As a competitive athlete, albeit a purely recreational one these days, I have found that the lessons learned on the field, or in my case, on the water, are incredibly relevant in my career.
Chief among these lessons is effective collaboration. Working with a diverse team undoubtedly provides a robust set of skills. For those of us who have spent many hours training and competing, it’s a no-brainer to immediately identify strengths and weaknesses among the team and maximize that knowledge to execute effectively. Quite often, athletes will explain that an innate familiarity with your teammates builds trust. Similarly, I find that when I know I can depend on a colleague to perform his or her assigned tasks, I’m able to focus more on my own assignments and ultimately bring more to the table. Further, when the majority of my responsibility lies within my realm of personal strengths, I can trust myself to perform to my best ability. This is not to say that we shouldn’t challenge ourselves to work outside our comfort zone. Instead, we should observe and learn from our peers to consistently expand our knowledge of the industry. Is one of your colleagues gifted at networking? Task her with finding the perfect journalist for your latest pitch and ask her to share her tried and true tactics with you.
Competing athletically at any level requires a degree of mental toughness that is equally beneficial in business. Beyond the anecdotal evidence I’ve personally experienced and witnessed in teammates, several experts support the claimthat high performance athletes must employ mental strategies to be effective. Known colloquially as the “athletic brain,” industry leader Axon Sports describes an athlete’s mind as, “A high-performing machine that is pre-programed to anticipate, read and react to in-game scenarios more effectively.” As PR professionals, this is exactly why we are hired: to anticipate, read, and react to our clients’ communications needs in real time. Juggling a keen attention to detail (anticipate & read) with an eye on the bigger picture (react) is the bread and butter of a public relations team. As PR professionals, we are responsible for being aware of the noise surrounding our clients: knowing the ins and outs of their competitors, pain points within the industry, and product strengths and weaknesses to name a few. This holistic approach is very similar to the mental training an athlete tackles. A competitor in the workplace is no different from the opponent one faces on the field.
Lastly, athletes are conditioned to learn from each practice, each race, each game. Rather than dwell on mistakes, my coaches always pushed me to learn from them and immediately move past it. I credit this aspect of athleticism with my ability to accept constructive feedback at work. I’ve often seen peers take comments from a colleague too personally, ultimately inhibiting their productivity for the day because they’re too busy venting on Google chat or revising the same press release 20 times. We must remove our ego from the equation when receiving feedback on client work. At the end of the day, each team member is working towards the end goal of delivering excellent work (remember point #1 about collaboration) to the client and we shouldn’t allow a bruised ego to jeopardize that.
My analogies are not exclusive to athletics; I am sure that the theatre kids and math Olympians can point to similar experiences that have shaped their careers. I invite you to share your own anecdotes in the comment section: What lessons from your personal life do you apply to your career?