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How Olympians at Google handle hurdles at work

Clockwise, from top left: Kate Johnson, 2004 Olympics; Timothy Goebel, 2002 Olympics; Aleksandra Jarmolińska, 2020-2021 Olympics; Natalie Dell O’Brien, 2012 Olympics; Petri Kokko, 1994 Olympics; Matt Brittin, 1988 Olympics

Professional athletes are resilience experts. They’re constantly pushing their minds and bodies to new limits, all while staying motivated to reach their goals and tackle new challenges. If you don’t believe me, ask Matt Brittin. Matt is Google’s President of EMEA Business and Operations — as well as a former Olympian. Matt competed in the 1988 Olympics on the U.K. men’s rowing team, and he’s tapped into what got him to that stage in this last year. “We’re in a state of long term uncertainty and building resilience takes knowing yourself well and takes time,” he says. “It’s all about how you manage your energy and approach the unknown.”

As this year’s games come to a close, we asked Matt and several of other former Olympian Googlers to share how their experiences helped them in the workplace. 

Petri Kokko – Country Sales Director of Brands, former Olympic figure skater

“Giving your maximum doesn’t help you achieve optimal results, but working optimally will help you achieve your maximum effort,” says Petri, who represented Finland in figure skating at the 1992 and 1994 Olympics. “And often people, especially motivated people, think that the more they work the more they achieve and that’s not the case. We’re not trying to achieve our best tomorrow, we’re trying to develop ourselves over the years.” 

Petri falls back on his training to find a healthy work-life balance. He builds variation into his calendar, making sure some days and weeks are lighter, so he doesn’t burn out and can give his best over the long term. As an Olympic athlete, Petri learned the value of rest and recovery to avoid injuries and to deal with stress. At Google, mental health and wellbeing are highly valued, and these resources were expanded over the last year. 

Aleksandra Jarmolińska – Cloud Software Engineer, former Olympic sports shooter

Calling Aleksandra a “former” Olympian is nearly a misnomer — she just competed in this year’s games in Tokyo, as well as back in 2016. “I interviewed for my role at Google during the same month that I qualified for the Tokyo Games,” she says. Fresh off her competition, she says  an important lesson she’s learned in her athletic career that translates to work is to keep trying. “This may be a bit of a cliche, but I always appreciated Samuel Beckett’s philosophy of: ‘Try. Fail. Persist. Fail better.’”

In sports shooting, she explains, you can’t necessarily succeed with athleticism, you need to step back, clear your head and adapt. “This applies to lots of things — programming included,” Aleksandra says. “I cannot count the times I’ve started from scratch on some feature I worked on.”

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