The advice that helped Olympian Shawn Johnson East get over her fear of failure: 'Finish what you start'

The best advice Olympian Shawn Johnson East received has carried her far beyond gymnastics
The best advice Olympian Shawn Johnson East received has carried her far beyond gymnastics

Around the world, all eyes were on gymnast Shawn Johnson at the 2008 Olympics in Bejing, China. She was expected to win gold in the sport's most important title — the all-around.

But after performing her first three events, vault, bars and beam, her total scores just weren't enough. She saw a flash of fellow U.S.A. gymnastics teammate Nastia Liukin's scores and realized her performance fell short. Liukin would be taking home the all-around gold, not her.

Shawn Johnson of the United States performs her gold-medal winning routine on the balance beam in individual apparatus finals on Tuesday, August 19, 2008, in the Games of the XXIX Olympiad in Beijing, China.
Getty Images | Sacramento Bee

"My head began to spin with disbelief, because in that instant my dream died," the former gymnast and current judge on CNBC's "Adventure Capitalists," now Shawn Johnson East, writes in her book, "Winning Balance." "I stood there feeling more hurt than I'd ever felt in my life. I couldn't understand my low scores. I couldn't understand how I could have worked my entire life for something only to see it come down to this."

But there was still one final routine to perform, the floor exercise. Although she wanted to give up, she thought of advice her long-time coach Liang Chow gave repeatedly during training: "Finish what you start."

She swallowed her fear of failure, faced the audience and finished the event. "In some strange way, once I knew the gold was out of reach, I was free to go out there and just be me, the natural competitor who nonetheless had stuck with gymnastics since age three for the pure joy of the sport," she writes.

She took home a gold medal for the balance beam, and three silver medals in other events.

Now 25, Johnson East is still conquering her fears. And, she's taking on a new domain: investing.

Shawn Johnson East
CNBC | Mike O'Hara

As a host on the second season of reality show "Adventure Capitalists," eager entrepreneurs with outdoor adventure products can pitch Johnson East and fellow judges Jeremy Bloom and Dhani Jones for investment. But jumping into the TV project was nerve-wracking, she says.

"I was so intimidated to be on the show at first," she tells CNBC. "I didn't know if I would fit the market, and if I would really have something to offer." Bloom, a former Olympian and NFL player, and Jones, an ex-NFL linebacker, both have experience in investing and have founded businesses.

But, Johnson East says she brings something different to the table: experience with digital marketing. With hundreds of thousands of followers on Facebook and Instagram, "I felt like that was kind of that little spot that I could fill," she says.

And in any case, for her, being afraid isn't a reason to back down.

"I love that I took the challenge," she says of the show. "It's all about learning new things and challenging myself. Something I loved so much and fed off of as a gymnast were these constant challenges and barriers that I would break through."

Season two of CNBC's "Adventure Capitalists" premieres October 10 at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

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