Surprising Business + Life Advice From An Olympian

Want some advice from a three-time Olympian? Her compassionate, sane insights apply to business, life, and the expectations we set for ourselves. Click through to see want the most medaled American rower has to say >>
In case you were wondering, no one has ever asked me “Sarah, how’d you get so wise?”

(And with Instagram photos like this, I’m not sure anyone’s going to be asking me anytime soon.)

But if someone were to ask me, I’ve got an answer ready. I will steeple my fingertips, take a deep breath while staring into the middle distance, and then I’ll murmur:

“I steal my wisdom from other people.”

One of the benefits to interviewing hundreds of people is that eventually, some of their wisdom will rub off on you. And if you’re a greedy wisdom-hoarder like me, you can make this more likely by straight up asking every single interviewee “What have you learned from this that any of us could apply to our daily lives?”

It was this exact question that lead to one of my new favorite business insights … and it’s from a surprising source.

Caryn Davies is a three-time Olympian. She’s won more medals than any other American oarswoman. She’s 6’4”, a graduate of Harvard’s law school AND a graduate of Oxford’s MBA program. If she wasn’t so nice (and wise) I’d probably hate her. She was kind enough to let me interview her for True Story and as we were wrapping up our interview, I asked her what we plebeians (um, my words) could learn from her Olympic experience.

You don’t have to put in your best performance every day, you just have to beat your average. Click To Tweet

If you consistently aim to beat your average you’ll consistently get better. It’s quite a lot of pressure to put on yourself to perform at your peak every day. Have a little self-compassion; you’re just aiming to consistently get better. You don’t have to be amazing all the time.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m guilty of setting some pretty ridiculous goals for myself. I hope that every reader will love every post. I want every launch to be wildly successful. I want everything ever to be a smooth road of good, better, best fading off into the overachiever sunset.

Not surprisingly, this mentality leads to exhaustion and watered-down work.

So I’m taking Caryn’s advice. Instead of hoping for a six-figure product launch (and being devastated when that doesn’t happen) I’m aiming to make slightly more than I did last time. Instead of being disappointed when my funny tweet doesn’t break the internet, I’ll hope that it gets seven ‘favorites’ instead of six. I’ll aim for one more blog sponsor each month and a few more comments than usual on each post.

My new goal? To be slightly amazing, most of the time.

Do you set unrealistic goals for yourself? If you do, how has that worked out for you? If you’ve recovered from burnout, I’d love to hear your story and tips in the comments!

photo credits: nydailynews //



Sometimes the best advice is so simple! And exactly what I need to be reminded of! Thank you.

Andréa Jones

I love this! I feel like we put SO MUCH pressure on ourselves to always be awesome. I’m totally aiming for being slightly amazing most of the time from now on. Great advice 🙂

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Thanks for this Sarah! This is something I struggle with daily, and so it’s nice to have someone reflect my own advice back at me to help me remember…


Thanks for sharing our little secret. I’ve benn skimming wisdom for years…it’s my ongoing schooling and I am amazed by the sources as well. Whether it is solid advice from a Phd or awesome and insightful comments of a child, every tidbit adds to my wisdom bucket.

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