I don’t know about you, but when the Olympics began, I lost a lot of sleep.  I stayed up late every night- mesmerized by the courage, determination, and dedication of the athletes, and the extraordinary grace and seemingly limitless abilities of the human body. I was moved by the athletes’ personal stories, especially those who have faced and overcome physical or emotional adversity.  I felt the winners’ joys and the terrible disappointments of those who stumbled.  There are many things to love about the Olympics and many reasons to be inspired.  

And yet…. I was continually troubled by athletes who accomplished the extraordinary feat of winning a silver medal, then dissolved in tears, appeared to be racked with emotional pain, and stated how devastating it was to not win gold.  Don’t get me wrong, many athletes are incredibly gracious, saying quite sincerely that “it’s an honor to be here and an even greater honor to make it to the podium- regardless of the color of the medal.”  But there is this underlying message- sometimes communicated by the athletes and sometimes by the commentators- that unless you win gold it doesn’t count.

I am concerned about that message and how children and teenagers who watched the Olympics interpret it.  Is it really true that unless it’s gold- or first place- it doesn’t count?   What about the dedication, effort, passion, skill, and sacrifice that gets them to that level of competition?  And why is “not sticking the landing” in gymnastics or “creating a splash” in diving given more weight than the amazing acts of athleticism that take place in the air, on the mat, and in the pool? It’s about “perfection” and when it’s not perfect, or it’s not gold, it is equated with failing. 

I am equally concerned about how this resonates for our clients in therapy.  How often do you hear their black/white thinking, the critical and judgmental tapes in their heads that say, “you’re not good enough,” “you should have done more,” “if it’s not perfect, it doesn’t count?” When our culture covertly supports these messages our clients suffer even more.  So, when I process Olympic events with my clients, I make sure to focus on a new definition of “winning” and “succeeding,” and I encourage my clients to do the same in their own lives.  Let’s measure “success” by celebrating the small stuff, the attempts, the effort, the willingness to go out of their comfort zone, the healthy risk taking.  Let’s give out medals for hoping and dreaming, for courage, for finding a voice, for hanging in there, for getting back up every time they fall down, for lessons learned, for never giving up.  I know that would require a bigger podium- but let’s build that one!

Please leave a comment and share your strategy to process failure and success with your clients. 

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