simone biles future of work icon

Podcaster Dan Smolen believes that Simone Biles is a future of work icon.

Surely, the big story that emerged from the Tokyo Olympics has been mindfulness of elite athletes to recognize their humanness. And, American gymnast Simone Biles has become the face of mindfulness at these games.

Biles exited team competition when it became clear that her mind and body were not in sync. Apparently, there is a name for this disconnection: the twisties.

What is more, this elite athlete confirmed her Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) diagnosis. To control her symptoms, and to maintain focus, Biles is prescribed Methyphenidate. However, both the Japanese government and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) ban her and other athletes from taking the drug. Methylphenidate is a controlled substance.

World reaction to Biles’ step-away is overwhelmingly positive.

With so much pressure to outperform, in the Olympics and also as a personal brand, Biles took great risks to exit her team. And yet that exit helped her team win silver medals.

I am in awe of Simone Biles. She drove a “we” narrative (focused on her team) when the world expected spectacular results from a “me” narrative. In doing so, I believe that Simone Biles became a future of work icon. Here is why:

  1. Simone Biles recognized her own humanity. Unlike so many past elite Olympic competitors, she recognized that her mind and body were not working together. And publicly, she declared that she would focus instead on personal wellness. The past of work was done by people who disrespected their own humanity, who perhaps worked 60 hours or more per week living as if work was their entire day. Past practices rendered such workers burned out or rusted out, rendering them ineffective in their jobs and also in their non-work lives.
  2. She showed great leadership and adhered tightly to the mission. Great leaders don’t need to hog the spotlight. We know that leaders of the past measured their success in personal terms. But Biles demonstrated that the future–and the future of work–is comparatively selfless. True leaders are about team and mission success, and
  3. Biles showed us the power of the new personal brand. No longer is the value focused on winning. On the contrary; in the future of work, our personal brands are about doing profound work that makes the world a better place. Alongside elite athletes like Naomi Osaka and Michael Phelps, Simone Biles became a leading voice for mental health and wellness, but also future work.

Work is part of a day doing other things. And the day should be positive and joyful. Simone Biles showed us all that to be the greatest at something is not what matters in a world in crisis. What does matter is leadership, a laser focus on mission, and the success of the team.

Simone Biles is indeed a future of work icon. And when we follow her bright and shining example, our best days lie ahead.

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Image credits: Simone Biles,; Podcast button, J. Brandt Studio for The Dan Smolen Experience.