The Winter Olympics are here, and figure skating is always one of the most popular sports of the games. I know I’m always enthralled watching how athleticism and artistry are combined. When I was just starting my small business, I was an enthusiastic, though not very good, ice skater, and I found there were many things I learned from ice skating that helped me succeed in my small business life.
- Get used to being on the edge. Skating is a matter of edges. Every turn, every movement requires you to put all your weight on a 1/8th-of-an-inch piece of steel blade. This takes a lot of muscles and a lot of courage. Business, too, takes the ability to put things on the line. You have to learn how to get used to taking chances. These shouldn’t be foolhardy (no triple lutzes), but get comfortable being on your edges if you want to make progress.
- Practice. In sports, we expect to practice. There’s spring training for baseball, practice sessions for even the youngest soccer teams. Yet in business, we think we have to be perfect the very first time we ever do something: go on a sales call, supervise an employee, develop a product. We have to practice those things too. It’s just that most of our practice happens once we’re already in business. That’s okay. Just keep learning. And expect the following…
- You’re going to fall. In business, as in skating, you sometimes end up on your backside. If you get overwhelmed by setbacks, you’ll never survive. Instead, when something bad happens, ask yourself the question I overheard an ice skating coach patiently inquire of a crying five-year-old: “Are you scared or are you hurt?” Learning to tell the difference—at 5 or 35—is a valuable life skill.
- Get used to dealing with people of all ages. I’m about to launch a new cloud-based application, and as you can imagine the world of app development is dominated by 20-somethings. I’m no longer in my mid-twenties (and I’m not telling you how long it’s been since I was.) Ice skating helped prepared me. When I was skating, a 10-year-old girl skated alongside me and asked how long I’d been skating. “About a year,” I replied. Then with all the patience and encouragement of a wise elder dealing with a toddler, she said, “You’re doing really well; keep it up.” Patronized by a pre-teen!
- Don’t let others set your limitations. About a month after I started skating, I fell and cut the back of my head, requiring a dozen stitches. A close friend suggested I give up the sport; it was just for kids. Hah! Instead, I devised a helmet that looked like a hat and signed up for lessons on how to fall. I wasn’t going to be stopped.
- You don’t have to be great to be good. I was always a pretty bad ice skater. It’s not that I’m proud of that, but I’ve got some very real limitations—physical abilities, talent, amount of time I can spend. That’s okay. I wasn’t aiming to enter any competitions. Many people in business think they have to be great to survive. It’s not true. You don’t have to build a Fortune 500 company to make a good living.
- Take care of yourself. New businesses demand a huge amount of time and attention. It’s easy to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As a result, people typically neglect their family and personal lives, their health, and their overall wellbeing. I’ve been there, done that. In the long run, you’re better off to take time each week to take care of yourself, time each day to devote to your family and friends. Stay in good health if you want to run a business and keep your perspective and sense of humor. It’s just good business.
As you watch Olympic athletes, whether figure skaters, speed skaters, lugers, snowboarders or skiiers, allow yourself to be inspired—not just by their spirit of competition, but by their perseverance, their risk taking, their dedication to excellence. They’re great examples to those of us who may never go out on the slopes, but who want to win gold (or silver or bronze) medals in small business.
Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2018
This article originally ran in USA Today on February 14, 2018