Top 3 Tips: Pursuing risky ventures
I often frame my Olympic journey as an entrepreneurial endeavour. I started learning how to row in 2009 and won an Olympic silver medal in 2012. There were many unexpected turns in my journey to winning an Olympic medal. Here are my top three tips for pursuing risky ventures:
1. Have a back up plan
While learning how to row, I began a career as an analyst in commercial banking. In start-up terms, I was working a day job while testing my concept: the possibility of becoming a world class rower. ‘Going for it’ does not mean pursuing an idea at the expense of all other and current opportunities. Reckless pursuit of an unproven idea is one reason why so many new small businesses fail. By the time I left the bank to train full time in 2011, I had established a skill set in banking I knew I could come back to if rowing didn’t work out and I’d established that I had real Olympic potential. When I experienced the emotional lows on the roller coaster ride of transforming myself into an Olympic medal contender, I could rest assured knowing that failure was not the end of the world. I had a job I could go back to.
2. Find a mentor
In my case, I was able to rely on the eight other guys in my boat as well as our coach, Mike Spracklen. Mike pulled more out of me than I knew existed and I simply wouldn’t have made it onto the podium without him. Find someone who will push you to be better in your venture, someone who will keep your long term goals in mind and not be afraid to cause you pain in the short term. I always had an idea of how our training and races should go — usually in contrast to Mike’s philosophy — but I only saw how flawed my point of view had been in hindsight. A good mentor is not always a collaborator, they are there to pick you apart so that can you put yourself back together stronger before the big race, or the product launch, or the big sales meeting.
3. Be bigger than any one opportunity
I became an Olympic rower because I wanted to achieve excellence in some sport. It didn’t matter which sport, I just wanted to be world-class. I grew up playing hockey, baseball, rugby, basketball, football, and eventually rowing. I tried a lot of things. It’s important not to confuse that core drive essential for entrepreneurial success with any one opportunity. Sometimes I get so obsessed with one opportunity and I wrap my identity into that one idea when, really, that powerful single-minded focus can be applied to many different things. You are the asset and any one idea is just one of many conduits available to you.
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