I LOVE MY HOMETOWN. WHO DOESN’T? BUT MINE’S THE BEST, FOR MANY REASONS. BUT I’LL GO INTO DETAIL ON JUST ONE: THE UNITED STATES OLYMPIC COMMITTEE. THE USOC IS HOUSED IN COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO AND I WAS LUCKY ENOUGH TO INTERN WITH ONE OF ITS NATIONAL GOVERNING BODIES FOR THE PAST 3 MONTHS.
Ruth Benedict, the late Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University, found that there is no universal moral standard of human beings by comparing the behaviors and norms of various cultures. “Normality is culturally defined. Most individuals are plastic to the molding forces of the society into which they are born.” I am not a cyclist. I know how to ride a bike, sure – well I assume I do given that I learned when I was little and supposedly you can’t unlearn, but I haven’t ridden in a while and I certainly have never ridden anywhere close to competitively. Benedict’s findings aided me greatly in understanding my place at USA Cycling. I was selected as the national governing body’s single Events and Marketing Intern without even passing knowledge of the sport. I was thrown into an arena I knew nothing about and was expected to succeed. While the “molding” that Benedict talked about in her essay, Anthropology and the Abnormal, usually happens in those early stages of life that we cannot remember, I witnessed myself slowly become more and more “normal” after being thrown into the culture of cycling. For me, my experience proved Benedict’s findings: when my actions “fell within the limits of expected behavior for [USA Cycling’s] society,” I knew my internship, though not actually catered specifically to my interests, was indeed teaching me worldly skills needed to succeed in any unfamiliar culture.
During my time at USA Cycling, I met many people who all had, if nothing else, cycling in common. This was challenging to both parties as I knew nothing about cycling and they worked in a field where their sport was their work. I formed unique relationships with each of my coworkers thanks to a love for border collies, mini coopers, and thai food, among many others that formed stronger bonds than I would of thought possible with ex-Olympians experts in a sport I had a 1st grade understanding of.
Even though I gained little to no experience in cycling while working with the events and marketing teams, I received hands-on, real-world experience in event planning and event management. With USA Cycling, I traveled to two national championship events in Northern California and devoted countless hours to hosting an event of the second-highest distinction (to the Olympic Games) each for ten days at a time. While waking up before the sun for nearly two weeks straight on two separat occasions further increased my dependence on coffee, the experience I received was unparalleled.
I was granted a rare look at cycling, from an outside perspective, being immersed in a field I knew nothing about. Though I lacked cycling experience, I was able to rely on my interpersonal skills to succeed at USA Cycling. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book, Outliers, explains that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at anything. However, he uses examples of practicing the violin and processing code in a computer database (both very specific somethings) to prove his point. There are cyclists who have spent 10,000 hours on a bike– they are professionals, paid by their sponsors to promote a product, or they are representing Team USA in the Olympic games every four years. I am not a cyclist and I have little desire to become a cyclist. The nearly 350 hours I logged with USA Cycling do not contribute to my expertise in cycling, but to my expertise in people. While this particular experience neither directly helped me become the next CEO of a start-up, or the next Wall Street executive, or even a pro-cyclist, it opened my eyes to the possibility of working in places other than the well-known all-powerful financial advisory firms or law offices. All companies, both profit and non-profit, require the same foundation and hard work to be successful and all companies need extroverted and energetic people to promote their brands.
*The featured picture is of the view from the top of Mammoth Mountain. One of the most gorgeous sights I’ve ever seen. The picture does not even come close to doing the Sierra Nevadas justice.