20 Under 40 20_3My March 2018 column for the Kitsap Sun…

“Little minds are tamed by and subdued by misfortune; but great minds rise above them.” ~ Washington Irving (American writer)

There are many reasons why I was never more than an average athlete in my high school athletic career. After nearly 35 years, I think I’ve uncovered the most likely and topical for a business perspective.

While attending Oak Harbor High School, I played both basketball and golf. My best sport was golf and I lettered my junior and senior years on a very good and deep team of athletes. I was part of the five-man team that finished 9th in state my junior year. I continued to hone my skills over the summer by playing as much golf as possible. My senior year was personally better, although we fell just short of another trip to the state tournament. All that is to say that I had developed enough skills, experience, and knowledge of how to continue to improve performance, that I’m confident I could have played beyond high school. The biggest obstacle to continuing my path wasn’t on the golf course, however. The biggest hazard I had was the five inches between my ears!

In competition, I found it hard to be satisfied with anything other than my best. If you’ve ever played a sport, you know that playing your best every time is impossible, even for the greatest athletes in the world. I never found a way to consistently bounce back mentally or emotionally from poor (or even mediocre) competitive performances and live to fight another day. I never gave myself permission to simply honor the struggle and be happy with the joy of being part of the game.

As I watched the Olympics over the past two weeks, I observed that these world-class athletes from across the planet obviously differ from me in that mental discipline when it comes to athletics. I marveled as athletes who are used to winning (that’s how they ended up at the Games) would still be smiling after a mistake; would still wave to the crowd; and would genuinely be happy for someone that just knocked them off the medal stand.

I was most moved by a tweet from American skier Mikaela Shiffrin. After winning gold in one race, she didn’t perform her best in the next event that she was heavily favored in. The result was that she didn’t medal. In today’s virtual news world, the op-eds came pouring in from journalists and social media warriors alike. While there was some outpouring of support, there was also the usual negativity that has unfortunately become a standard that doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

Ms. Shiffrin – who turns all of 23 years old this month – responded publicly with a series of tweets regarding her self-assessment of the race. She concluded, “That (performance) is real. That is life. It’s amazing and terrifying and wonderful and brutal and exciting and nerve racking and beautiful. And honestly, I’m just so grateful to be a part of that.”

Sounds a lot like life, doesn’t it?

It also sounds a lot like living the dream of entrepreneurship and owning a business. To quote her, entrepreneurship is “amazing, terrifying, wonderful, brutal, exciting, nerve racking, and beautiful.” Are you grateful to be a part of it?

Her summation more than implies that gratitude and the acceptance of all of that comes with being a part of our “game” is the crucial last piece of the puzzle! Being an entrepreneur is hard. It’s not for the faint of heart or those unwilling to get knocked down frequently. As the noted 19th century American writer Washington Irving opined, misfortune (crisis, adversity, rejection) happens to us all, and the great minds find a way to rise above and be resilient. That takes me back to the five-inch golf course in my head.

We all deal with crisis and adversity in every aspect of our business life, sometimes daily. And let’s be clear, every business owner and entrepreneur mixes business and pleasure. It’s like peanut butter and chocolate; they simply go together! In fact, the attempt to separate the two is not only fruitless, but also harmful. The reason is because we don’t have a personal life and a professional life; we have a life! By not allowing yourself to give all of yourself to both concurrently, one will suffer.

So how do we improve and build our mental toughness? We can start by taking a lesson from an Olympic champion and practicing the discipline of being grateful to just be a part of it.

I propose three simple steps that will help your life:

  1. Honor the Struggle. This isn’t supposed to be easy. In fact, if it were, you’d likely not have fun. Part of the fun in doing anything is the struggle, so don’t fight against it, honor it. You honor the struggle by accepting the effort and resilience needed to keep charging.
  2. Next Play. I learned a great lesson from Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski. He wrote that there is always a “next play” after the failed one. If you don’t move on to focus on that next play, the bad one will only continue to be made worse. When this happens, it’s easy to fall into a malaise that’s terrible to climb out of.
  3. Create Your Own Team. Lone wolves in business and life suffer without a pack. We can’t be successful by ourselves. We all need family, friends, colleagues, partners, coaches and accountability partners to support, guide, cajole, and celebrate with us.

The Finish Line: By committing to these three steps, you’ll reach the medal stand in your business. But be warned, they aren’t easy. They are part of the struggle and there are multiple finish lines in our life, with always another race to run right around the corner. Now go for the gold!


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