By DeVry University
- Elana Meyers Taylor, US Olympian
- Remberto Del Real, DeVry University Chief Marketing Officer
Reaching your goals often requires a steady balance of focus, resilience and dedication. See how U.S. Olympian Elana Meyers Taylor leveraged these qualities and more to achieve her dreams in this Future-Ready Skills session. Hear her thoughts on the power of being adaptable, the value of regular self-assessment and why being fearless isn't as scary as it may sound.
Remberto Del Real: Thank you, Lisa, and hello everyone out there. I'm Remberto Del Real, Chief Marketing Officer for DeVry University. I have the privilege to spend the next hour with you and our very special closing keynote speaker, three-time U.S. Olympic medalist, Elana Meyers Taylor.
One of the Most Decorated U.S. Olympic Bobsledders in History
Remberto Del Real: Just listen to this impressive list of her accomplishments:
She's tied for the title of the United States' most decorated Olympic bobsledder in history.
- She has an Olympic bronze as a brakeman in 2010.
- She has two Olympic silvers as a driver in 2014 and 2018.
- She has two world championship golds in 2015 and 2017.
- Her World Cup experience is highlighted by 45 medals.
- The fact that after fighting for women's inclusion, she became the first woman to compete in the four-person bobsled in 2014. That is awesome.
- On the personal side, she married coach and fellow bobsledder Nick Taylor in April 2014.
- She's also a new mom with a son who was born earlier this year.
- Last, but certainly not least, she's a graduate of DeVry's Keller Graduate School of Management.
Elana Meyers Taylor: Hi, Rem. Thanks for having me, and thanks to all you guys for tuning in.
Breaking into the Sport
Remberto Del Real: Yeah. And, everybody, before we get started, just a reminder to please enter your questions for Elana in the chat and we'll answer as many as we can later in the hour. All right, Elana. So, let's jump in. I have to start with the question that I know is on everybody's mind: how did you get into bobsledding?
Elana Meyers Taylor: Yeah, that's a very good question because everybody gets into bobsled completely different. It's not typically a sport people grow up doing, so you kind of get into it after college or maybe after high school. I grew up in the state of Georgia, which is absolutely not a cold weather sport state. And I grew up playing a lot of different sports: softball, basketball, track and field. You name it, I played it. Then I went to college with the intention of playing softball, but also with the intention of going and playing it in the Olympics.
However, I finally had an Olympic tryout in softball, and it went completely horribly. It was a disaster. And when I say it was the worst tryout in the history of tryouts, I'm not exaggerating at all. It was so bad. So, I knew I wasn't going to make the Olympic softball team. And then softball actually got taken out of the games and so I needed a new sport if I was going to reach this lifelong goal of being an Olympian. And it was actually my parents who saw bobsled on TV and said, "Hey, they're looking for fast and strong and powerful people. Why don't you try this?" And I said, "Sure, why not?" I Googled it and emailed the coach, and got invited to a tryout in Lake Placid, New York.
Remberto Del Real: That's so cool. You basically did a cold email to do outreach and that launched you into this epic bobsledding career. Did you find that you had to overcome any fear or self-doubt when you got started in the new sport?
Elana Meyers Taylor: Oh, definitely. When I started bobsled – first, whoever starts bobsled – you have no idea what you're doing. I mean, I've seen Cool Runnings, I think a lot of people have – but it's not like Cool Runnings at all. So, I had no idea what I was getting into.
When I went up to start bobsled, I didn't even own a winter coat. That's how naïve I was. So, I had no idea what I was getting into. I don't think I talked for the first couple of months to anybody, because I was just taking it all in, trying to figure it out.
And also, having that failure of not making the Olympic softball team, I had pressure on myself to say, "Hey, this is my last chance. I need to figure this out." So I was working really hard to figure it out and, of course, there were a lot of challenges behind it. Softball is not the same as bobsled at all. So just figuring out how to push a 400-pound sled as fast as I could and hop in was just a whole new world to me.
The Value of Focus and Dedication
Remberto Del Real: And what did you take away or kind of carry forward from? You know you obviously completed at an elite level in softball and you had to translate that. You had to re-skill or up-skill and learn different skills. What did you take from your experience before, and apply to this new skill that you learned?
Elana Meyers Taylor: So, I think the biggest thing to realize is, yes, softball and bobsled, looking at the two sports don't seem like they have much in common. But from a mental aspect, there's a lot you can take. In softball, for example, you are getting in the batter's box and staring down a pitcher that's coming at you 70 miles per hour. You have to have a lot of mental skills to be able to adjust and adapt, and to know hey, the first pitch might be a fastball. The second pitch might be a drop ball. The third pitch might be a rise ball. You have to constantly adapt and think on your toes.
Well, it's the same in bobsled. When I'm now driving a sled, I have to adapt to each curve. Each curve in the world is completely different. Each track in the world is completely different, and I have to adapt. But also, commonalities between one sport and another is you have to work really hard and be dedicated and determined in order to be successful. So, my experience of working hard to achieve my goals in softball translated directly to working hard to achieve my goals in bobsled.
Preparing for the Olympics
Remberto Del Real: As you trained for the Olympics, and, you know, as you prepared for the Olympics and you participated in it, how do you prepare? What are the things that you go through to get yourself ready?
Elana Meyers Taylor: There's always the physical aspect. Yes, you have to be as fast and strong as possible. Training every day, running and lifting. We trained anywhere from four to six hours every single day, six days a week, to get the physical aspect. But making the Olympic team and winning the Olympic medal is so much more than that. I think it was... I actually can't remember right now who said it, but these sports are 90% mental. And it's really true.
There's so much mental work that goes into it. First, you have to make sure you're confident. Confidence is one thing that you build time after time after having successful attempts, or even after having not successful attempts and learning from it. That's how you actually build that confidence. Mental aspects like that. And knowing that you can do it. Going after it, and not being afraid to just take that leap forward and try something new.
And that's the thing with bobsled. From a day to day basis, I'm driving a sled that goes 90 miles per hour. However, in order to find the fastest line, I have to be willing to try something new. Knowing I could end up crashing, and yes, crashes happen. They're not fun at all. I've been in my fair share of them. They're pretty terrifying. They happen though, and sometimes they happen because you have to be willing to go out there and take risks and try something new to reach your goal.
Returning to School
Remberto Del Real: That's great. I like the idea that there's going to be some things that happen, you don't really know. You've got to try. You've got to put yourself out there. How have you translated that to other areas of your life as you think about, you know, I know you’re pursuing some things post-sports? You made the decision while you were an athlete to go back to school. How have you taken that, kind of putting yourself out there, putting yourself out of your comfort zone and that mentality, into other pursuits outside of the sport that you’ve had?
Elana Meyers Taylor: Yeah, I think that's the biggest thing, is being willing to put yourself outside of your comfort zone and knowing that great things can come from that.
I mean I guess the biggest example I can think of right now is actually parenting. This is my first son. I have no idea what I'm doing, but I – of course – the joy that comes with being a parent was something that I was eager to experience, but it is definitely outside my comfort zone.
So, it's been a great experience so far. My son is only four months and we've been having a blast. But it's definitely something, as any of you who are parents know, that puts you outside of your comfort zone. That constantly causes you to learn and adapt, and to plan in all different ways that you never knew were possible. So, I think the biggest thing is knowing that that reach outside of your comfort zone, there are some really great things that happen. And I'm going to continue to push the boundaries. But at the end of the day, I know it all starts with the first step. It all starts with taking a step outside of your comfort zone. As scary as that may be, being willing to take that step, and then seeing what the possibilities are.
A Focus on Continuous Improvement
Remberto Del Real: Yeah, I know, that's great. I have three kids, eight, six and three. I wouldn't say it necessarily gets easier. You just get a lot more comfortable with not being in control. But I do like, you know, the whole idea about you've got to take that first step. You've got to build on what you know. But as you do that and you start to get some of that experience, how do you assess performance? You know, how do you look for those improvements? Because as you started to become a bobsledder, you know, you started to do your reps on the track – how do you continue to do that? You did the same thing in school. How do you build on the successes and the learnings that you have as you go through?
Elana Meyers Taylor: Yeah, I think the biggest thing is first to recognize that every day is not going to be sunshine and rainbows. And you're not going to be "successful," whatever you define that as, every single day. There's going to be ups and downs. Any journey you're taking, there's going to be ebbs and flows and it's not always going to go perfectly according to plan. But the biggest thing I try and keep in mind is setting short-term goals that allow me to get to longer-term goals.
So, when I am setting out, for instance, let's say the long-term goal is to win an Olympic medal. So, I know that in order to win an Olympic medal, my driving skill has to be really of high caliber. So, what I will do is set smaller-term goals. Ok. There's different types of curves in the world. One type of curve is called a kreisel. A kreisel is a 360 degree turn, a complete circle, and in order to improve my driving skills I have to know how to execute these types of curves really well.
So, one of my short-term goals will be to execute this kreisel really well. And I know it will help my long-term goal as to winning an Olympic medal. If I sit there and it think about just winning an Olympic medal, it tends to be too large, too looming. But if I can break it down into shorter-term goals, it really helps from a day to day perspective. And it helps me keep progress on how I'm working towards my goal.
So, the key when I step to the line of the Olympics isn't going to be, hey, I am going after this medal, I am definitely 100% know I'm going to execute this track. The key is looking at all of the short-term goals that I've reached in the past, and all the lessons I've learned, and knowing I've done everything I can to prepare myself for this Olympic moment.
Staying Motivated in Difficult Situations
Remberto Del Real: I think that's great. Breaking the goal into those bite sized chunks, and you build on that over time. Can you talk a little bit about, you know, if your goal is to win the medal, is there anything that can derail you? And I'm sure there's plenty of things. And if that happens, how do you refocus and keep yourself motivated?
Elana Meyers Taylor: So, just a prime example: going into the 2018 Olympics I was in the best shape of my life. Everything was going so smooth. I had great equipment, a great brakeman – which is the person behind me – everything was going according to plan. And then a week before the Olympics I tore my Achilles tendon. So, I literally got off the plane in South Korea and they had to wheel me in a wheelchair off. So, talk about a derailment. I had no idea how I was going to make this work, but I was determined to make it work.
And that's where I think part of any type of strategy involved includes having a really good team around you. Whether it's your friends, your family. These are the types of people who you can bounce ideas off with, and really come to plans with. In that particular case, I sat down with my husband who is also a coach and a bobsledder, with my personal coaches, with my teammates and we really worked to develop a plan that would allow me to perform as well as I can.
And what that meant is, the very first day of the Olympics when we're just practicing, instead of pushing and jumping into the sled I'm just sitting in the sled. That is very slow. It's not efficient, but it allowed me to still get the reps driving without putting more pressure on my Achilles. So, we had to be creative in doing different things to make sure I was as best as I could be on the day of competition. And sometimes that's how life goes. Things don't always go according to plan but I really like being able to bounce ideas off my friends and family, and use that supportive team around me to help me refigure and come up with a plan. And plus, when you do go after that goal, your team will feel like they're a part of it. They'll feel like they're there with you, and you'll feel that too, which will give you that much more confidence going into that, that mission.
Knowing When to Pivot
Remberto Del Real: I really like that, the idea that you brought up about, it's a team. You've got the support system. Even getting into the bobsledding, for you, I know your parents played a pivotal role. Can you talk a little bit, one of the things that you touched on was, you're going to have some setbacks and you need to pivot, right? Because life doesn't always go as smoothly as it can. How would you – can you relate that to a lot of the folks who are watching today, and people are thinking about they're in a career and maybe it's not working the way they want. They need to upskill, reskill. What is some advice you can give to people when they reach that point to say, "Okay, you've got to think about it differently and you want to pivot." And then how do they engage their network to help them with that?
Elana Meyers Taylor: So, I think one of the biggest things is recognizing your success thus far. You've been successful in the career that you've had and it's going to be scary to pivot to a new career. But if you really feel passion in your heart, that's it's the right step, trust that instinct. It is the right step. It's time for you to take that first step. It all starts with that first step.
For myself, an example, one of the reasons that led me to DeVry is I studied sports management at my previous school. But I went and was trying to look for jobs more into sports and realized that I didn't have a great understanding of how the money really worked.
I didn't really feel like spending another two to three years in school but I knew in order to get where I eventually wanted to go from a professional standpoint, I needed more schooling. I needed more education. And that's what actually led me to DeVry and the MBA program and I studied finance to really be able to understand the numbers. Yes, it was scary. I didn't have that strong of a finance background, but it all started with that first step.
And that’s where any goal starts. That's where any pivot starts. It starts with that first step. Making some plans and going after it. And just recognizing that, as I mentioned earlier, there's going to be ebbs and flows, but you've been successful thus far. It's something that you definitely can handle.
Tips for Building Your Confidence
Remberto Del Real: Sounds great. So, we're getting some questions in the chat. I'll take some of them here. So, one of the questions is, some people appear to be very confident and others not. What advice or tips can you give someone to help build and display their confidence?
Elana Meyers Taylor: You know, people like to say, "Fake it till you make it." I am personally not a fan of that phrase. I think everybody has reasons to be confident and it's more so about finding your reasons to be confident. My personal confidence in driving a bobsled, in working in various organizations, things like that, comes from the work I've done leading up to it. It doesn't come from knowing that, yes, I'm the best person for the job. I don't know if you're ever going to really feel that way. Maybe you will. I think that's a little bit optimistic.
My confidence comes from... I've done everything I could. I've put in all the hard work in order to accomplish whatever task I'm going after. Not necessarily that I'm 100% going to rock it out of the park, but just that I've prepared myself for it. And that's what I would recommend to anybody going after a task. Look for your confidence in your preparation – in the hard work you've done. Don't try to rely on your confidence, and you're 100% going to execute. Because you may, and that would be great. You can use that 100% execution for the next task you're going to be. But, there's a chance you might not.
Instead of getting yourself all nervous and worked up thinking about, “Oh, I might not do this. I might not be able to accomplish this.” Just know that you've done everything possible to prepare yourself for that task. And doubt is not something that you should run from. Doubt is completely normal. Everybody has doubts. So, confidence isn't a lack of doubts. Confidence is having those doubts but knowing that you've done everything you can to prepare and going after it anyways.
Adapting in Uncertain Times
Remberto Del Real: That's great. I really like the point you make on the mindset. Right? Many, many years ago, I used to do improv. And one of our teachers said, "Hey, the chemical reaction in your body when you're nervous and when you're excited is the same." I don't know if that's true or not. I never looked it up. But I just took it and I said, "Okay, it's all about mindset." Instead of saying, "Hey, I'm nervous I'm going to do something." It's, "I am excited about this." It really reframes it. That's kind of along the lines of what you were saying. It's really focusing around that mindset, which I think is really important. So, let's take another question from the chat. The next question is, I'm sure you face many challenges as an Olympic athlete, which we've been talking about here so far. What advice would you give to people who are facing challenges during these uncertain times?
Elana Meyers Taylor: You know, I think these times are challenging for all of us. Who knows what's going to happen on a day to day basis? I think the biggest thing you can do is try to find those things that keep you focused and keep your perspective. So, for me, I'm a big family person and one of those things is taking care of my family and making sure everything is okay with them. It helps keep me focused during this time. Focusing on them and focusing on making use of the quality time we have together now really helps me get through these difficult times.
Another thing you can do is, it's really an opportunity to really assess where you are in your life, and if you're happy with what's currently going on. As far as:
- Are you happy with your career?
- Are you happy with your education?
- Are you happy with where you're living?
And all those kinds of things. Now, we have a lot of different situations presented to us and there's power in reflection and self-reflection. Now, if you get an opportunity, take a second... journal. Write down where you are in your life and if you're satisfied. If not, now is the perfect time to make a pivot. Because no one is sure about what's going to happen but what you can be sure about is what you find satisfaction in and working towards whatever your next goal is.
The Value of Journaling
Tips for Building Your Confidence
Remberto Del Real: That's interesting that you mentioned journaling. So, is that something that you do on a regular basis, is journal and keep track of things that you're doing? So, then if you do that, how often do you go back and kind of review and reread things to understand where you were at a certain point in your life?
Elana Meyers Taylor: So, I have multiple journals, actually. So, each time I go down the track, the bobsled track, I actually, as soon as the run is over I pull a journal out of – we wear these suits. They look like, I guess, mechanic suits, when we're going and we're practicing. So, I'll pull a notebook out actually at the end of the run and immediately write down what I thought, what I felt, what was going on. And that's one very practical way that I do it immediately to try and see what my mindset was during that run and kind of try and build on it.
Of course, I have journals for my everyday life as well. I really use it as a time to reflect on how I feel about certain situations and things like that. I think it's very powerful and I think it really gives me a perspective about where I am and where I want to go. It helps me keep on track. I think there's a lot of power in it. If there's two activities I can recommend you trying during this time or trying during any time, it's journaling and meditation. I'm a big meditator. I really like to use the time to clear my head and really set the mindset to be present in every moment of every day.
Remberto Del Real: Yeah, that's great. The power of meditation. There's a lot of research on it and making sure that we take time – especially in these uncertain times – to take a minute to step back and re-center ourselves or ground ourselves is important. You're journaling after every run. You must have hundreds of journals then, lying around. That's actually pretty incredible to know that you write that down. Then you're using that to help you improve your performance over time. I imagine if you're running on certain courses, okay, how did I do? What did I think? Then you use that to build on for the next time you run these rounds, right?
Elana Meyers Taylor: Definitely. It's funny because when I first started doing it, other coaches would see me. And when you're a young pilot, how it works in driving is you start at lower points of the track and then you work up. So for instance, there's a track in Lake Placid, New York. When you first start driving, you'll start at curve nine. Then the next run, you might go to curve four. Then the next run, you might go to curve two. Then you eventually work your way up to the top.
So, when you're a new driver, you're smashing walls. You're bouncing left and right. You're crashing. You just don't know what you're doing. But I would still take the time to write down and journal. I would even do this as I moved track to track and I started competing, and all this kind of stuff. Coaches would see me doing this. They're like, "What is this girl doing?" And make fun of me. But eventually, I got better and better and I kept journaling. Then eventually, they'd have their athletes start doing it too. It went from they're making fun of me, “What are you doing? This girl is crazy, writing after every run.” To now, a lot more athletes are doing it on tour.
Remberto Del Real: Yeah. You were the trendsetter as it relates to journaling, right? You started it, and now everybody else jumped on the bandwagon and they're doing it. We've got to get the Elana Meyers Taylor journals out so everybody can follow along. Along those lines, one of the questions that we go to in the chat was, do you have any books, podcasts, or other resources you recommend to keep yourself motivated?
Elana Meyers Taylor: Yeah, I listen to a lot of podcasts. Books, I’ll have to think a second about that. But one of the podcasts I listen to is the Tim Ferriss podcast. There's also a podcast, “How I Built This,” that has some really powerful speakers on there that just goes over how they were able to be successful in their careers.
What I really like to do is look at people who have done things I'm trying to accomplish. Look at people who have won gold medals, for instance. Or one of my long-term goals is to become the CEO of the USOPC. Look at people who are high-powered CEOs:
- What have they done?
- What have they accomplished?
- What level of education do they have?
- What are the things they've done that has led them to where they are?
I like to look at them and try and help me narrow my focus. And I find that motivational, following the stories of other people. A lot of autobiographies I’ve found motivational. A lot of biographies just in general. I read a lot of sports biographies, whether it's Michael Jordan or Derek Jeter or some of those guys. I really like to follow those careers to keep me motivated. But podcasts, “How I Built This,” various podcasts. I'm trying to think of what else... even just the Olympic Channel podcast. There's some really great ones out there.
Remberto Del Real: That's great. One of the other questions that we got are, what are some of the techniques you use to handle anxiety or nerves about a big change in your life or event?
Elana Meyers Taylor: So, one of the things my mom actually told me when I was really little is, whenever you have that anxiety, whenever you have those nerves, it's like actually – Rem, you mentioned it earlier – your body doesn't know the difference between the nervous excitement or excitement. Nervousness or excitement – I like to use that. I use that actually at the Olympics too, is those butterflies. That feeling of butterflies, that feeling of anxiety – I use it as fuel.
Now, it's gotten to the point where if I don't feel that way before a race, then I get worried. Because that energy, I know, I feel that energy, I feel that nervousness because it's something I care about. The reason you're anxious is because whatever you're thinking about is something you care about. And when you care about something, it's normal to feel that kind of way. But use that energy for excitement. Use it to fuel you to whatever passion you're going after.
And the other thing I think about is, Billie Jean King once said, "Pressure is a privilege." So, if you feel anxiety or you feel worried about something you're about to do, just remember it's a privilege to be able to feel that kind of pressure, because it means you're going after something that really matters to you.
Planning for the Future
Remberto Del Real: That's awesome. As you start thinking about the things you want to do post your professional athletic career, you mentioned you want to be the CEO. Do you feel that kind of pressure? Are you putting that kind of pressure on yourself to achieve those goals? What's your mindset as you start thinking about what's next?
Elana Meyers Taylor: It is one of those kinds of things, as I mentioned, setting the short-term goals in order to get to the long-term goals. So, my long-term goal is, yes, is to be the chief executive officer of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. That's my long-term goal. But if I thought about that right now, you know I don't have much work experience. I have a little during my bobsledding career. My bobsledding career has been about 13 years now, so work experience is pretty limited. But if I thought about, hey, I've got to make the jump to CEO right after I retire – that's pretty overwhelming.
So, I think about those short-term goals. Now that I've worked during my bobsled career to get my education, then I know coming out of my bobsledding career, I'm going to need more experience in the field of marketing, for example. So, I'm going to go after positions, whether it's an internship even. Yes, an internship at the age of 36, 37 when I eventually retire from bobsled might seem like a step backward, but I know it's going to help me get to that longer-term goal of being the CEO. So, I need more experience in marketing, so I'm going to go after positions that will help me get there. My short-term goal will be that marketing position in order to help me to that long-term goal.
Remberto Del Real: Alright, when you’re ready, when you start thinking about your marketing internship, make sure you give me a call.
Elana Meyers Taylor: All right, will do.
Remberto Del Real: We'll find a home for you here at DeVry. One of the themes here is, you break these goals down into smaller chunks and you kind of build on that over time. I think it's important for all of us. Especially in these uncertain times, it can feel overwhelming to say, "Okay, I don't know what... I'll revaluate my job, or I need to reskill. I need to get a new skill. I don't know where to start." But taking that step back, I really like that idea of taking a step back, kind of resetting yourself and thinking, what's the first step I need to take? Then you build on those steps from there. It's a really great insight.
A Women's Advocate
Remberto Del Real: One of the things that I wanted to ask you about, because you know you did fight for women's inclusion on the bobsled team and I think that's an important topic right now in our society. What advice would you give other people that are trying to advance an issue that they're passionate about? How did you go about it? What advice did you get, from your experience, that you can give to others that are thinking about something similar?
Elana Meyers Taylor: Well, part of it all comes back to that team aspect. I really wanted women to be able to have two medal opportunities at the Olympics. Men have traditionally had two opportunities, both the four-man and the two-man discipline, where there's four people in the sled or two people in the sled. So, they've traditionally had two opportunities. Women have only had one. It was something I personally was very passionate about.
But in order to make this work, I had to have people to help me. It wasn't going to be just me going like a bull in a China shop to our international federation or to the Olympic committee saying, "Hey, we need to have this. We need to have this now. You need to care about this." That's one way to do that, but I don't feel like it would've been the most effective way. For me, it was really about gathering a team of people around me, a group of people who were common-minded in that sense, and really using us all to push an issue.
There was a driver from Canada that helped me. Drivers from multiple countries around the world that were really able to get onboard and going to the national federation and saying, "This is what we want to do." But then also be willing to take risks. Be willing to, for me, spend the money to try and put a four-man team together and try and go out there and actually compete against the guys. You know, it's one thing pushing an issue, but it's another thing being willing to sacrifice for it.
I think in order to really be successful, you have to be willing to sacrifice for that issue as well. If I could recommend anything, it's build a team around you for whatever issue you would like to push, or whatever issue you would like to change. Then, number two, also be willing to give whatever it takes to that issue. Be willing to go after it with all your heart, and good things will happen.
Building a Team
Remberto Del Real: I think that's great. Again, the idea of building that team, building the coalition to help you achieve that goal, and finding people that are like minded and have similar goals is important. That's something I think all of us can do. Even on issues that we're passionate about, or as we're trying to move ourselves ahead. What was it like as you started to reach out to the other folks in the other countries, the other female athletes to build this coalition? Did you find everybody was like, "Yeah, I'm glad you asked me about this." Or did you have to do a little bit of selling? How was that? Walk us through how that process started.
Elana Meyers Taylor: I definitely had to do a bit of selling. Some women were gung ho, and let's go. Let's compete against the men and let's do this. Others, first, there was a language barrier for some of them. Second, others were like, "No, I'm just going to focus on my two-man." You have to realize that whatever task you're going after, whatever issue you're going after, people are in different stages of how they approach that issue. So, you're not going to win everyone. You're not going to have 100% participation on all things all the time. You have to allow people to come to an issue when they're ready. But have an open mind. Understand that you win more flies with honey... or something like that.
Remberto Del Real: I don't know that one, so I can't help you.
Elana Meyers Taylor: Basically, just be open minded. Be willing to take the time and answer people's questions. Be willing to communicate with them so that if somebody is on the fence, and they're not sure one way or another for an issue, that you're educated enough to be able to address their concerns and hopefully persuade them to help you accomplish your issue. It's just not going to be a, everybody is going to be onboard straight from the start just because you are. Sometimes it takes a little convincing. But I think if you have a well-designed plan, and if you really are passionate about your topic, you'll be able to help persuade people to be passionate about it as well.
Celebrating Moments of Pride
Remberto Del Real: I think that having that plan, it helps with the buy in, right? Having that vision and getting everybody to see that vision, and many will share the vision and it'll help you build that coalition. I think that's an important thing for all of us to keep our mind on as we try to advance on different issues. I'm going to take another question from the chat. What was one of your proudest moments when you were president of the Women's Sports Foundation?
Elana Meyers Taylor: I think one of my proudest moments was probably at our annual salute. Every year, we have an annual salute to women in sports. It's where athletes from all different sports and all different areas march across the stage and really celebrate women in sports, but it also serves as our major fundraiser.
The reason it serves as our major fundraiser is because we also serve elite athletes, but we also serve grassroots level. For me, I'm way more passionate – granted, I love being an elite athlete, don't get me wrong – but I'm way more passionate about being able to help girls on the grassroots level be able to find sport. Not necessarily find sport to be elite athletes, but find sport so that they can become better people, more well-rounded people. They don't have to be great at it. But I think there's a lot of value in participating in sport at any level.
So, the fact that at the annual salute to women in sports we were able to raise a good amount of money to go towards that cause, that was definitely one of my proudest moments and something that has made a tremendous impact on me. Being able to serve young girls, I think it's really, what that position taught me the most is how powerful it is to serve – not just serve the people we're interacting with on a daily basis, but also serve the youngest of our society.
Remberto Del Real: Yeah and giving back, right? And helping those, just like how you had people that were helping you. You're showing them the way and helping them as they reach for their dreams. I think that's very powerful and it's great to see that you're giving back in that way to help the young athletes that are coming behind you.
Elana Meyers Taylor: And it's so much fun. I mean, working with young athletes or working with the youth in any way, just being able to spend time with them. As president of the Women's Sports Foundation, I got a lot of chance, opportunities, to spend time with different camps: basketball, tennis. I'm not a pro at most of the sports, but I got to go down and be at camps and be involved with them. The way these kids would light up when you would spend the time and teach them how to hold a racket, or when you would shoot basketballs with them, or when they would beat you – because yes, I got beat by some of these kids! They were pretty good. It's just a really cool experience.
Remberto Del Real: Yeah. Although I have to imagine that you could pretty quickly adapt to some of the sports, given some of your experience.
Elana Meyers Taylor: Some of them, but not all of them. We all have our weaknesses.
Adapting as a New Parent
Remberto Del Real: Yeah. We've been talking a lot about adapting and changes in life. You had a pretty big change earlier this year now that you're a mom. How have you adapted? How do you take some of the areas and the learnings from the other parts of your life into now being a parent?
Elana Meyers Taylor: Oh boy. So, as an elite athlete, I think people would say it's a very selfish profession in some sense. Because, as an elite athlete, you are focused every single minute of every single day making sure you are at the highest-level of performance possible. That means:
- You are making sure you sleep 8 to 12 hours a night.
- You are making sure that every morsel of food that goes in your mouth is of the highest quality.
- You are making sure you are stretched.
- Your workouts are pristine.
- You have sports psych.
Everything is going into achieving your Olympic medal. Well, now as a mother, that whole concept kind of got thrown out the window. I'm doing everything I can still to be an elite athlete. But now, my number one priority is making sure my little man is taken care of in every sense of the word. Making sure he's happy, he's well fed and he's doing what he needs to do.
So, the focus is no longer on me. And that has been the biggest adaptation that I've had to make. How do I make my workouts of the highest quality possible, knowing I only got four hours of sleep last night because little man was unhappy for X, Y, and Z? Or I had to be up multiple times to feed him and whatnot. It's really been a period of change and a period of adapting to new things and trying to figure out how we're getting in these workouts. My husband has been really crucial in that. Some of the things we've had to do is, every day we change our outlook. Every day, we're just going to do the best we can and leave it at that. Some days, that means I'm having a great sprint workout. Other days, that means I had to take the day off because my body just didn't recover from the workout the day before. And as long as we're doing the best we can every single day at whatever we need to accomplish, then we're going to be successful.
Remberto Del Real: Yeah. As you were ticking off your list of all the things you had to do as an athlete to get ready, I was thinking, well, as a parent, all that stuff is out the window.
Elana Meyers Taylor: Yes.
Remberto Del Real: You just have to adapt. I'm sure, like many parents, you were probably surprised by how effective you can be with only four hours of sleep, right?
Elana Meyers Taylor: Very much so.
Finding Work-life Balance
Remberto Del Real: One of the things as you talk about your family, your husband is also a bobsledder and an Olympic athlete. And so you're part of a dual career household. What advice would you give folks? A lot of people are part of dual career households and more working jobs that are kind of more regular hours or during the day. But as an athlete – and two elite athletes – what is that like, to kind of manage that work life balance in the family?
Elana Meyers Taylor: I think the biggest thing is, we initiate two different strategies. One is, we have what's called the B word: is bobsled. We can only talk about the B word when we're not actively doing things to train for bobsled when we ask each other permission. We don't want our home life to necessarily bleed over into our career life every single moment of every single day. Because we didn't want to end up one day where we're 60 years old and we spent our whole life talking about bobsled, we've got nothing to talk about.
So, we're very particular in isolating times where we're talking about our careers and we're talking about our family or we're really engaged in the present and being with our family. We try not to let the two overlap as much as possible. But then the other thing we really work on a lot is our communication. That is key with everything.
There's a white board behind me, actually, but we have white boards throughout our house. On our white boards are written daily schedules, whatever to do lists we have, whatever needs to be picked up at the grocery store. We'll communicate those things, in addition to having them written around the house. In addition to having everyday checking in with each other to see how we're doing, to see what adjustments need to be made for our schedules and things like that. We communicate as much as we possibly can. Because if we didn't, I don't know if anybody out there is a mind reader, but I'm sure not.
I can't read what's on my husband's mind. As much as I try to see if he can read what's on my mind, he can't. So, I give him a little slack about that sometimes. You know, that open communication is really important. There's going to be times where one of us is overwhelmed and communicating that is just as important as communicating, what do we have to do today? Communicating when, hey, you know what? I'm just stretched too thin right now, we need to make an adjustment. Or, I need you to take over doing this today because I'm just stretched too thin. I think it helps us not only work and go after our goals as a team, but it also allows us to have a little bit of sanity too when things seem to pile up beyond our capacity.
Communication is Key
Remberto Del Real: Yeah. The communication is definitely key. I'm part of a dual career household, too. We're always talking about communicating what's going on. Similar to a white board, we maintain a calendar in Outlook. Our whole deal is, we put things on each other's calendar and whoever put it on the calendar first, if the second person has got something that overlaps, then the second person is responsible for arranging childcare. Again, we leverage our network, family, friends, if we have a situation where we both have something going on.
Do you also find that? One of the things that we do here is, sometimes there's a time where my wife has kind of got to go full in her career, and I need to kind of hang back. Sometimes I need to go in, and she hangs back. Do you guys find that too, as athletes, where you're having to, right now you're the focus. You go do what you've got to do, and I'm going to hang back and watch the family or not be as engaged right now, or let you shine in your career at different points as you guys have kind of gone through it?
Elana Meyers Taylor: Oh yes, without a doubt. It kind of ebbs and flows and we'll have those communications, too. Even from a day to day basis, there are some days where my workouts are the focus. My training is the focus. There's other days when my husband's training, and he's also in school as well so maybe his studies are the focus. It's like, okay, you're in charge of childcare right now, or you're in charge of dinner, or somebody has got to order out because that's all the time we have. So, we definitely do have those times, where somebody is the focus and other things.
That's the thing too right now, in this stage of our lives. My focus outside of my family is finishing out my bobsled career strong. Whereas his focus is going to school and also bobsledding, but bobsledding isn't his number one focus. So, we kind of have to rearrange everything like that, versus in the past leading up to the 2018 games, both of us, our number one focus was trying to win a medal at the 2018 games.
Now, that was pretty difficult because when you have two elite athletes, which I described as a very selfish thing, and you're both focused on being the best you can. How do you navigate those times where those two missions kind of overlap? That kind of situation, it was difficult. But it came down, once again, to that communication piece. My husband might like to train different hours of the day, or he might think some nutrition plan is better for him. How are we going to work that out as a family? That really came down to that communication piece.
Remberto Del Real: That's really important. Again, the communication in these dual career households is very important. Let me switch gears a little bit. So, you went back to school. You got your MBA at DeVry, because I know you were thinking about what skills you needed to have as you started to think about your career longer term. What was it about DeVry that attracted you to make that decision to go back?
Elana Meyers Taylor: The only way I could've made it work with my bobsled career was to have flexible scheduling and to have online schooling. Something that I could work and continue to compete and continue to work on my athletic career. The athletic career you only get for a short window of time and so I really wanted to be able to make the most of it.
Being at school at DeVry really allowed me to do that because of the flexible schooling, because of the way the posts were or the way the classes are structured. I could be working in Germany at midnight and still be able to keep up with all my assignments – versus if I had to be in a traditional classroom, and I had to try and arrange my schedule around that. I have no idea how I would've made it work. The flexibility, the fact that you can access it from anywhere in the world. It just really allowed me to be able to learn still what I needed to learn and compete at a high level.
A Diverse Learning Experience
Remberto Del Real: That's good to hear. Like a lot of our students that come to DeVry, they're working. They've got families. The flexibility is something we hear as a key as part of the reason that they come to DeVry. Along those lines, talking about school, let me take another question from the chat. The question is, aside from the academics, what were your key takeaways about going to school at DeVry?
Elana Meyers Taylor: One of the coolest things I found about going to school at DeVry was within the athletic community, you're pretty sheltered sometimes. We live in Olympic training centers, which is basically a dorm room for athletes. And I don't live there now that I've got my son and everything, but for most of my career, I lived in an Olympic training center. It's basically just all athletes without the schooling part. You tend to get very narrow-mindedly focused. You tend not to have a lot of different viewpoints and perspectives, because everybody has been competing as an athlete for most of their lives.
What the coolest thing about DeVry was, is that I had the opportunity to engage with people from a whole bunch of different fields. For instance, when we're taking accounting classes and we're posting in the chats about a certain accounting topic, people are bringing their experience from whatever line of work they're in. It's experiences that I have no concept of. But that was one of the coolest things, to be able to learn, to be able to connect with people from all different areas of life.
Also, without having the opportunity to go out there and have a whole bunch of internships and jobs, it also gave me a chance to see what type of areas I might actually be interested in. If somebody was talking about how accounting applied to their work in owning a restaurant, versus somebody was talking about how it applied to their work in working in an art museum gallery or something like that. I could use those experiences, ask them questions even about what it was like and see if that's something I'm interested in and explore it further. It really was a cool opportunity to engage with people from, you know, DeVry students are global, so engage with people all around the world in areas that I had no idea existed.
Be Your Best Self
Remberto Del Real: That's really good to hear about... because it's true, right? Our students come from a variety of backgrounds, diversity of experiences and thoughts. And I've taken classes here myself just to get an exposure to those students and to see the different experiences that everybody has. You learn so much. What I've found is, for myself personally, the hallway conversations or the conversations you're having offline outside of the classroom is really where you learn a lot. It's great to hear that you definitely benefited from that when you were coming to school here.
Let me take another question from the chat. We talked about all of these things that you've got going on. A question that we got is, how do you juggle it all? What tips can you share to accomplish everything that you do?
Elana Meyers Taylor: I think one of the biggest tips I would give is to give yourself grace. It's to realize that you're not going to be Superwoman or Superman every single day. Just as long as you're making small strides to your goals, you'll get there eventually. Part of that comes into just working to be my best self every single day. Some days, my best self means I'm on conference calls, I'm getting great workouts in, I'm 100% present with my son.
Other days, that means I'm responding to emails and that's my biggest accomplishment of the day. It's just trying to be your best self every day and allowing yourself the flexibility to not think you have to be Superwoman all day, every day. You're not going to be. It's not realistic. But taking that time, and like I said, just being your best self. That's all you can really do. That's all anybody can ask for. And eventually, you'll be able to accomplish what you're going after.
Stayed Connected as an Online Student
Remberto Del Real: I agree. You talked earlier about putting pressure on yourself. Some of that pressure is good, but you also want to be realistic, right, in knowing that you're not going to be that amazing person every day. Knowing you've got to pace yourself and take it one step at a time, as you said several times.
We've got another question related to taking classes online. You mentioned connecting with so many others in an online class. And this connection may be surprising to some, that an online class provides that type of connection. Is there anything that surprised you about being an online student?
Elana Meyers Taylor: I think that was the biggest thing, is being able to connect with people. Because you don't necessarily have that face to face interaction, we were able to connect in a way that I didn't know would be possible. Also, the other thing is, I had grown up traditionally being in class, and sitting down, and having a professor lecture at me and whatnot. I thought I was a good student, but I didn't really know.
When you sit there sometimes and you have somebody lecture at you, you don't really realize how much you're drifting off, how much you're daydreaming, how much you're doing other things. You're not really engaging necessarily. But one of the things that I learned, when you're online and when you're going to school, it's up to you how much you're going to pay attention. It's up to you what kind of pace you're going to take this class in.
For me, it really taught me how to be a better student. It really taught me that being in a classroom, I think that sometimes you have a false sense that you're doing work, because you're sitting there. Even if you're daydreaming or whatever, you feel like you're listening. You feel like you're engaging, but you might not really. But when you're online and when it's really up to you to do the work, you realize what kind of student you are, how you take in information well. And it really allows you to focus your attention. I think I've become a better student being in online courses, actually.
Remberto Del Real: That's really great to hear, because the fact that many of us, right, went to school maybe when we were younger and it was in person or on campus. If you're working, if you have a family, if you're pursuing your Olympic dream, you might not have that time to go and sit in a classroom. To have the online option and to be able to do that learning remotely is key. It's important, and it's great to hear that you had such a positive experience and you were able to have those connections with your fellow classmates while you were at DeVry.
Training in the midst of the Pandemic
Remberto Del Real: So, we're in the middle of a pandemic. A lot of us are sheltering in place. We've been spending a lot of time at home. We're all having to adapt to the way of the world today, or the “new normal” as it's been referred to. Many people are taking up different hobbies now. I'll speak for myself, I took up cooking. I'm training for “Nailed It!” on Netflix... Nicole Byer, if you're out there, give me a call. I'm ready! Everybody is trying to do something different, and we're adapting. But you're an elite athlete. How are you training during this time?
Elana Meyers Taylor: As I mentioned earlier, a lot of us trained at Olympic training centers. Well, the Olympic training centers have been largely closed. And, for us, we have a dryland push track which is a bobsled on a rail system that will push and that's in Lake Placid, New York. What it looks right now is, I have no idea when I'll be able to get up there. It doesn't look like I'll be able to do anything specifically bobsled related until probably October. Which October is usually when our on-ice season starts.
So, I need to be pushing something. One of the things that we started doing is actually pushing cars. My husband will sit in the seat, put the car on neutral. My son will be in the back seat in his car seat playing and I'll actually be pushing the car. I'm sure it looks pretty crazy to our neighbors, but it's a great way to get into bobsled pushing again.
Remberto Del Real: Yeah, I love that story. If anybody wants to check out a video of Elana pushing a car, she did post it on Instagram. I know we're going to post the link here in the chat. But if you want to see that video or other content from Elana, I encourage you guys to check her out on Instagram, @ElanaMeyersTaylor. We're going to see, Elana, if we can get you up to 10,000 followers after this. I think it’s awesome. I watched the video. I saw you pushing the car down the street. I have to ask, what did the neighbors say?
Elana Meyers Taylor: Well, we have really great neighbors. Most of them will stop and ask me if we need help. We're like, "No, no, no. We're good. We're just training." I think now, they've gotten used to it, because it's been a couple of weeks now. But, I think it's one of those things where you just have to come up with different ways to adapt. We're all in very weird circumstances right now. Me and my husband have actually had a little fun trying to figure out how to train as an elite athlete during this time.
Yes, it might sound weird, having a little fun with it, but you kind of have to. There are so many things going on right now that we have no control over. So, the least you can do is try to find fun and try to find the excitement where you can. For us, it was working on different ways to train and using a car to push to train for bobsled. Yes, it's been done before. But now to rely on it as one of my primary sources of training, it's just been fun trying to figure it all out.
Advice for Going Back to School
Remberto Del Real: I think the creativity that you guys display in trying to find different ways to continue to train at an elite level is something that we can all derive inspiration from. How do you think about doing things differently in your own life? How do we continue to adapt, which has been part of the theme of today?
We have time for one more question. I'm going to take this one from the chat. What advice would you give others that may be considering going back to school, but are hesitant?
Elana Meyers Taylor: The primary advice I would give is, as I've mentioned throughout this whole thing, it starts with the first step. Stepping in, getting your toes wet and going after it. Big goals, graduating, can seem really daunting taken at a large chunk. But, by taking that first step, it'll really help you put it into perspective and break it down into smaller chunks. The more you can break it down like that, the better off it'll really help you go for that higher goal.
Remberto Del Real: That's really good advice. So, we just have a few minutes left, so we're going to wrap things up because we want to make sure that everybody the time back in their day. But, this has been a great session and I want to close by saying thank you to you, Elana. Not only for joining us today, but for also representing our country. We wish you the very best in all your endeavors, both on and off the track. And as we like to say, you make us “DeVry proud.”
Elana Meyers Taylor: Well, thanks for having me today. It's been great talking to you. It's been great speaking with all of you guys. If you have any other questions for me, feel free to reach out to me on Instagram. I'd love to communicate with you, especially my fellow DeVry students. Thank you.
Remberto Del Real: You heard it here, DeVry students. You've got to connect with Elana on Instagram. We're going to get her some followers today, following this session. That's awesome.
I want to thank everybody here that joined us for spending the day online with us. We appreciate you joining us today, and hope everyone got some good insights from our experts throughout the day.
And if you were around during the morning session, thank you for bearing with us. We found that we were all quickly able to apply what we learned today about being agile, about managing our emotional intelligence and being flexible. And, it turns out, we just needed to reboot our computers.
We encourage you to always be learning, upskilling, reskilling, staying relevant and engaged in everything you do. Don't be afraid to try new things. It's how we grow, learn and succeed.
You heard Elana had great examples about how she's continually evolving, learning, growing – a lot of great insights that I think all of us can apply in our day to day life. As you continue your journey, I invite everyone to visit our website, DeVry.edu, to view complementary videos addressing the skills for tomorrow. In the coming days, we're going to be making videos from each session available on our website so you can go back and watch and re-watch your favorites or catch up on any of the ones that you may have missed. The notes from Claude, our graphic recorder who has been recording all our sessions today, will also be available for you to download.
As this was our first virtual conference, we invite any feedback you have and look forward to seeing you next time. Thanks again to our guest speakers, our hosts, Claude, our graphic recorder, the team that help put this event together and all of you for joining us today. Have a great afternoon!