The Olympics Are Your Reminder to Just. Start.
February 11, 2018
My favorite thing to do during the Olympic Games: Think about the athletes when they first took a stab at their sport—the first time they strapped on their skis, laced up their skates, grabbed that broom-looking thing you use in curling. It’s a pivotal moment when they could have stopped in fear of something new and unknown. In fear of what could happen when they pushed off the chairlift and let gravity take them. But they didn’t.
The Olympics wouldn’t exist without the courage to try something new. That’s why I like to think of the Olympic Games as a celebration of people who started and pushed past their “I’ve never done this before” nerves—a type of fear that can hold so many of us back.
Have New Fear
Whether it’s a new sport, a new project at work, or even a new type of food, we can often feel uneasy diving into newness—it’s a trip into the uncertain, and we don’t know what will happen, good or bad. And for us creatures of comfort, that can be unnerving.
Research shows we’re more afraid of an unknown outcome than a known bad outcome. Think of it like this: Our first time at the top of a ski hill, we’d rather have someone tell us “You’re going to ski down this hill and totally eat it” than just not know what will happen when we go down the hill—even if it’s going to be something good.
We’re more afraid of an unknown outcome than a known bad outcome.
And resistance to trying something new is a sneaky form of self-sabotage.
“One of the most common experiences in life is feeling uneasy about a situation, and the most common reaction to anxiety is to avoid the situation,” Edward Selby, Ph.D., writes in Psychology Today. “This avoidance is self-sabotage. Think about it, have you ever walked away from an important goal because it was just too hard to face your fears? I know I have.”
Old Dog, New Tricks
There’s also the pressure of trying something new as an adult. When we’re adults, trying new things can feel so much harder. We even have a saying to make sure we don’t forget it: “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” And, yes, the Olympic coverage sometimes reinforces that idea. We see footage of athletes training in their toddler years, a time when the barrier to try something new seems a lot less intense.
But let’s talk about speedskater Erin Jackson.
The 25-year-old is competing in her first Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang—and she just started skating on ice in 2016. Before then, all her skating took place off the ice, as a pro inline skater. Try taking the thing you know how to do really well—but trying to do it on ice. Do you think Jackson felt a little fear? You bet she did.
Erin Jackson is competing in her first Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang—and she just started skating on ice in 2016.
“I was pretty scared of crashing,” Jackson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about her first time on ice. “It was totally foreign. It’s a completely different feeling from being on inlines, and it was just kind of hard for me to wrap my head around that because I’ve been skating my whole life.”
Now, two years later and after only four months of intense training, she’s taking to the ice for Team USA.
Also: Remember the shirtless Tongan flagbearer from the Rio Summer Olympics opening ceremony? (Here's a pic to jog your memory.) After competing as the first Tongan taekwondo athlete in Rio, 34-year-old Pita Taufatofua decided to take up cross-country skiing in December 2016 to try and make it to the Winter Games. He qualified, and he's now the first cross-country skiier to ever compete for the island nation.
And it's not just athletes who prove you can start something new, regardless of your age.
J.K. Rowling published her first book at age 32.
Julia Child didn’t start cooking seriously until age 36.
Director Ava DuVernay didn’t pick up a camera until age 33.
The idea that you can’t start something new later in life is a fallacy—it’s never too late to start, and fail, and keep trying and getting better. All it takes is pushing past your initial fear.
The idea that you can’t start something new later in life is a fallacy.
What Are You Scared to Start?
So, my question to you: What’s your speedskating? What's your cooking? What's your creative writing? What’s that thing you want to do or have an itch to do, but you’re scared to start? Maybe it’s taking on a new project at work. Or, diving into a tough conversation with a partner or a friend. Or, maybe it’s even that task on your to-do list you’ve been avoiding because you’re not sure if you can tackle it. Or, hey, maybe it is speedskating.
There’s only one tip to take away from this article—no need for a numbered list. And here it is: Just start.
You can start small—maybe it’s reading about the art of figure skating or watching cooking shows to prep for making your own meals. Or, you can start big—sign up for that intro skating class for adults, or try to go all Julia Child next time you cook.
What will happen when you start is uncertain, but it’s 100% certain what will happen if you don’t: You’ll never know what could have been. And you’ll miss out on a new opportunity to grow, to potentially find something new you enjoy, and to prove to yourself that you have the courage to dive into newness, regardless of the outcome.
What will happen when you start is uncertain, but it’s 100% certain what will happen if you don’t: You’ll never know what could have been.
As you sit in awe of the skill and talent of the Olympians, tap into their courage to start. None of them knew what would or could happen—and look at them now.
Read next: 5 Ways to Handle Uncertainty