Professionalism Matters When You Stick the Landing On Your Face

06 Aug, 2012 Bob Wilson


Ok, I have to confess. It is Sunday night. I am sitting in a bar at Harrah's in St. Louis, MO, preparing to attend a conference to learn all about MSA's, MSP's and any other acronyms I cannot think of at the moment (more on that at a later date). As I sit here I am writing a piece on Reputational Risk and the FL RIMS conference I recently attended, when I glance at one of the TV's showing the Olympics in London. Women's gymnastics is on, the Women's Vault Final to be exact, and I look up just in time to see a young woman, country origin unknown, sprinting down the approach in the early stage of her performance. This is no doubt a young girl who has spent the majority of her life training for this moment. Years of practice, competition, and learning have gone into this, the high point of her life and aspirations. This is it. With a billion people watching from all over the world, it is all or nothing.

She sprints down the approach, jumps on the spring board, repels off the "table", twists and turns in the air, and lands fully prone, essentially sticking the landing with her face. For those of you unaware of gymnastics procedures, it is generally not supposed to work that way. Gymnasts are usually expected to land on their feet. Someone must have set the floor too high. Or, as it turns out, it is a major screw up. A disaster of epic proportions. The worst possible outcome she could have expected.

She stands up, clearly fighting tears. In front of the world, God, and Mary Lou Retton, she has launched and landed with all the flair and panache of the Edsel. New Coke. Prince when he changed his name to that stupid symbol with no pronunciation. Conan on the Tonight Show. All appears to be over.

But she has a second chance. She summons her strength, runs down the approach, but it is not to be. In what I can only describe as an aborted takeoff, or Barack Obama off the teleprompter, she veers off the approach as she nears the springboard, suddenly limping, and comes to a stop to the side of the vault table. That is it. She is gymnastic toast. If she is from an eastern bloc country she might be headed for the salt mines. 

It is at this point she does something unexpected. Summoning all her strength and will, she gives the standard gymnast finale stance, standing straight and raising her arms wide over her head. A glorious "tah dah" if I ever saw one, even if the emotion on her face slightly betrayed the effort.

Perhaps I feel compelled to write about this simply because I can identify with her on some basic levels. We have a similar style. As regular readers will no doubt recognize, I regularly "stick the landing" with my face in this blog. I may just have an affinity for this poor young woman. We have much in common, except for the years of training, work and effort. I really haven't had any of that.

It is interesting. She completely failed, but still signaled the end of her routine as she was trained to do. As she had no doubt practiced for years. She did what she could to be professional, and signal completion of a performance, albeit one that had gone horribly awry. She chose to be professional in a disappointing and awkward moment. 

Or there are extra points for a clean "tah dah". I don't really know. Whatever it was, it was moving enough to compel me to stop the article I was working on, and write about what I had just seen. 

Professionalism matters, even in the face of failure. 

Or, I shouldn't write after multiple Shock Tops. Whatever. Take whichever lesson you wish from this. 


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