Sports and business go together in many ways, and the competitive edge needed for a national-level athlete is comparable to the determination needed to be a successful entrepreneur. Below are some lessons I experienced while training for and competing as a figure skater that provide insights into succeeding in the business world.
1) Success does not happen overnight.
I spent at least 10,000 hours skating in the hopes of acing my routines. I didn’t start by practicing an entire routine at the beginning, nor did I expect to nail an axel on my first try. There are hundreds of baby steps and micro accomplishments that all lead to a particular level of mastery or goal. Be patient.
2) Enjoy the journey.
No matter how much you prepare for something, there is always a possibility for failure that can’t be accounted for. With so much room for error and too many factors at play to predict success, you just have to trust the path you’re on and savor the moments along the way. If you don’t enjoy what you do, you should be doing something else.
3) Fall hard.
I’ve eaten my fair share of ice shavings, sprained my ankle, and broken my bones after particularly nasty falls in the rink. And then I got back up and kept going, and I do the same thing with my company as well. You can’t achieve greatness if you don’t strive for it with all you have. Plus, within every mistake, pitfall, or failure is a valuable lesson that can lead to future successes.
4) Know that pressure is fake.
There were events I was prepared for and those I was not. There’s a difference between feeling nervous and being unprepared or underprepared when tackling a new concept or client. If you do your homework, you will seldom feel the mental construct that is “pressure.”
5) Graciously accept criticism.
When athletes are first starting out in their sport, they’re going to make a lot of mistakes.
During my beginning years as a skater, I resisted my coach’s criticism and tried to perfect my skills in my own way. Eventually I learned her advice was meant to make me better – even if it felt harder at the time. The foresight I have now allows me to take constructive criticism with humility and appreciation.
6) Work smarter.
Disciplined athletes focus more on their technique and less on doing millions of repetitions hoping to get it right. Make this a business habit by understanding why something isn’t working instead of blindly trying x, y, and z to solve a problem.
7) Don’t spend too much time worrying about the competition.
While it’s certainly important to know what your competitors are capable of, you need to focus on your own performance. There is a lot of chatter about what others are doing, but the only thing that matters is what they do during the competition. Make your product or service uniquely yours and it will be memorable.
8) Work on what’s right in front of you.
Great athletes have the ability to focus on the task at hand, tuning out noise and other distractions. Prioritize your to-do list, and then tackle one item at a time. Try not to stress over future obstacles and focus on what you can do today.
9) Turn weaknesses into strengths.
As human beings, we’re all fallible. Even gold-medal Olympians have flaws that can impact athletic proficiencies. It’s when insecurities are recognized that they can be addressed. For example, if you’re unaware of the nuances of social media, you should spend time learning about it so you can use the knowledge to propel your business forward.
10) Employ good habits.
Healthy habit loops are essential to your success. Just like adhering to a strict practice schedule is vital to an athlete, your business will benefit from routines that are customized to optimize workflow, profit margins, etc., that are not only particular to your industry but your business and the niche it has carved out.
11) Switch things up.
Nobody can be at peak performance 100% of the time. Athletes use periodization to build up to a great performance at specific times, and they listen to their bodies when they know it’s time for a change. For a different perspective, change your environment for the moment or day, plan breaks to unplug, or take a quality vacation.
12) Take care of your mind and body.
For better or worse, physical and mental health can have a dramatic effect on your success at work. Athletes understand the following, and so should you:
Endorphins from exercise can pull you out of a funk.
Sleep is critical to gains in ability.
A quality diet supports a positive – and productive – attitude.
Negative thinking is dangerous.
Meditating or sitting in silence lets you view issues in a new light.
13) Keep stress at bay.
Of course, it’s nearly impossible to avoid stress altogether. But take a cue from athletes who know how much stress their bodies and minds can handle and then take action to restore balance. If you practice good self care and reparative therapies, you will notice the stress lessen or at least be able to better handle it when it does creep in.
An athlete’s motivation is very similar to a businessperson’s goal – to achieve the greatest amount of success possible. If you nourish your drive and enhance your self-confidence, the results will be worthy of a champion.
Nick Santillo is President at Frac.tl. Previously, Nick co-founded Voltier Digital, which was acquired in 2012. He is driven by keeping his business focused on innovating within emerging markets, creating new technologies, and rendering world-class marketing services.