Lessons From An Olympian: When You Fall, Get Back On The Beam

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Every night this week, I’ve screamed like a kid watching the American Olympic Team swim, dive, leap, run, and spike balls across nets. I’ve loved watching Team U.S.A. win, especially Ann Arbor’s own Michael Phelps, who, as of this writing, did the impossible and won a record-breaking goal of 8 gold medals for his swimming prowess. But I’ve loved watching our team members lose, because it’s been there that I’ve seen the greatest courage saw the greatest courage and the hardest lessons learned.

Take the case of the American women’s gymnastics team, and most particularly Alicia Sacramone. I’d already taken an interest in her simply because she attends Brown University, my old alma mater, and had been splashed across the front cover page of my latest Brown Alumni Monthly magazine. So I got all excited when her name was announced last night and it was her turn to leap onto the balance beam and do her thing. “You GO girl,” I yelled, as she strode up to the apparatus, a piece of wood four inches across and four and a half feet off the ground. “Show em how it’s done.” And she did, alright. She showed the entire viewing audience how to leap onto a small strip of hard wood, land like a shaky stork on, off balance leg, and fall unceremoniously back to the floor. The crowd gasped. I gasped. Her forehead knotted. But here’s where it got good: Darned if Alicia didn’t just pick herself up, set her jaw, leap back onto that beam and keep going all the way through the rest of her set. She didn’t kick and swear at the beam. She didn’t run off the floor, crying. She simply took a breath and got back on beam.

Wow.

That move cost her team a whopping eight tenths of point. Alicia must’ve known that as she was tumbling to the ground. But she still got back on that beam and kept on going.

Here’s my point—and it applies to facing obstacles in life as well as facing obstacles and fear as a public speaker: When you fall, get back on the beam. Really, it’s that simple, (and, yes, that difficult). When you fall, get back on the beam. Even with those nasty little voices in your head cutting your ego into ribbons. Even with your fear and your embarrassment taunting you like schoolyard bullies, so that all you want to do is run, run, run sobbing to the shelter of the nearest bathroom stall, swearing never again to make another cold call, fall in love or give another presentation. When you fall, get back on the beam. Because when you do, you lean three things:

1. You cannot be stopped unless you choose to be stopped.

2. It’s better to dust yourself off and try again than wish you had.

3. You are more resilient, determined and able than you can even imagine. Even in public, with all eyes on you.

So, Alicia Sacramone, thanks for falling, and getting back up again. You’re a champion in my eyes.