As Biggie would have said, “It was all a dream…” for Pierre de Coubertin. The youth of the world, representing dozens of nations and all sorts of backgrounds, coming together in the spirit of competition to fulfill lifelong dreams. While he could have been dreaming about the GMAT, his project was the Olympic Games, which begin the latest installment of the Winter Olympics tonight in Vancouver. Much like the GMAT, these Olympics feature the best from around the world, all of whom have put in extensive preparation for this shot to prove to the world and to themselves that they belong, and that they can excel.
Much like the GMAT, as well, the Olympics take months of preparation and turn them in to a series of bllink-and-you’ll-miss it moments that determine one’s fate. Michael Phelps’ quest for perfection two years ago came down to a hundredth of a second; if he fails to famously take that extra stroke, he loses his shot at immortality. The potential darling of these Winter Olympics, Lindsey Vonn (labeled by some the “Phemale Phelps” for her expected medal haul), may have already seen her moment come and go, suffering a shin injury in training that may prohibit her from even making a run at a historic Olympics.
Perhaps the fates were cruelest to Dan Jansen, the holder of multiple world records in speedskating with a wealth of expectation to match, who was shut out of the medals in his first two Olympics in 1988 and 1992, and lost his first of two races in his last Olympics in 1994. Jansen, whose non-Olympic record makes him one of the greatest skaters of all-time, slipped and fell in both of his 1988 races, and in his first race of 1994 slipped enough to ruin his race in a cruel reprise of his failues of the past. Like a test-taker with near-perfect practice scores who blanks under pressure, Jansen went in to his last race frustrated, defeated, and, positively, with nothing to lose:
“I finally told myself, ‘Just don’t expect things anymore, and just go out and see what happens.'”
Perhaps because he finally took the pressure off of himself, Jansen dominated the 1,000 meter race – his last chance at Olympic glory – setting a world record in the process of finally winning a gold medal.
How does this relate to the GMAT?
As did Jansen, you’ll have multiple attempts to achieve success on the GMAT – schools, with very few exceptions, will only care about your top score. Also like Jansen, you’ll typically achieve that success when you distance yourself from the pressure of needing to excel, and instead allow yourself to just do what you already know how to do. The Olympics, like the GMAT, carry with them a lot of artificial pressure, but when broken down to the essentials – remaining aerodynamic and getting full power from each stride in skating; identifying the crucial elements of the question and carrying out your strategy on the GMAT – the tools to succeed under pressure are exactly those that allow you to be successful when the pressure is off. If you can emphasize the process of answering each question, rather than allowing yourself to be overwhelmed by the situation as a whole, you can retain that inner calm of knowing that you’ve accomplished each task dozens of times before. And if you keep in mind that delayed success can be just as rewarding as immediate glory – you can always retake the test if you need to – you may be just as relaxed your first time out as Jansen was on his last. In the end, on the GMAT as in the Olympics, having accomplished your goal is reward enough, regardless of the journey that it took to get there.