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Under Pressure -- Not Just Another Day at the Office

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As with all my blogs, my stories and tools are based on my philosophy for success: the Turtle Effect. The Turtle Effect was taught to me by my mother when I was a young girl. She told me that I could achieve anything I wanted to as long as I remembered to have a soft inside, a hard shell, and be sure to stick my neck out. The Turtle Effect helped me win my Olympic Gold Medal and it's continued to propel me to peak performances in every aspect of my life (business, relationships, fitness, health, parenting, etc.). See how I developed the confidence to handle the incredibly intense pressure of the Olympic Games. I hope this short story will inspire you on that path to "stick your own neck out" in order to reach your goals....

I was once asked what the most appropriate song would be to represent the athlete's emotions at the Olympic Games -- and the only song to pop in my head was David Bowie and Queen's song "Under Pressure". I don't think the general public realizes the burden that a young athlete has in qualifying for an event that comes once every four years. Meeting the expectations of a world of encouraging spectators with hopes of your bringing home a shiny medal for the US that means more than the lifetime of work put into it.

Qualifying for a spot on the illustrious Olympic team can be as nerve-wracking as the Olympic competition itself. Often times, hundreds and thousands of American athletes are fighting for the 3-4 spots delegated to each Olympic discipline -- and many a friendship has been lost in the process. To make matters worse, the selection procedure can be drawn out until a few days before the athletes are to walk into the Opening Ceremonies. So much energy is expended on qualifying for the Games that many athletes are burnt-out by the time the actual Olympic competition rolls around!

Since the Olympics only come every four years, many sports are receiving vastly more attention than they do in their everyday competitions. The athletes are suddenly thrust into a media world that can be quite foreign. Actors and Actresses might not like the paparazzi, but at least they are used to reporters following them into grocery stores or catching them as they leave the restrooms. Athletes suddenly realize that "bringing home the Gold" is not only their hope, but their country's expectation as well.

I remember the day of my Aerial Skiing Olympic finals in 1998 vividly. I arrived at the hill to encouraging screams of "We're counting on you, Nikki" and "If you can't bring home the Gold, than no one can". Now, of course, this was inspiring, but it also provoked feelings that if I didn't perform well, then I'd be letting down all the fans, and the entire United States. Everywhere I turned, there was a camera less than 12 inches from my face. Suddenly, the winds picked up and I wondered if I'd turn into a kite as I launched myself off the jumps flipping and twisting 50 feet in the air. The wind was still gusting in pre-competition training, but we couldn't push back the competition, as there was a world waiting to see LIVE coverage of the event.

As I took my place for my first competitive jump, I looked down the hill to see a camera pivot in front of the jumps on a giant swinging boom. All the time, I'd been trying to quash the thoughts of appearances on David Letterman, Jay Leno and the Today Show, hometown parades, worldwide endorsements, and even more if I'm successful.

I was in the air for a mere 3 seconds for each of my jumps. If one millisecond was off just a hair, it would be bye-bye Olympic medal. And to add to the pressure, because of the headwinds, my speed tests prior to my competition jumps were too slow to enable me to perform my maneuvers.

So how did I handle the pressure? I had to remind myself that the hay was already in the barn. I had already put in the work and at that point, all I could do was try my best. I had anticipated that there could be bad weather when I got to the Olympics, so I had to pretend that every day WAS the Olympics. That way, I would be prepared for any eventuality when I got the Games. The preparations gave me the confidence to know that I could handle any situation. The weather, or paparazzi or spectators could not convince me otherwise.

It's crucial to not only have a game plan. And not only have a Plan B, C, and D. We all need the practice these game plans. Plan D could be just as important as Plan A, and if we don't have experience dealing with it, the pressure is going to blow us over worse than a gust of wind.

Having the practiced plans doesn't mean we don't feel the nerves. Whether in a board meeting, trying to win over a big client, being confronted with an enticing chocolate cake when you're on a diet, sending your child off to college or standing at the top of an Olympic run, we all have fears. I bit my nails down to the nubs competing in the Olympic Games. But I DID know that I was capable of winning that shiny medal because I did everything I could to prepare. I had faith that I could now stick my neck out.

And that shiny gold medal that means much more than the lifetime of work put into it now sits in a red, velvet bag in MY house. I'm so glad that I didn't shrink from those pressures but, instead, embraced them head on. It was worth every bead of sweat.

I know personally, from both successful and tragic Olympic experiences, that once the Games are over, no matter what the outcome, there's always a feeling of being able to exhale after you've held your breathe for eight months. So if NBC produces a video with a montage of Olympic athletes, set to the song "Under Pressure", you may now understand the significance.

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