The day before the Olympics I heard a news story on the radio that grabbed my wandering attention and held it fast. Later, I looked the story up on the Internet and found the article in greater detail:

Morgan Hamm of Waukesha, Wis, today informed USA Gymnastics and the U. S. Olympic Committee (USOC) that he was withdrawing from the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team for medical reasons. Hamm has been battling a left ankle injury, and at this time, he believes it is in the best interests of the team to allow another gymnast to represent the USA in the Olympic Games…

‘I have been dealing with this for the last year, and it recently has gotten worse here in Beijing,’ said Hamm, a two-time Olympian. ‘Right now I am unable to perform my tumbling skills at the level that I need to. This has an impact on my ability to contribute to the team’s goals

and I believe by continuing I would be putting myself at further risk. There are two very capable athletes who can step in and help this team more than I can right now.’
‘Morgan’s dedication to helping the USA claim a team medal for the second straight Olympics has been exemplary,’ said Steve Penny, president of USA Gymnastics.

‘He has done everything he could to contribute to this team, and we appreciate his efforts. We also appreciate his putting the team’s best interests first. He has once again demonstrated why he is a champion.’

We live in a world of innately selfish people. A world where “Me” is top-dog and woe to anyone who gets in the way. A world where it’s about who can do what for us, and how fast they can do it. Rarely do we hear of a person who sacrifices for the greater good of the entire team — a person who sets aside their aspirations so that others may fulfill theirs.

When we do hear of a person like this, we either don’t fully grasp the sacrifice made and focus all of our time and attention on the athletes who did compete or we shake our heads in disbelief that a person would do such a thing. What possesses a man to relinquish his hopes and dreams so that others may grasps theirs?

A man who understands what being a team player is all about. A man who realizes that it’s not about him — it’s about the bigger picture and everyone involved. Not all of us will come to such an obvious crossroads in our lives when it comes down to the choice of “me” versus “the team”.

And yet, every day, we are faced with little choices that represent the same life-altering decision. Basketball players are faced with this choice when they play the game:

Do they go for the basket that can’t be made with certainty or do they offer an assist to the player who has a more definite shot? The same concept exists in soccer and football: A player can focus on how many points he can score personally or can focus on how many points he can help the team make as a whole. We see this represented every time we watch a move; how many unknown faces contributed to making the movie a success? The makeup artists, the costume designers, the set producers, the sound people, catering service workers… the list goes on and on. They aren’t focused on the leading role, but are instead focused on making the leading role the best it can be. I worked at a camp one summer.

There were the counselors who had cabins full of kids and then there were us “support staff”. I felt it was such a lowly job to work in the kitchen, yet looking back I see that doing my best in the kitchen helped feed our counselors.

Providing good meals for the counselors helped them have energy and stamina to interact with their cabins full of kids. This led to the entire camp season running smoothly and the camp having a great reputation.

It wasn’t about being thanked or being popular with the campers, it was about being a member of a team that helped the entire camp season run optimally so lives could be impacted.

We come across this in the workplace constantly. Will we do whatever it takes to advance up the corporate ladder, not caring who we trample on our way, or will we focus on doing what is best for the company as a whole? Suppose with me for a moment that you are aware that there is an opening for a higher-level position within your company.

Let’s go on to suppose that you know that you could fill the role, but there is co-worker who is even more qualified for it, however, that co-worker is quieter and less ambitious than you are.

Not only that, but they don’t have the “in” that you have with the higher-ups. You know this person has the capability and ingenuity to take the company farther than you ever could. They were created for a position like this. But you really want this new title.

Herein lies your decision: Will you decide to be a team player or a solo act? Will you take the higher paying position, the new office, and the new status, or will you lay aside those personal goals and encourage the advancement of your co-worker instead?

Will you willingly take yourself out of the running, knowing the company has more growth potential under them than it does you? Will you make it about what is ultimately best for you or what is ultimately best for the company?

Here’s another scenario for you, one that I had to personally face in the not-so-distant past: Let’s suppose you are the director of a not-for-profit organization. After years of dreaming and planning, you have begun this organization. The day has come and you have realized your dreams.

The organization has been formed, you’ve received your not-for-profit status with the government, and you’ve begun running it exactly the way you had always planned on running it.

Then suppose that your life gradually changes. Your husband takes a new job that takes you an hour away from your organization. Then, you get pregnant with the baby you were told you would probably never have. Now you have a dilemma.

You can’t put the time and energy into the organization you once could. Oh, you give it time every week, but not the time that you used to give to it. You love your life as a new mom, but this organization is your baby, too — your dreams made into reality.

And yet, deep down, you sense that you have taken the organization as far as it can go under your leadership. Will you step down and appoint a new leader of this organization so that it can be taken even further and built even bigger, or will you stubbornly hold on to your baby, your status, your identity? Will you make it about you or will you make it about the organization as a whole and the impact it can have on the surrounding community?

What about being a team player in marriage? I can see the cringing faces now (I’m joining you in that cringe). I think marriage is one of the hardest places to be a team player. It’s so much easier to make it about “me” in marriage than it is to make it about “us”.

Am I, as my husband’s wife, willing to pass up the bigger car that will make my life easier as far as getting the baby in and out and loading up the groceries, or will I concede to sticking with the two-door clunker for another year or two, so we can pay off bills?

Am I willing to set aside my dream of writing a book right now? Will I instead use my time to work a stay-at-home-job to help support my husband as he builds up his own masonry business, so we can have a strong financial foundation for our children in the future?

Am I willing to forgo my own private reading time on a Sunday afternoon and instead listen to my husband share his hopes and dreams, helping him feel refreshed in time for Monday morning and another 60-hour work week?

Every day, all day, I am faced with the decision to make it about “me” or make it about “us” as a couple and family. I am constantly having to decide, “Will I choose what will make my life happier or will I choose what will make my husband’s or daughter’s life better?”

If I had been in Morgan Hamm’s shoes I’m not sure what I would have done. I may very well have tried to stick it out, just for the chance of competing in the Olympics, and hoped that I didn’t hurt my team too badly in the process.

I hope I would have made the choice he did, but I’m not sure I would have. We all know of the 8-time gold medal hero of the Olympics this past summer, but in my opinion, Morgan Hamm is the true Olympic hero! The muscles that won the medals will eventually wear out and lose their strength, but the character that drove Morgan Hamm’s decision will last a lifetime. That is the essence of the Olympic spirit.

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