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3 powerful business lessons I learned from a triathlon

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You may have heard that achieving great leadership or achieving success is a marathon rather than a sprint. But triathlons — which involve swimming, cycling, and running in sequence — may be a more realistic office analogy, as teams often have to switch to something new without stopping. When I participated in one of these events, I came out stronger, not only in this belief, but also because I learned three powerful new lessons that can be applied in any business environment.

Just keep swimming

Triathlons can be different distances depending on your level. In the event I did, the swim was about a mile in total – a quarter of a mile out, half a mile wide, and a quarter of a mile back to shore. I was lucky enough to do the event with my younger brother even though we were in different age groups. But huge waves hit the shore. As my brother’s group left, I saw the people tumbling back through the water. By the time my brother and his heat had navigated out, he and the other swimmers had used up most of their energy.

I fought the waves. I needed to recover and regroup, so I tried to float a bit. But the coast seemed to get further away, not closer. I became more anxious and panicked instead of calming down. I managed to navigate around the first buoy and swim the half mile thanks to not fighting the current as much. But I was constantly looking back to check my progress, and as I approached the last quarter mile of the swim, I was exhausted. I knew I couldn’t swim anymore.

It was a terrifying realization. Yet in that chaotic moment there was also an almost ridiculous resignation. Would I drown? Probably. Had I led a good life? Yes. I thought it was okay to sink to the bottom and make new aquatic friends on the way to a watery grave.

But just as I started to drop into the water, my foot hit something. The bottom. Beautiful, glorious earth. And if that was the bottom, I decided, I couldn’t just stop moving and drown. I gave my last strength to push myself up and give a huge reach. That took me about 5 feet, and then a wave pushed me another 30 feet toward the shore. At that point, I was waist-deep and able to get up and walk. Thanks to that one stroke, I made it to shore, balanced myself, managed to progress to the bike portion of the race, and finally finished.

Related: 6 Leadership Lessons I Learned From Playing Hockey

Lesson #1: Perseverance overcomes adversity

Just as I was about to give up swimming, I discovered that I was much closer to shore than I thought. In business too, we often fail to see how close we are to security and resolution. Years after my triathlon, when I was just starting my first company, we got into a situation where, despite having an investor on the hook, we wouldn’t make the payroll. We had planned a meeting to break the news to everyone. But at the last minute we remembered that we had been selected to participate in a pitch fest. There was a lot of pressure because we knew that if we didn’t get the $50,000 prize, we couldn’t pay our people any other way. It felt like we were about to drown.

Thanks to our performance – the last strong hit we had left – we won the $50,000. But it didn’t stop there. As I was driving back from San Francisco to pick up the check, the investor we had on the hook called. They would give us $3 million, enough to fund us for the next year and a half. The experience reinforced what I had learned in the water: keep moving beyond adversity, toward what you want, because if you refuse to sink, you are probably much closer to your goal than you realize.

Related: 3 Entrepreneurial Lessons From The Movie ‘Free Guy’

Lesson #2: Looking back will only slow you down

In the water, looking back didn’t help me. What should I do? I kept my eyes on where I needed to go so I could focus and stay at ease. In the same way, Today’s leading companies are progressive. They can’t see the future, but they use a strategic combination of prescriptive analytics, revenue stream diversification, human capital development, and scenario planning to prepare for what may come their way. She respond quickly with both grit and humility when something goes wrong, instead of whining. They also consciously create an environment where employees can respond authentically, prioritize and put energy into positive change, helping to keep trust strong.

To consider real companies putting this into practice, you should first take a look at General Motors, namely: investing heavily in electric vehicles anticipating the shift from fossil fuels. The pandemic has also caused dozens of companies, including Twitter, switch to working from home constellations in response to employee preferences rather than pushing for a return to traditional on-site work.

Related: 4 Entrepreneurship Lessons You Won’t Learn in a Classroom

Lesson #3: Stopping to rest steals your momentum and triggers panic

When I floated in the water, I initially thought I could catch my breath. Instead, it only increased my tension because it gave me time to think and worry. Companies like Uber have run into the same problem. Through waiting to be made public, Uber and many other tech companies can seem riskier. Because they are already bigger by the time they go public, the companies are struggling to convince investors that significant growth and profits are still on the way. And if you’re not sure whether investors will go with you, your team and clients both won’t know what to do.

One more powerful blow might get you all you want

If you own a business, the question is not or you will encounter adversity, but when. Waves of it threaten to push you back where you don’t want to be, and take your breath away. You might think to yourself, in your worst exhaustion and stress, that there is no way you can put in any more effort and that you will see everything you have worked for die.

But in moments of discouragement I remember I managed to reach the point in the water where I could hit the bottom. I found myself more capable and confident than I had initially realized. In the same way you can also find your way. Never lose the heart you need to give one last push, because the end of the race may be just one beat away.

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