By Ryan Millar, member of the gold medal 2008 U.S. Men's Volleyball team and a senior director for Partners In Leadership, where he helps business leaders overcome workforce challenges.
An Olympic gold medal is a symbol of excellence, recognized throughout the world. I was fortunate enough to win one in 2008 at the Beijing Olympic Games in indoor volleyball.
With the Rio Olympics upon us, I have caught myself reflecting on my own vast Olympic journey--one that spanned nearly 15 years and took my family and I all over the world.
What I have discovered is that many of my fondest memories are caught in the journey itself, not just the Olympic experiences.
Unfortunately, most people only focus on the end success or failure. I can't tell you how many times I have been asked, "Did you medal?" I think a much better question to ask is, "What did you learn?"
Here's what I learned:
1. It's About How You Got There
The true prize of the highs and lows, the wins and losses, the grueling practices, and the countless hours of training, is truly knowing, in the back of your mind, that the path you take lays the groundwork for greatness.
On any road you take, you'll find unexpected turns, potholes, traffic, forks in the road, etc., but with each encounter, you must look at these as opportunities.
Without the obstacles along the way, no vital changes or course corrections could have taken place, and, who knows, you may have never gotten where you wanted to get to.
Focus on the journey, the steps along the way, and own your own destiny. Otherwise, someone or something else will!
2. Teamwork = Harmony
Being able to stand on top of the podium with my teammates in Beijing was incredible--there are few things greater than achieving something together as a team.
In volleyball, there are many moving parts that depend on and interact with one another. Without the moving parts working in sync, we encountered many of the same things that teams experience when they are not working together, i.e., poor communication, collaboration, and performance, ultimately, resulting in unmet goals.
Successful teamwork requires harmony. I love a definition of harmony I once read, "an interweaving of different accounts into a single narrative."
In order to establish harmony on your team, it's vital that you "weave" the differences of your team by creating and reinforcing unified alignment around your desired narrative.
3. Culture Is King
I was able to compete in three Olympic Games during my career. My first Olympics was in 2000 in Sydney, Australia. Our team was good (ranked #5 in the world at the time).
Individually, our players were strong and capable. Some were even considered the best in the world at their skill set. Yet we finished those Olympic Games in last place. We didn't win a single match.
The main problem, among others, was the simple fact that we did not have the right culture in place. Because of our cultural deficiencies, we suffered the consequences of under achievement and a lack of execution.
Contrast that with our team in Beijing and you could argue that our individual players were not as strong as in Sydney, yet our culture, created through unique experiences, bound us together in a way that promoted our ability to overcome obstacles, depend on one another, and deliver gold.
Never underestimate the power of culture--it is the glue that binds.
4. Don't Be the Victim; Be the Victor
We definitely had our fair-share of disappointments and challenges: tough defeats, injuries, illness, competition, leadership and personnel changes, etc.
Challenges tend to drag you to a place of victimization and helplessness. But rather than let the circumstances control us, we each took personal accountability and purposefully chose to rise above hardships to ensure we delivered the desired outcome, while acknowledging that more challenges were ahead.
Don't fall victim to challenges and failures. Instead, choose to own the situation, persevere, and find a way to overcome them.
5. Always Be Learning
A wise person once said, "The day I stop learning is the day I retire."
Even when I was considered one of the best in the world, I knew that I constantly had to be developing myself. I had to be open to feedback and see things through other people's perspectives in order to eventually earn gold.
Always be learning by embracing change, hearing the hard things, and never becoming complacent.
The lessons learned from the journey to win the gold medal are as valuable as the medal itself. As you embark on your journey towards your goal, be sure to embrace the lessons and go win your gold