Champions Corner

Olympic gold medal winner Shawn Johnson East shares her No. 1 tip for finding lasting success

While Shawn Johnson East first gained notoriety as the 4-foot 9-inch gymnast who won a gold medal at 16 in the 2008 Olympics in Bejing, China, she's not competing for that kind of prize anymore. Now she's competing in business.

Since the Olympics, Johnson has authored multiple books, won ABC's competition show 'Dancing with the Stars,' co-founded a health and fitness brand and even invested in small businesses as a judge on CNBC's "Adventure Capitalists."

For her, the key to lasting success has been creating an authentic brand.

Olympic athlete Shawn Johnson East.
Mike Lawrie | Getty Images
Olympic athlete Shawn Johnson East.

"You have to make yourself noticeable, and if you don't, that's kind of when people fall through the cracks," Johnson East tells CNBC Make It.

Since winning four Olympic medals a decade ago, Johnson East, now 26, has managed to parlay her moment in the spotlight into a sustained career in marketing with 1.5 million followers on Instagram and over half a million subscribes on YouTube.

"I was kind of cast into the limelight of the Olympics," she explains. "My goal in branding was always just to stay relevant and brand myself outside of gymnastics. I didn't want people to just know me for the gymnast, I wanted them to know me for the person I was."

But creating a personal brand isn't just important for celebrities — Johnson East says the ability to present yourself in a convincing and influential way at work is crucial for all sorts of careers.

"Whether it's in the workplace, or it's being a beauty blogger, I mean anything — branding yourself and making yourself stand out is how you succeed," she says.

To do that, Johnson East's number one tip is to discover what makes you different, and showcase it.

"A lot of people kind of get lost in translation and lost in the world when they're trying to be like everyone else, and I think when you truly are different and you embody something different and you're just yourself, and you're unique, you stand out," Johnson East explains.

Research on success supports her advice.

A 2017 study by the London Business School found that in job interviews, authenticity helped certain candidates score the position. "Interviewers are drawn to individuals they perceive as being genuine," Dan Cable, a lead researcher on the study, tells CNBC Make It.

And consultant and author of "The Image of Leadership" Sylvie di Giusto tells CNBC Make It that "not being phony, and by being on the inside what people see you as on the outside," is key to becoming a skillful leader, which anyone can accomplish.

In her own career, Johnson East says there were times it was hard to stay true to herself and not listen to the opinions of others.

"I have gone through so many experiences being on such a big stage at such a young age, where the world told me I wasn't good enough, I was supposed to be something different, I was supposed to look different, act different, say things that were different," she says. "And I just got tired of it.

"When I finally put that aside, and I just was like, 'I'm just going to be myself,' I felt stronger and more empowered than I ever have."

For now, Johnson East's goal is "teaching people in any way to embrace who they are," she says. "Once they do that success will come."

Don't miss: The advice that helped Olympian Shawn Johnson East get over her fear of failure: 'Finish what you start'

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Disclosure: CNBC parent NBCUniversal owns NBC Sports and NBC Olympics. NBC Olympics is the U.S. broadcast rights holder to all Summer and Winter Games through the year 2032.