shared stories of trying to hold herself to the standard of success set by her gold medal, and explained how freeing it was to let go of that mindset. The women of Ellevate are incredible goal-setters and achievers. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the weight of your own expectations, ask yourself if there are impossibly-high gold medal standards of success that you’re holding yourself to.

Carly also expressed the difficulty of defining success in our modern society. As we venture deeper into the digital age, she warns, “We want stuff ASAP, and I think it’s hard for a lot of people to stay in the grind and remember that success is about working hard, having failures, and having to be resilient.”

The idea that hard work breeds success isn’t a new one, but it bears repeating. Success isn’t born in a vacuum. Whether you’re an Olympic athlete or a CEO, “That’s how everything you do in life is. Hard work and perseverance and doing the nitty-gritty things that you don’t want to do.”

Recognizing that this advice applies to everyone, Carly added, “That didn’t stop with me after I was done being a gymnast. All that carries on into every single thing that we all do in life.”

On Inspiring the Next Generation…

If you haven’t been keeping up with gymnastics between Olympic Games, here’s a quick heads-up: The United States is really, really good. In the fourteen years since Carly’s all-around victory, the United States has won a staggering eighty-five World and Olympic medals. While a great deal of this has to do with the growth and strength of the gymnasts within the American program, the effects of inspiration cannot be overstated.

Though the United States had international success before Carly, she pointed out that her all-around role models were limited. “I wasn’t old enough to see Mary Lou. I didn’t have that person to look up to, that had done that.” She’s happy to fill that role for later generations.

If a lack of role models has been a struggle in your career, remember that one of the best things you can do is share your knowledge so that those who come after you don’t have to go through the same. Ellevate Network is a fantastic way to experience that kind of supportive community, whether you’re seeking mentorship or someone to whom you can pass on your knowledge. As Carly says, “Seeing other people doing something you want to achieve helps you see that you could do that someday, too. It makes it an attainable goal.”

If you haven’t seen Carly’s keynote speech from the #MobilizeWomen Summit, we highly recommend doing so. She blends lessons learned throughout her incredible career with ones that came long after, tying everything together in a fantastic examination of what success does and should mean to each of us. Whether you’re a lifelong fan, or this article is the first time you’ve heard Carly’s name, her lessons are something we can all hope to grow from.

If Carly’s words have inspired you, too, download our Action Guide to find out how you can keep the spirit of #MobilizeWomen alive every day.

Megan Oliver is the Editorial Intern for Ellevate Network.

Originally published at www.ellevatenetwork.com

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