When the time comes for an athlete to move from the playing field to the boardroom, lots of questions arise: “What career path should I follow? What am I best suited to do given my unique traits as an athlete? How will I find professional fulfillment?”
After a successful stint as a student-athlete at the University of Hawaii (a proud member of the 1999 championship football team) and Missouri State University, the answer for me was simple: entrepreneurship.
Here are the five steps that helped me, and can help you, seamlessly transition from athlete to entrepreneur.
1. Understand Your “Athlete DNA”
In the same way that your DNA controls your biological makeup, your Athlete DNA controls what drives and motivates you to succeed.
Your “Athlete DNA” includes strands of competitiveness, desire, passion and perseverance – all of the traits that make athletes excel on and off the field. When your day-to-day routine doesn’t allow you to flex those traits, you’ll find yourself anxious and frustrated. If and when you find yourself in that position, entrepreneurship may be the ideal path for making the most of those unique traits.
2. Create Your Definition of Success
Success has always been defined for athletes. You either win the game and succeed, or you lose the game and fail. But off the field, success isn’t as easy to determine.
Success is not one-size-fits-all – it’s unique to you and has to be tailored to what you value. Maybe it’s a higher income or the ability to spend more time with family and friends. Maybe it’s freedom from a set work schedule.
However you define success, embrace it. Own it. Eat, sleep and breathe it. Then, as you work on your plan to achieve that success, do periodic gut checks to make sure you’re still on the right path. Your definition of success will evolve as you grow and your desires change – and that’s okay.
3. Set Goals That Keep You Accountable
Athletes never back down from a challenge. Neither do entrepreneurs. In both cases, it’s important to set targeted, actionable goals – not just lofty ambitions – that keep you working toward that challenge.
When a runner wants to hit a new personal record, he or she sets specific goals for miles and times. This is a perfect example of the need to set a series of incremental goals to hold you accountable over time. As you reach each one, use the sense of satisfaction you get as motivation to power through the next.
4. Embrace the Importance of Professional Networking
On your entrepreneurial journey, who you place in your professional network of peers will be very important. Like an athlete who studies the abilities of those who are great in her sport, the people you place in your circle will be who you learn from. Many of the opportunities you receive will be a direct result of who you’re aligned with, so be smart, be strategic and be open to stepping outside your comfort zone to meet new people.
There are many ways to develop your network. You can attend conferences, set up meetings with people you admire and take advantage of online communities like AthleteNetwork.com that can instantly connect you with like-minded people who share your personal and professional passions.
5. Take the Field and Play the Game of Entrepreneurship
Game day always comes. With a better understanding of who you are, what success looks like to you, what it will take to accomplish that success and which people will help you along the way, you’re ready to play the game of entrepreneurship.
Being an entrepreneur is a risky choice. You’ll question yourself many times throughout the process. You may even doubt yourself sometimes. But stick with it. Your business will rarely look like the business plan you started with, but don’t get discouraged. You’re going to have failures – embrace them; because you’ll learn a lot in those moments. No matter what, never give up.
Remember, athletes don’t back down from challenges.
Entrepreneurship is a crazy ride, but with the craziness comes an amazing sense of satisfaction. And with your natural drive and ability, you’re equipped with all you need to succeed.