Steve Mesler is the co-founder of the international award-winning non-profit education organization Classroom Champions. He is a three-time U.S. Olympian and 2010 Olympic gold medalist in four-man bobsled, and is a member of the United States Olympic Committee’s Board of Directors.
Winning an Olympic gold medal and founding Classroom Champions may not sound like they have much in common. One found me running for five seconds and sitting for a minute with three teammates packed into a rocket on skates. The other finds me wearing a suit and working with a diverse team to change the lives of tens of thousands of kids. They’re pretty much night and day apart from a mission perspective.
But if I’ve learned anything over the past five years of building Classroom Champions, which followed a 20-year pursuit of Olympic glory, it’s that being an entrepreneur is just as challenging, scary, exciting and rewarding as going for the gold on a daily basis.
So in a tip of the hat to both entrepreneurs and Olympians, here’s my list of how these two animals inhabit the same cage:
1. Believing In The Butterfly Effect
When I was an athlete I knew that if I woke up two hours before training, ate one more egg at breakfast or finished one last back squat at training it would make me better and I would accomplish my goal.
Sometimes that goal was three and a half years away. That’s a long time to think that an extra egg will have anything to do with the final outcome — but an Olympian believes in the details without question.
As an entrepreneur, that same mentality exists. Entrepreneurs wake up and are certain they can affect the outcome of whatever challenge is in front of them. An entrepreneur is always asking, “What do I need to do today to help my company’s goals of tomorrow?” It’s quite the leap to understand today’s smallest action will have an impact on organizational performance months and years down the road. But we’re certain of it.
2. Thinking Someone Might Be Working Harder
The Germans, Swiss or Austrians had won every gold medal in four-man bobsled for 10 Olympics in a row. The Americans hadn’t won the event in 62 years — before we took gold in Vancouver.
Do you know what day Thanksgiving is in Germany? It’s a Thursday, and no one there is taking the day off. So I trained. How about Labor Day? You guessed it, it’s a Monday in Switzerland. They were training so I needed to be, too. Christmas? I assumed they were taking the day off, so I trained.
Entrepreneurs have that same mentality and it drives them to work as hard as they can. They are also masters at igniting those around them to do the same. If you believe in your mission, it moves away from work and towards a life obsession. Entrepreneurs are obsessed with their mission and realize there are hundreds of other companies out there who are clawing to take a piece of their market share.
As Mark Cuban once said, "Work like there is someone working 24 hours a day to take it all away from you."
3. Learning, And Caring, About How Things Work
At one point or another during my career, I competed in every seat in the sled, including spending time on the world cup tour as a driver. That was a rarity for a push athlete. But it made me versatile and it kept me curious about every aspect of my sport — from push technique to aerodynamics to the composition of the steel in our runners (the blades on the bottom of the sled).
As an entrepreneur, you are responsible for knowing how the entire ecosystem, inside and outside, of your company works. It’s because you probably had to operate each part of that system at one time or another. Eventually you start hiring people that are smarter than you in every area of your business, but your ability to be fluent in everything allows you to understand how to best succeed today, tomorrow, and how to pivot along the way.
4. Realizing Fear Is Just A Day That Ends In “Y”
For the better part of 10 years, I spent my days going down hills at over 85 mph in what amounts to a fiberglass garbage can with skates. Every bobsledder is hyper-aware that today could be the day something really bad happens. It could also be the day something amazing takes place if you push the envelope and it works out.
Being responsible for steering a company that can be more complicated than a bobsled can be a daunting task at times. Along with being responsible for your company, you all of a sudden find yourself responsible for the wellbeing of those around you as well. It’s all very adrenalizing while at the same time frightening. On a daily basis you sit down and are faced with situations and decisions that put your business at risk; and then you move to your next meeting where you encounter opportunities that can make your year.
Balancing the fast line and the conservative line on the way down the hill makes Olympians and entrepreneurs unique animals that wake up every day energized that today will be the day something big happens. They both are driven, passionate groups of people who see challenges as opportunities and have a very hard time being told something isn’t possible!