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Setting You Up for Success

Reflections on Athletics and Entrepreneurship

I want to explore the commonalities and the differences between training and performing as an athlete compared to preparing and serving as an entrepreneur.

During high school and college, it was very easy for me to train as an athlete. Even as soon as middl school, I had fallen in love with functional movements and plyometrics. This led into strength training according to my physical developmental phases. Before school, you could find me in or around the weight room most days of the week. After school everyday practice fully consumed my mind and body. Many evenings were committed to additional teams I participated on beyond school. Performance, meaning competition, was the most fulfilling for me in volleyball. I was highly successful in track and field and powerlifting, but those platforms required me to take the stage and embrace the spotlight. Basketball was a whole different ballgame that I may not get into here. It was a love early on that eventually lost my affection. On the other hand, volleyball was a game I never anticipated playing with which I eventually fell madly in love.

My volleyball experience offered very unique opportunities:

  • Upper class women handing down the legacy of elite success.

  • Coaches embracing teamwork and psychological factors of sports.

  • Training programs that underlined fundamentals.

  • Game plans that honed on our strengths.

I spent hours developing my own kinesthetic awareness and fundamental skills as a setter early on to become an elite athlete. The role of setter became my home - it was comfortable and required responsibilities that came naturally although they required cultivation and refinement.

  • Consistent communication to keep order on the court.

  • A cool head to have keen awareness of the competition.

  • Composure to support cohesion among my team.

  • Soft hands, quiet feet, and core strength to set others up for success.

Looking back on my experiences between the end of my proper athletic career and where I am today as an entrepreneur, the metaphor of 'setting others up for success' is what reigns supreme in my quest to positively impact the world. As an educator, I recognized the unseen skills and gifts of students that many other adults overlooked. In community organizing and healthcare, the wellbeing of displaced and marginalized community members was a key challenge I believed could be fixed. Now, as a facilitator and consultant, I believe in uplifting the voices and stories within a given project to untangle chaos and create a new strategy, process, or system to achieve healthy success.

Through this work, just like as the setter of a volleyball team, the attention and spotlight is focused on the individual scoring. I know that without teamwork (reading the opposition defensively, calling out defensive plans, blocking any attacks, tenaciously pursuing the volleyball to begin an offensive move, running an offensive play, and delivering the volleyball to the strong arm of a hitter) behind that successful kill, the hitter can never achieve her goal. I know that most people watch (and play) volleyball assuming the game just consists of 'bumping' a ball around the court hoping someone can smash it down to the floor on the other side of the net. There is very little knowledge of the process I just mentioned in order to actually achieve the goal of killing the ball.

I have come to learn the same is true for the journey of an entrepreneur. Many outsiders see a successful start-up or business owner as an overnight success. For some people, it takes years of discipline, consistency, refinement, and iteration to finally appear outwardly successful. The start-up phase of a business is like middle school sports where you're just getting a taste for what's coming. Growth happens rapidly and skills are developed in some instances without realizing what's happening because everything is so new. High school athletics then are like the initial phase of maintaining a business. Continuing to focus on fundamentals (bookkeepings, relationship building, quality, customer engagement) rather than trying to get too fancy too fast (overly aggressive marketing, inconsistent messaging and product or service delivery). And then comes college and the big leagues - a time where businesses are differentiated by the consistency and strength of fundamentals paired with smart risk-taking. Sometimes businesses are on their own to figure out the next step while others are bolstered by investors and mentors.

Athletics and entrepreneurship are both extremely unique experiences that not all people resonate with or have a passion for. But in my journey, both have played a huge role in pulling out and defining my gifts, values, and character. At a recent entrepreneur+faith retreat I attended, I was offered unique insight from a peer through a design thinking exercise. He said to me, "You have stuck with your passion and vision - you've stuck with your small, rural community though it might have been easier to leave. And you had many opportunities to leave. You've stuck with it, so ask the people now to stick with you." This is my final comparison regarding networks of support, faith, and believers. In both contexts, sports and business, the peaks and valleys present moments of aloneness where it seems that no one is coming to support you or your team.

This presents a stark contrast to the times that everyone, including complete strangers, show up to tell you how amazing you are an to cheer for you. I had gotten used to this kind of continuous support. Adulthood has offered me a few years of the extreme opposite, lack of support and active anti-support. It has tested my confidence and self-belief. But even in the worst, darkest moments, there was at least one person to lean on for a smile, a nod of confidence, or a kick in the butt to recognize just how talented I really am. This is the support that keeps us humble but also pushes us to fulfill obligations and responsibilities that we hear whispered through our calling in life.

What have you been called to do in your life?

Who is your supporter?

What gifts do you hold?

How do you exercise those gifts as the fundamentals of serving?

This reflection for me is an opportunity to consider my own resilience through my victories and heartaches in life. I invite you to explore journeys and chapters of your life - to set them side by side and consider who you are and how you show up in both stories. If it seems inconsistent or disharmonious, check your resilience factors (inner balance and coherence). Connect with me if you're needing support in developing your fundamental resilience skills.

Until next time, be well!


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