As kids, we look up to athletes, fantasizing about being in their shoes, in all their moments of glory. But as we imagine them in all their greatness, what we don’t think about is the enormous amount of dedication, willpower and the unforeseen events that they had to overcome to achieve success.
Strangely enough, this same phenomenon occurs when we look up to business owners.
Just like athletes, entrepreneurs have a coveted acquired skill (can you build an electric car tomorrow a la Tesla? I certainly can’t…). But most importantly, they have the same grit, drive and determination that we don’t always hear about. This tenacity is what enables them to surpass the competition and create hugely successful companies. Think of how Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has dominated every industry he enters while dozens of companies struggle to find success in just one. His achievements are no accident.
People want the grand end results, but they don’t think about all the grueling steps involved or take into consideration all the unpredictable roadblocks along the way. Everybody wants to be like Steve Jobs or Richard Branson, but not everyone wants to put in the hard work and obsession-like resolve to get there.
It turns out that running a business — and all of the stress and mental anxiety — is similar to that feeling you get when you push yourself past your breaking point while working out. It’s akin to that nauseous, can’t-make-it-any-further-without-dying feeling. (Trust me, I know from first-hand experience.)
When you decide to run your own business, it’s like you’re choosing to become a professional athlete —you will work hard, you will fight with every ounce of your being, and yes, you might just get sick. The good news? It is ALL worth it if you love what you do.
According to the U.S Small Business Administration, two-thirds of companies will survive their first two years in business, half of all businesses will survive their first five years, but only one-third are likely to survive 10 years.
That means that business owners need to be ready for anything that comes their way in order to achieve success. They need to eat, sleep, and breathe their brand. And for your company to be successful, you need to embody the same dedication, passion and sought-after qualities as Olympic gold medalists and Hall of Fame athletes.
What Do Business Owners And Professional Athletes Need To Succeed?
According to the NCAA, only 0.6% of high school baseball players and 11% of college players make it to the professional league. As a prospective professional baseball player, those are slim odds. And of course, these players need the talent and the ambition to succeed, but they also need to have an almost obscene amount of confidence in themselves in order to push through.
When up against thousands of other players looking to make it big, these athletes need to believe in themselves. They need to believe that they are worth it. They need to believe that they have what it takes to win – just like an entrepreneur.
In business, you need that confidence too. In most cases, the odds are stacked against you, and you need to believe in yourself enough to know that you can beat those odds and overcome them.
You can only count on yourself to cheerlead around every bend, so if you don’t believe in yourself, you’re already done.
Obsession is sometimes seen as a negative trait or habit, but when it comes to sports AND business, it’s required.
Why else would athletes put their bodies through this much stress, pain and possible damage? Why else would they limit their calorie intakes and pay such attention to the food that goes in and the exertion that comes out? It’s because they’re obsessed. Athletes have to be constantly thinking about what they’re doing and how they’re improving — if they’re not, they’re giving their competition the go-ahead to speed past them.
In business, obsession is necessary because, without it, business people wouldn’t put themselves through the stress, anxiety and mental strain that comes with dealing with all of the moving parts. And being obsessed means thinking about your business at all times — at night before you go to sleep, first thing when you wake up and even on vacation.
In fact, it was during a recent vacation that I came up with the idea to improve and expand my own website DesignRush.com. I was sitting in the sun, relaxing and trying to clear my mind. But like most business owners, my business is always on my mind. And suddenly, it all clicked.
I immediately called my team to develop a new writing and research process to create articles that would appeal to a wider audience and provide readers with more thorough and valuable information in our Trends and Insights section. Now, instead of focusing on producing a certain amount of content, we’re dedicated to creating long-form, in-depth and thoroughly researched content that is specific, insightful and impactful. This new strategy has increased our traffic and readership.
2. Dedication To Improving
If athletes stop improving, the competition gets the upper hand – and business owners should keep the same mentality and drive. I don’t ever stop coming up with innovative and exciting ideas for my website. They might not all be realistic or doable, but I’m always doing everything in my ability to come up with new ideas, new avenues for growth and new techniques for success.
That age-old phrase — good enough, isn’t — is exactly the kind of mindset people need to have when opening their own business. Just like athletes are always breaking records, entrepreneurs should be shattering expectations, too.
I’m constantly improving my website DesignRush, forever looking at new paths for business growth and new ways to cater our content to our audience. We work heavily on design concepts and trends for fellow businesses and top agencies to get inspiration and design work — and we have to improve our landing pages like our website design landing page in order to make it to not only look and feel more appealing but to offer the essential insights our audience was looking for. And this need for constant improvement will never stop.
3. Practice, Practice, Practice
Genetics helps when it comes to talent, skill and ability, but it’s determination, practice, drive and focus that really makes a great athlete – or a businessperson — a star. A company founder may have natural intelligence or a great idea, but that’s not the engine behind a well-oiled machine. It’s the desire and ability to always learn and grow your skill set.
Prospective business owners need to understand the ins and outs of their industry in its entirety. They don’t have to be the smartest people in the room, but they need to know their business like it’s the back of their hand.
Similarly, they need to try new things, attend new seminars and read informational articles that shed light and offer insights into business growth. You can’t always practice running a business necessarily, but you can learn from others and try out new things to see what works best for you and your business.
4. Constant Tests & Challenges
Challenges will test you in all fields — in professional sports, in business and beyond. But in both of these fields, in particular, there are a number of factors that will be constantly on your mind and pushing you to fail.
Stress will test you — stress to work harder and achieve more than the day before, stress to succeed, stress to do better than the competition and stress to prove yourself to friends, family and the world at large.
This stress can make quitting sound like an easy way out. But you need to learn how to overcome self-doubt and the unknown — because there will always be unknowns.
You could hire an employee and two months later realize they weren’t a solid investment. You could put a lot of money into an initiative and watch it fail before your very eyes. You can have a set plan and schedule that gets overturned and pushed back due to unforeseen circumstances.
But just because life throws you a curveball, doesn’t mean you can turn around and quit. It doesn’t mean you can let it affect you and get you down. You don’t have the time to sulk. You don’t have the time to wallow in your past decisions. You need to have faith and confidence in yourself to ensure that you don’t let this be the final nail in your coffin.
Athletes do it every day. And business owners need to do it, too.
5. Love What You Do
But at the end of the day, if you don’t love what you do, you’ll never get off the ground. If you don’t love swimming, but you jump into a pool hoping to become the next Olympic swimmer, you’re going to fail because you’re not going to be in the right mindset to push through the pain and the suffering.
Similarly, in business, if you don’t love the grueling hours, management hiccups and constant brainstorming and strategizing, you’re doomed to fail. It’s that love that drives your determination and passion. It’s that love that keeps you pushing forward, growing and striving for improvement.
I can’t tell you about the number of times I’ve been knocked down a few pegs and felt defeated. But I never gave up. Because I love what I do. I love the thrill of it all, even when I hate it. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have had the success I’ve reached in my career. If I didn’t, I would do everything in my power to improve and innovate.
At DesignRush, I tell my employees that there’s no such thing as a finish line when it comes to improvement. Even when we think we’ve created the best content, optimized it to the best of our abilities and targeted it to the ideal audience, it’s never enough. We can always push further, so we do.
And that’s because loving your business and your work means constantly working to do (and be) better. If you don’t, you and your business will fall behind.
What Business Owners Can Learn From Professional Athletes
It’s up to you to make your business succeed — if you don’t love what you’re doing, if it isn’t what you eat, sleep and breath, if it isn’t something you’re constantly working to improve, it will inevitably fail. And no amount of money can help save it.
Running a business isn’t easy. It takes a lot of hard work and effort, time and determination, perseverance – perhaps more than I can adequately describe.
You’re going to be challenged. You’re going to be tested. You need to be prepared to fail, and you need to be obsessed with every aspect of your business at every step of the way to ensure you’re prepared.
Things happen. Responsibilities get dropped. People get sick. Objectives get lost in the confusion of it all. To run a successful business, you need to be ready for the inevitable, the impossible and the unexpected.
That’s the only way to succeed.
Much like athletes need to practice, obsess and love what they do, business owners need to push themselves, strain themselves and believe in themselves, because stress will always test your devotion and mental toughness, just like physical stress tests the muscles of athletes.
You wouldn’t become a marathon sprinter if you knew you hated sweating. Similarly, you shouldn’t start your own business if you’re not ready to be pushed to your limits and tested at every stage of the game.
Use this checklist as your guide. Whether you’re thinking about starting a business, or elbow deep in your own business endeavors — you need to make sure you embody each of these qualities, otherwise, you’re doomed to fail. Or pass out from exhaustion. Or both.