I recently listened to Adam Grant interview Allyson Felix on his Work Life podcast. Allyson is the most decorated American Olympic track & field athlete of all time – male or female. She participated in five Olympic games starting at age 18 in 2004 and competed for the final time in 2021 at the age of 35. To put that in perspective, she’s been an Olympian half of her life. Remarkable!
Allyson talked about the disappointment of getting the silver medal at the 2008 games in London. She’d won silver in 2004 in Athens, was the favorite in 2008 in Beijing, but came in second again, losing to the same person as four years earlier.
She now looks back on that loss as the single most defining moment of her career. She said it prepared her for success because of what she learned from the experience. Specifically, the loss caused her to focus on what she might do better in ways she might not have if she’d won gold.
As I listened to her story and growth as a result, it reminded me of energy. The law of conservation of energy states: energy cannot be created or destroyed, only converted from one form of energy to another. Winning and losing are forms of energy because each outcome generates feelings. How we convert those feelings – that energy – can determine future outcomes.
While energy cannot be destroyed, it can be lost. For example, the engine of a car doesn’t perfectly convert gasoline into energy to run the car. One way we see that is the release of exhaust from the tailpipe. If the energy from gasoline was used perfectly it would all go into the motion of the car resulting in more miles per gallon.
With that in mind, we can view events in life as energy transference. What you do with that energy will be a big determinant of how your life unfolds. Some people let disappointment discourage or ruin them while others use the same circumstances as a catalyst to forge ahead to great achievements.
Allyson lost a race in 2008 and could have stopped running. She’d already put in eight years of intense training and would need to put in another four if she wanted to pursue her dream of gold. She could have rationalized that she was getting older and her best years were behind her. After all, she would be 26 years old at the 2012 London games, not exactly young for an Olympian.
But Allyson made a different choice. She took the lessons from that disappointment in Beijing and converted that energy into a gold medal in 2012. In 2021, at the Tokyo Olympics, she won her 11th medal, bettering the decades old record of 10 by Carl Lewis. In doing so she earned the distinction as the most decorated U.S. track & field Olympian of all time.
Life will hand you energy in the form of wins and losses, achievements and failures, joy and disappointment. The question for you, for each of us, is what will each of us do with that energy?
Brian Ahearn, CPCU, CTM, CPT, CMCT
Brian Ahearn is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An author, TEDx speaker, international trainer, coach, and consultant, he’s one of only a dozen people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the science of ethical influence.
Brian’s first book, Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, was named one of the 100 Best Influence Books of All Time by BookAuthority. His second book, Persuasive Selling for Relationship Driven Insurance Agents, was an Amazon new release bestseller in several categories. His next book, The Influencer: Secrets to Success and Happiness, will be available by year-end.
Brian’s LinkedIn Learning courses on persuasive selling and coaching have been viewed by more than 400,000 people around the world.