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Be a connected diplomat

  • Writer's picturePhil McAuliffe

Diplomats and Olympians

What do diplomats and Olympic athletes

have in common? Let’s find out.

I’m a massive Olympics nerd. Massive.

I love them. I’ve been to events at Sydney in 2000 and PyeongChang in 2018. When I’ve visited previous host cities (Montréal, Beijing, Vancouver, Salt Lake City, Sapporo, Berlin, Calgary, Tokyo, for the record) I’ve visited their Olympic venues. I travelled to Lausanne specifically to visit the Olympics Museum. My favourite subject from my entire undergrad degree was a history course I did in first year called ‘World Since World War II’. At the end of each semester (which were divided into the period between 1945-1972 and then 1973-1995 in the second semester), the lecturer gave a lecture on how various Olympiads through that period reflected the economic, social and geopolitical state of the world at that time.

I’ve even lived in two host cities: Melbourne and Seoul. Indeed, I was so prepared for my posting to Seoul that I started researching the city and the country in 1988 when I was in primary school and had to do a project on the Olympics (see picture below). A highlight of my posting in Seoul was finishing my first ten kilometre race with a lap of the Olympic Stadium in Seoul (I didn’t run quite as fast as Ben Johnson, but then again, I wasn’t juicing…).

And, being Australian, I wake up at ungodly hours to watch opening and closing ceremonies live.

I did say that I was a massive Olympics fan, right?

For all its faults and cost, nothing else brings people together quite like the Olympic Games. Something magical happens when the nations of the world come together, right?

So with the postponed games of Tokyo almost upon us (at the time of writing, at least), I found myself reflecting on what we who live the diplomatic life have in common and can learn from the athletes on their quest to go faster, higher and stronger.

What we have in common

Train for years: athletes train their bodies, minds and souls for years. Diplomats study and hone their craft for years.

All-consuming: You can’t be a half-assed Olympic athlete. You must be all-in and be prepared to do what it takes to make the team. We all know that diplomacy demands that its practitioners are also all-in.

The best of their countries: Both athletes and diplomats are the best in the world and represent the best of their countries.

Synchronicity: Witnessing moments when mind and body are totally in sync is a wondrous thing. Athletes are in the moment, wherever that moment requires them to be. Diplomacy requires its practitioners to be where the moment needs them to be. The body is the point of commitment.

What can we learn?

Teamwork: Each athlete has a team of people in their corner who are committed to helping them achieve. They have – or have had - family, friends, coaches, teammates, nutritionists, counsellors, physiotherapists and others all working to help them be in the right physical, mental and emotional condition to perform. This support is critical and helps the athlete be at their best, for others can always help them improve on their natural skills and talents. Their team also helps them through injuries and other disappointments. Who’s in your support team as you try to perform as a diplomat day in and day out?

Training: not every day is a day to perform. Athletes train to prepare for performance. There’s no expectation that they’ll be able to turn up at an event and win. Yet, with diplomats I see that many of us – including myself – expect ourselves to turn up for work and win each day.

They’re not machines: In a similar way to the point above, athletes are not machines. They’re glorious humans. Indeed, it’s this humanity that we celebrate and watch in awe when they’re doing their thing. Athletes focus on the 1 per cent and work to get the basics right each day. They eat well. They focus on getting good sleep. They rest, knowing that they cannot expect their bodies to function at a high level indefinitely. They get help when needed, like when they’re injured or in a form slump.

As a diplomat, are you treating yourself like a machine who’s always able to work at a high level without focusing on good quality food, sleep and rest?

So, dear reader, what other lessons could you learn from athletes as you live your diplomatic life?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and I’ll reflect on our collective experience in an upcoming episode of The Lonely Diplomat podcast.

Thanks for reading!

A reminder that ‘Minister’ and ‘Ambassador’-level members of The Lonely Diplomat can access my mentoring services and can talk to me regularly – and in real time – about what’s happening in their diplomatic life and receive wisdom distilled from lived experience as a posted diplomat, an accompanying spouse, a parent AND as someone whose relationship ended while on a diplomatic posting. Become a member here.

Thank you for reading this post. I really appreciate your support and I hope that my work continues to serve, support, challenge and inspire you as you reconnect with yourself and the world around you. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post and suggestions for future posts.



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Important notice: All views expressed above do not reflect any official position. The words published above are intended to support, challenge and inspire diplomats and those living the diplomatic life as they reconnect with themselves and the world around them. They are not intended to, nor should they, replace the advice of a licensed helping professional.


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