Sometimes I feel bombarded by the negative images of women who look like me, especially on reality television. But two weeks of Olympics coverage was like a breath of fresh air – a reality show of its own, complete with a cast of talented, beautiful, triumphant African-American women. In a world where images of us on television are disproportionately angry, obnoxious or hypersexual, we saw just the opposite. Just watching Gabby Douglas or Allyson Felix smile makes me want to flash a smile of my own. When it comes to images of African-American women at the 2012 Olympic Games, there is plenty to celebrate – and learn from.
You couldn’t help but notice the graciousness, intelligence, faith and sheer resilience during post-win interviews with champs such as Sanya Richards-Ross, Carmelita Jeter, Serena Williams, Gabrielle Douglas, Allyson Felix, and others like them. What do these amazing women have to teach us? As a life coach, I’m always gleaning lessons to put to good use. Here are a few things these women can teach just through observation. Maybe you can use them to inspire you in your own life:
1. Blow off the haters.
Not everybody is going to celebrate your wins. Or appreciate that when you work hard, you sweat. And a black woman sweating is going to have a few hairs out of place. Sixteen-year old Gabby Douglas didn’t mince words with her critics. Her bottom line: Get over it. “Nothing is going to change,” she told the Associated Press. “I’m going to wear my hair like this during beam and bar finals. You might as well just stop talking about it.” Now, that’s a teenager who knows what matters. If you pursue anything worth having, expect criticism – and know when to blow it off.
2. Believe you can do it.
The most successful women don’t internalize defeat. Instead, they study it. They figure out what to do differently next time. They persevere, and ultimately – finally, they get their prize. Allyson Felix knows this firsthand. At 18 and 22, she won silver medals at the Olympics. But with laser focus and perseverance, this time she became the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field since FloJo in 1988. She told USA Today, “I embrace the defeats because that’s what pushed me all those years. It makes tonight very, very sweet.” And four years after a shocking singles defeat at the 2008 Olympics, this time Serena Williams won the most lopsided women’s final match in Olympic history. How about you? What personal or professional defeat can you learn from and turn into a win?
3. Get your mind right.
After making history winning the gymnastics all-around competition, Douglas pointed to a key strategy: Learning to stay focused and not doubting her ability to win. Sure, the positive images of African-American women at this year’s Olympics at first glance seem to be only about their talent, intelligence and good looks. But dig deeper, and it is obvious that what we see on the outside alone isn’t what makes them champions. Their external qualities help, no doubt. But winning, whether at the Olympics or in life, is about what you are made of on the inside. It is about thinking differently than the average person. Finding your passion. Using your gift. And bouncing back from disappointment.
Get your mind right and everything else follows.
Valorie Burton is the bestselling author of eight books, including ‘Successful Women Think Differently,’ a columnist for Ebony Magazine and founder of the Coaching and Positive Psychology Institute. Visit her at www.valorieburton.com.