Could someone go from never having worn ice skates to winning an Olympic gold medal in ice skating six years later?
Before this Olympics, I would have said that was impossible!
Asked what fueled her Olympic dream, gold medalist speed skater Erin Jackson, said “I want to inspire the next generation of speed skaters.”
The champion of the women's 500 m sprint, the first black woman to win a speed skating gold medal, and winner of the first US gold medal in this event in 28 years, only started ice skating in 2016! That's right, six years from her first steps to an Olympic gold medal!
Before that, she'd been an inline skater (that's on rollerblades), but there is no inline skating in the Olympics.
And she almost didn’t make it to Beijing. She’d slipped at the Olympic trials and failed to qualify, only making the roster because fellow skater Brittany Bowe gave up her spot.
Her story is a lesson in fueling your meteoric rise by transferring skills from your old area of excellence to your new focus.
Fired from the job you thought was your dream? Had to change fields due to unexpected health challenges (moi)? Discovered you're not competitive the way you wanted to be and contemplating a move?
Don't assume you'll be starting from ground zero.
If Erin Jackson can go from never having stepped on the ice to winning an Olympic gold medal in six years, there's no need for you to think of yourself as a rank beginner even if part of your brain is telling you that you don't have the experience, resume, or chops to consider yourself an expert.
Obviously, Jackson had a few assets that fueled her meteoric success so soon after her transition.
Her success at the top of in-line competitive skating involved competitive fire, peak athletic condition, even similar muscle groups.
So in your transition, what specific skill sets from your old field will transfer? It may be obvious if your fields are similar, like inline skating and speed skating.
But even if the overlap isn't quite as significant, there are likely many commonalities.
If Jackson had picked a non-athletic endeavor, she could still have used her knowledge of how to train, ability to get her mind into peak focus, her understanding of success strategy or competitive psyche. (It turns out that her hobby is actually higher education. She's accumulated multiple degrees.)
But it's also important to understand the new skills your transition will demand. If Jackson had switched to piano playing, she might need training to sit still for longer periods of time or develop new (smaller) muscle groups.
Leverage skills from your old mastery to sustain new efforts that might be challenging, difficult, uncomfortable, or just take a while to get the hang of. Your new life stage, career, relationship, or even a hobby is worth buckling up for.
Currently, I'm contemplating how to leverage my old tutoring skills without getting drawn into the same pattern of hours of one-on-one coaching. I really want more personal time to develop my own ideas to present to groups, empowering people to craft their own transformation so I’m not an expertise bottleneck.
I haven’t worked with groups for the last 25 years, so I find myself feeling like that gawky colt, stretching out on newborn legs and learning to walk in a whole new way.
But that doesn't mean I'm a 100% beginner! Working for Princeton 25 years ago, I did give group presentations, and my material - the process of transformation, finding yourself spiritually, healing from trauma - I have 25 years of experience helping myself and others with.
So, if your new endeavor aligns closely with your old areas of expertise, you may find yourself at the top of your new field in a relatively short period of time.
But if it's not, you might benefit from making a side by side list:
On the left, old skills to harness for your new endeavor, things you've done at work, hobby-related to activities. Reach back to your early work history or even childhood activities to see what you’ve already gotten good at - even if it’s been awhile.
On the right, brand new areas to target your study, practice, or search for mentorship as you learn fresh skills to support your new goals.
It's part of growth, that process of reaching for new mastery, even at advanced age (and no, don't tell me that you're too old a dog to learn a few new tricks!)
But don't decide that just because this is a new life-stage, hobby, or career, that you must think of yourself as starting at ground zero.
You don't have to keep quiet in meetings while the older, more experienced heads are talking or believethat other people who've been in this business longer know better than you about every single thing.
While making allowances for learning through experience, mistakes, and on-the-job training, decide you can still be a competent worker from the get-go. You are intelligent and creative. Doubtless, you've developed many skills that have brought you this far.
Do some creative thinking about how you can leverage those old mastery areas to jump start your new area of interest.
Let me know in the comments what you're working on, and how you see your old skills giving you a leg up on your new mastery.
And if you've enjoyed this article, check out another 2022 Olympic PepTalk about nurturing yourself by valuing progress over achievement.