After the Breakthrough: Olympic Stars of Yesteryear

The New York Times magazine this weekend will apparently have interviews with former winter Olympics stars, discussing their memories of the games, and their lives after.  To me, this raises an interesting question. An Olympic victory is often seen as the pinnacle of a life. You have spent years working to achieve it. And then, let’s say, you do.

Now what?

What would you do after a huge career breakthrough? In fiction, the big event happens right before “The End.” But in real life, of course, you still have to get out of bed the next morning. I am always fascinated by people like Cindy Crawford or Kathy Ireland who have managed to make new careers for themselves after their original careers ended. Modeling, like athletics, comes with a limited shelf life. You can bemoan the end, or you can challenge yourself to keep working hard, keep throwing yourself into new pursuits, and perhaps achieving success there too. In 168 Hours, I tell the story of Roald Hoffmann, Nobel Prize-winning chemist, who then became a published poet. A real poet, publishing in the Paris Review and places like that. He leveraged his observation skills in chemistry (which were clearly quite good) in a different field, and found he could shine there too.

If you throw yourself into achieving a career breakthrough, working hard and believing it will happen, it just might. So while we’re working hard, it behooves us to spend at least a few minutes of our 168 hours fantasizing about what we’d like to do next, when the champagne goes flat and the confetti gets swept into the trash.

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