Podcast: Scott Hamilton on How to Turn Failures Into Wins

How do you handle failure? Do you count up all of the ways the odds were stacked against you, or do you reflect on what happened and use it as a learning opportunity?

Scott Hamilton is an Olympic gold medalist and a four-time world champion figure skater. Scott knows a lot about winning: From 1981 to 1984, he was the best in his sport, but getting to the top involved a lot of failures along the way.

Scott has had his fair share of losing, disappointments and difficult circumstances, but one thing remained constant throughout it all: He never gave up. In his book, Finish First: Winning Changes Everything, Scott examines the principles of winners who know their purpose and chase it with open hands and open hearts.

We sat down with Scott to hear about his journey, his book and how the two are intertwined.

Life Before Winning the Olympics

When Scott was 18 years old, he lost his first national competition. Shortly after, his mother passed away from cancer. She was the center of his world, and it shook him.

In the midst of his grief, Scott made the decision to take his mom with him in spirit every day to the ice. He chose to not squander the opportunities he had been given, but to get to work instead.

“The greatest strength is a lack of weakness,” is Scott’s life mantra. “Once we’re able to get rid of our weaknesses, we’re going to be stronger, better and more resilient than we’ve ever been,” he shares. In 1980, he finished fifth in the Olympic games. This was a huge accomplishment for him as his goal was to only finish eighth. He rode this newfound confidence for the next four years when he became a four-time world champion and gold medal winner.  “The greatest strength is a lack of weakness... Once we’re able to get rid of our weaknesses, we’re going to be stronger, better and more resilient than we’ve ever been." — @ScottHamilton84 

What’s It Like Crossing the Finish Line?

You would think winning an Olympic gold medal would be pure joy, but Scott experienced a range of emotions. He felt relieved because it marked the end of his four-year journey to stay on top, but also felt guilty because he was the only one standing on the podium from the whole team of people who had helped him get there. He also felt immense pride for his country—Team USA.

In addition to all of this, Scott also felt a wave of uncertainty wash over him. Now that he had his crowning achievement, what could he possibly do next? “I looked over the edge of the podium like it was a cliff because everything I’d ever been since I was nine years old was now over. It’s like, ‘Who am I now?’” he explains. 

All leaders want to be successful in the work they do. It’s easy to set your sights on the finish line, but when you get there, you may not know where to turn next. For Scott, though his role changed, it didn’t have any effect on his winning mentality. He navigated the changes, going from athlete to commentator, and to different responsibilities within that role. But no matter what, he never changed his attitude: to work as hard as he can and to always bring his all.

Why Finish First?

We all have amazing potential inside of us, but how do we get in touch with who we are and what we could be? Scott wrote Finish First because he wanted to show people how to win, how to unlock what is inside of them and how to not let failures stop them from reaching their potential.

In his book, Scott explains that people should ditch fear and celebrate failure. “Failure is one of the greatest things that we can experience because it’s feedback, it’s information,” says Scott. Failure is a useful tool to guide us to being better.  “Failure is one of the greatest things that we can experience because it’s feedback, it’s information.” — @ScottHamilton84 

When we view failure as information, we can ask ourselves, “What did I learn from that?” Scott suggests leaders keep a journal of failure for the purpose of leveraging it toward the greater good, learning from mistakes and making strides to get further next time.

Scott wrote Finish First to show that circumstances don’t define how the story will end. He shares about childhood struggles, all the losses he experienced on the way to his wins and why his own battle with cancer ended up being a positive in his life. As Scott explains in the episode, if we give ourselves permission to roll up our sleeves and participate in a winning mentality, we will surprise ourselves with what we can overcome.

Scott’s entire life can be summed up in one word: perseverance. He is a living testament to what can be achieved, taught and learned if one pushes through failure and does not give up. Listen to the episode to hear Scott’s full story and to hear all of his advice for leaders.

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This post is based on an episode of The Leadercast Podcast with Scott Hamilton, Olympic gold medalist and author of Finish First: Winning Changes Everything. To hear this episode, and many more like it, please subscribe to The Leadercast Podcast. If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode on Spotify, Google Play or Stitcher.

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