Olympic Champions On Why The World Needs You To Be Yourself
One of our favorite quotes is from Oscar Wilde, who said, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” This was a common theme among Olympians who visited the Girls’ Lounge at Cannes Lions. Sure, Olympians are global celebrities; televised worldwide for being the best at what they do, but, like all of us, they also have their own internal struggles and external obstacles to overcome.
Athletes—including two-time gold medalist alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin, bronze-medalist figure skater Adam Rippon, and silver medalist freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy—are using their Olympic platforms to amplify values they personally care about, such as equality and inclusion for women and the LGBTQ community. Read on to learn how they’re remaining true to their authentic selves and using this global stage to broadcast the importance of helping all people feel like they belong—regardless of gender, race, age or sexual orientation. Here is some inspirational advice on why being yourself is so important.
Accepting Yourself Can Have A Bigger Impact
American freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy had considered coming out on a global stage at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, where “anti-LGBT legislation [was] in place,” but held back because of fear of things such as losing sponsors and friends, along with feeling like the timing wasn’t right for him personally.
However, when a brief kiss with his partner at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang was caught on camera without their knowledge, he was unaware that he was about to send a message of pride in the Olympics. The authenticity of the kiss became a catalyst for normalizing gay relationships. Gus said, “ [People watching] saw us interacting the same way that any of my straight competitors interact…the Olympics are completely internationally broadcast, so that kiss was beamed into television sets around the world.”
Gus also reflected that had he had access to seeing homosexual relationships normalized on TV growing up, “I would have felt very uplifted. And I think that it would have probably changed the course of my life. I think I would have come to terms with myself earlier. I think it would have saved myself a lot of heartache and anguish.”
Gus’ fears about losing sponsors—a main source of income—didn’t come true. In fact, his P&G sponsor, Head & Shoulders, amplified his messaging of pride in their “Shoulders of Greatness” campaign. “It was incredible to see… a lot of brands wanting to partner with me and tell my story,” said Gus. “Head & Shoulders did an amazing job recognizing that I’m a gay man… but not putting too much emphasis on it and… saying that’s a part of me…that they wanted to show. The kiss maybe didn’t get me more sponsors, but just being myself, telling my story, and living my truth did.”
Bringing Your Whole Self To Work Can Improve Your Performance
Competing in the closet impacted Gus’ performance and motivation. However, with the encouragement of his agent saying, “You can be someone to help other kids,” Gus resolved to come out in 2015. “Something switched in my mind,” he said. “I knew that I was skiing for something other than just myself…I wanted to come out and make a big impact and I wanted to do it as the number-one ranked guy in the world. Then it all changed and… the following season I had the best season of my career.”
He accredits this improvement to his honest representation of himself, and says, “I don’t think that anything changed in terms of ability or capability. I think it was just me finally sharing myself with the world and bringing myself to the mountain as a whole. It changed the way I competed and put me in the right headspace.”
Giving Yourself Permission To Be Imperfect Helps You Grow
Part of being your authentic self may be learning to talk about and even celebrate your failures. The truth is that we all fail—unless you’re not taking any risks, and that probably means you’re not growing. Learning from your failures and being transparent about them could open up new doors.
“I think no matter who we are and where we come from, we always have these moments of feeling different… and worrying about what other people think,” says figure skater Adam Rippon. “When we let go of that… and realize sometimes making a mistake and [reanalyzing the situation]… leads you to something else that’s even greater. So I think that when… we live those moments to the best of our ability, you’re giving [others] the permission to not be perfect.”
Using Your Unique Gifts May Overcome Barriers
The incredible success of American alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin did not come without perseverance. While professional skiing is a field with one of the most gender equal pays (in her words: “I actually made the most prize money out of everybody, men and women, this year”), she said, “It is a very much male dominated sport in terms of coaching, staffing…” Mikaela’s mother was one of the only female coaches on the World Cup Circuit in her time, and now Mikaela celebrates how “the US ski team has one other female coach who just two years ago set the first World Cup course that a female ever set, which was huge because every single course, every single race is set by a man.”
“We’re making progress, but you definitely deal with gender bias,” said Mikaela. “It’s like you have to scream in order to be heard; whereas men have to barely whisper.”
By finding her gift and letting it shine for others to see, Mikaela is helping to break barriers. “You just kind of do what you do and hopefully someday you’re going to be a role model to somebody. If you’re doing it well, that’s just the way it goes,” she said.
She’s continuing to spread this message by being a part of the #SeeHer campaign, a movement to increase the accurate portrayal of women and girls in media. “It’s starting with See Her and inspiring young girls because they have powerful women to look up to, but hopefully it reaches the point where powerful women inspire young boys and powerful men inspire young girls and powerful LGBTQ inspire everybody,” says Mikaela. “We’re all just getting the job done.”
The biggest takeaway? Being unapologetically yourself can drive change. “We have so much power that we’re afraid to use, and sometimes it’s our potential that scares us the most,” says Adam.
Read more inspiration here:
Adam Rippon On Love & Respect For The Sport
Olympians Who Are Changing The Game: Equality Champions
A Surprising Reason For Gender Inequality In Ads—And How To Fix It