One of the typical traits of successful entrepreneurs and sales leaders is persistence. Knowing that you are determined to not give up puts you ahead of many of your peers. Excellent leaders also strive to know more, and to be constantly training and learning.
I have celebrated a lot of success in my career as well as my personal life. But sometimes you forget how much work it can take to truly accomplish something. Once you clear a hurdle, it’s much easier the second (and third) time. It’s easy to forget the initial effort that went into becoming good at something.
This story is a personal one and I’ll do a little family bragging as well. In the end, it made me realize that this accomplishment is no different than any sales or startup success I’ve had, it was just a lot more individualized.
When my daughter Naomi was a senior in high school, she had expressed an interest in doing a Triathlon with me. Some friends of ours had done the NJ Tri Sprint in years past. It’s not a daunting Tri – 550m swim, 10 mile bike ride, 5K run. Naomi and I had been regular runners (Naomi was a championship runner in both high school and college) and we both biked as well. However, the difference was swimming. Naomi is an outstanding swimmer – she was captain of her High School Swim Team and regularly went to State Championships. She would have no problem completing the Tri.
I would have an issue though. I had never been a good swimmer – in fact, I stunk. I could barely swim a lap without feeling winded. I have always had an unhealthy fear of the water. I can go in a pool, or the ocean and hang out for a while, but never comfortably. I could tread water, but with great exertion. The thought of swimming 100m scared me, much less 550m!
So I backed out of doing the Triathlon her Senior year of high school. There was just too much going on, the summer was very busy getting ready to move her to college, and frankly I don’t think I was ready to take on my fear.
That changed in 2013. In January, I made a vow to be ready to do the NJ Tri Sprint in July 2013. I signed up at my local YMCA and booked lessons with the Asst. Swim Director at the Y. At our first session, she asked me to swim one length (down and back). I did it, and will never forget her look and small smile as she said “ok, so we’re starting from the very beginning….”
I started with 4 lessons, then did 4 more. I practiced 2-3x/week in between my lessons. I did not really enjoy it. I would have much preferred to be running or biking. But I knew I had to put in the time to make this work. Progress was very slow. There were so many things I needed to learn and burn into muscle memory. Some weeks, progress was hard to see. Some weeks, I felt like I improved 100%. All the while, I kept looking at the goal – July 20 in Mercer County Park, NJ.
By late March, I was feeling like I would at least make the swim without drowning, so I signed up Naomi and I for the Tri over her Spring Break when she was home. I signed up for 6 more lessons and kept practicing on my own. Then Naomi got home from college in Mid-May. We started training together a bit (hard for me since she’s faster than me in everything but the bike now!). We did practice Tri’s – starting in our community pool, then jumping on our bikes, and finishing with a 5K (well, I would do a 5K… Naomi would still do her 10 mile run required for her summer training program) My swimming was actually getting better! Naomi would help me in the pool, making suggestions about my pull and keeping my legs up. We would stretch each other out and “roll” out each other after the workouts. We even went to a lake and did a swim there so I could experience that – including her unsolicited dunking of my head under water while I was swimming to simulate what usually happens during the swim at a real Tri.
This all led up to the actual event – we arrived with our friend David (who originally told us about this Tri, this was his 3rd time) and his family who were there supporting David and documenting the event. I felt prepared, but still very nervous about the swim. This would be my very first 550m straight swim. I didn’t want to hold onto the buoys, I didn’t want to stop – I wanted to swim the entire length. I got to watch David go first in the 3rd wave and Naomi go in the 4th. I wasn’t up until the 8th wave, so I had plenty of time to think, stretch and talk to others about the event, which helped keep me calm.
They called our group out and I went into the water. Following some great advice from one of the race organizers, I stayed in the middle of the pack – not the front, not all the way in the back. I put my goggles on under my cap (BTW – first time in a swim cap, not fun!), so the goggles couldn’t be knocked off by somebody. Then they announced our start – and I started swimming! It was tough – lots of people around, and I quickly realized several swimmers were worse than me! They kept trying to hold onto me to stay afloat, or just not paying attention and hitting me when they tried to stroke. But I found a lane, and did a nice, consistent freestyle until I would get hit, then I would pop up and do a few breast strokes so I could look above water and see where my next lane was.
Getting out of the water was such an AWESOME feeling. I did it! I swam 550m straight, without stopping, and I was still feeling strong. My legs were a bit wobbly, as other swimmers started running toward their bikes, and I found I couldn’t quite run. But it came back quickly, and the next thing I knew I was off on my bike ride and then my run. Both of those events were fairly uneventful. I biked very strong and was a little slower than usual on my run, but given my head cold and the stress, I didn’t worry too much about it. I sprinted to the finish, and did the entire triathlon in 10 minutes less than my target!
Making matters even better, our friend David finished much earlier than he expected, and Naomi finished in 1st place overall for woman 19 and under! Her time was just insane, and that was without a lot of bike training. We both felt so good, we agreed to start training for the Olympic Tri next year – a 1 mile swim, 25 mile bike ride and 10K run. So, more lessons and training in the pool for me!
Now (finally) back to my point about business. It may seem obvious, but I didn’t start applying the lessons here to sales and entrepreneurship until after the race. I dove into the unknown, took on something that I was not comfortable with, learned from others who are more experienced, and practiced a lot. I fought through the easier path of simply sticking with what I was good at and comfortable with. I took input from all sorts of people – my friends at the Y who watched me grow as a swimmer were great people and really helped a lot. My wife was proud of my efforts, even though I would complain I wasn’t improving fast enough, and she dealt with my fears and stress as the event came closer.
I’ve learned new skills and conquered a fear. All these attributes are important for success in business as well as life. And I set a goal for something that was completely unknown and I met it. All good feelings, and good examples of how to win in sales and business.