My son found himself in a boat for the first time during the fall of his junior year of high school. What started out a part-time experiment, has turned into a full-time passion. Now he rows six days a week, and on the seventh day, he's thinking about it. I'm thrilled that he has found something that excites him so much, that's a healthy pursuit and one that has taught him so many invaluable skills, not to mention the side helpings of determination, commitment, extreme fitness and pure joy derived by the sport. Excruciating pain notwithstanding, he will tell you there's nothing like a 2K sprint.
After two solid years of cheering on his club as he moved from novice to varsity status, I've learned a thing or two about what drives him and his fellow teammates to participate. I've concluded it's all about what lies beneath the surface of the sport, rather than the obvious physical and mental requirements. Rowing is definitely not for the faint-hearted, but it takes more than courage to row successfully. I would say the same about being an entrepreneur. Here are five tips I'd like to share that cross the boundaries between athletic and business teams:
1. It's not all about you. Sure, lots of sports claim the importance of teamwork but rowing is unique in that it requires the group to be completely in sync at all times. On the 8+, each seat has a specific purpose and each rower needs to execute his/her role to perfection, or the entire boat will lose. That's a lot of pressure! Taking oneself out of the "me" and into the "us" is a great lesson for a growing adolescent heading into adulthood. It's also a mindset that many of us in the business world should emulate. I rely on the other professionals I team up with to be as committed as I am. But collaboration takes mutual effort and I'm more than willing to put in the time it takes to get the job done right.
2. Every day isn't going to be perfect. Nor is every workout, or every race. Doing well is as much about failure as it is about victory. Just ask anyone who has found big success. They'll say that they learned as much about themselves and how to improve by their mistakes as they did by their achievements. Early on in my business launch, I lost a big account. The rejection came swiftly and unexpectedly and caused me to rethink all of my expectations around client relationships. Now I approach every day as a new chance to prove my value to my clients. I recognize that connections are tenuous in business, so I need to work even harder to prove my worth.
3. Spend time with the team off the water. My son had this figured out way before I did. He started hanging out with his teammates outside of practice right away. His boat is a big part of his social circle now, because they genuinely like each other, and it helps that they share the same values and commitment to their craft. In the business world, putting in long days at the office can be exhausting and isolating, so it's easy to decline invitations to after-hour mixers or events. But don't say no all the time. It's crucial to get out there and into the fray, at least a few times a month. Human relationships need social interaction to grow!
4. Listen to your coach. Or a mentor, teacher or someone else who's done this longer than you have. Coaches, especially talented, well-meaning and communicative ones, can literally change the lives of their subjects. Opening yourself up to other people's knowledge and insight is key to honing your craft. I've benefitted a great deal from the guidance of the SCORE mentors that I connected with through my local chamber of commerce. They help me with all kinds of business challenges and celebrate the hurdles I've cleared. While not every SCORE mentor has a marketing or advertising industry background, like I do, I have found that what they bring to the table in combined life experiences is invaluable.
5. Breathe. Sounds obvious, but it's really the hardest piece of advice to follow, especially for us entrepreneurial types.. Superior athletes like rowers spend hours building up their endurance to be able to sustain brief periods of oxygen deprivation. They also follow a strict regime around food and sleep. What life teaches the rest of us (the hard way) is how easy it is to let stress, fear, or overwork get the better of our bodies, leading to extreme fatigue, low energy and ultimately lack of productivity. I'm constantly having to remind myself to take a break from the "screen" to exercise, cook a healthy meal, putter in the garden or just do nothing for a little while. Giving myself permission to rest makes me stronger and better equipped physically and mentally for the next effort.
While navigating the tricky paths of entrepreneurship, I'm continually seeking a balance between my own personal style and what works best for the people around me. Just as my son's crew team has demonstrated, it's definitely not easy, nor is it visibly rewarding every day, but somewhere in the process of trying, I'm finding the strength and resilience I need to meet my personal and professional goals.