Powerful Lessons I've Learned from Life in the Olympic World

Twenty years ago, when I started working for an Olympic Sport, I knew, in theory, what I was getting into.  My boss explained it to me in broad strokes…really broad.  I soon learned that he’d played down the intensity of several aspects of my work and that I really should have asked many more questions during our interview!

I started my new job knowing absolutely nothing about the sport I would be translating about, so I started making vocabulary lists faster than you can say “dry firing rules”.  I had done a lot of medical translations in the past and I understood those made more sense to me at that point. 

The travel began almost immediately and, aside from interpreting for my boss, I really had no idea what was expected of me.  I had broached the subject but he had just said, “Stick close to me.  It’ll be fine, don’t worry about it.”

First stop, Lausanne, Switzerland, the Olympic Capital

Of course, I had booked hotel rooms at the official Olympic hotel, the Lausanne Palace, and had handled correspondence between my boss and the President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).  I wasn’t traveling blind,  just short-sighted...and without any glasses, so to speak. 

Lausanne is a beautiful little city a 1-hour drive from Geneva. Its hilly, cobbled streets are quaint, even if they're hard on the knees. You wouldn't know the Olympics are headquartered here if it weren't for the Olympic rings atop the train station. However, I only noticed this is passing, through a car window, with my stomach in knots, anxious and uncertain.

The thing is, I've always been a planner. I LOVE a nice personal planner with cute pages and lots of calendars. If I’m going to translate or interpret, I like to know the subject matter before I start. When a planner isn't told ANYTHING about what is expected of her in a job...well...panic ensues. For example, I had no idea I had to book cars until my boss said, "Grace, did you book the car?" The car? What car?! Heart rate increases, adrenaline shoots up and I feel a panic attack coming on. It turns out it took about a year for me to get into a nice smooth work rhythm with my boss and to learn how to anticipate his needs.

If only I’d had Alvaro’s advice before my first trip to Sydney, I would have enjoyed this view from my hotel room window a lot more.

If only I’d had Alvaro’s advice before my first trip to Sydney, I would have enjoyed this view from my hotel room window a lot more.

The Sydney 2000 pre-Olympic test event for our sport took place within that year of learning. Every Olympic sport organizes an international event to test their Olympic venue, make sure the local staff knows how to run the competitions correctly, etc. A pre-Olympic event is not the ideal testing ground for a brand new Executive Administrative Assistant / Translator / Interpreter for a major Olympic sport.

Fast forward three weeks, back home. I had coffee with my good friend Alvaro, who's the chillest person I've ever met. I told him how inadequate I'd felt on that trip, how disappointed my boss must be, blah, blah. Alvaro has always been a straight shooter and he told me a few truths about life and work. And then he said something I haven't forgotten in the 20 years I've worked in the Olympic Movement: "Grace, you've got to loosen up. You need to learn to be more flexible, don't plan so much. Instead of worrying about what's going to happen, solve whatever comes up, WHEN it comes up, not before. When you're feeling stressed, look around and enjoy the view, look at the beautiful things you're missing and enjoy those little moments." That was the most Buddhist advice I'd received from anyone and it's given me a great deal of solace in stressful times.


This is the new me, a few months ago. Sitting at Frankfurt airport enjoying my favorite yogurt in the world from Meyer Deli. Not planning, not scheduling. Just chillin’.

This is the new me, a few months ago. Sitting at Frankfurt airport enjoying my favorite yogurt in the world from Meyer Deli. Not planning, not scheduling. Just chillin’.

I'm not going to tell you that everything changed from that moment on. When something is part of your personality, it's very hard to change it. I haven't stopped planning, making calendars and schedules. But when things start getting overwhelming, I think of Alvaro, look around me more often and try to appreciate the beauty of a place amid the stress.

Nowadays, the stress of meetings, notes, to-do lists (yes, I make those too) and working out of a hotel room is much more manageable. When my boss watches competitions, I enjoy meeting up with good friends I haven't seen in weeks or even months. I love seeing friendly faces smile at me as we walk around the range and greet athletes and officials. I take a moment to notice that I am sitting at a work dinner with friends, interpreting (it IS a work dinner after all) but also laughing and joking and try to forget that it's almost midnight and I'm only going to get 5 hours of sleep by the time we get back to the hotel.

Gracias, Alvaro, for your friendship and your advice!