Be a Business Athlete

Sometimes a simple change in scenery or a diversion in thought can help you arrive at some of your most critical, brilliant ideas. One morning, while on a beautiful, mangrove-filled, forest trail, the sun was shining on my face when I heard my friend, whom I was following on my mountain bike, yell over his shoulder and say “See Koopman, this is what I do for a living. I love it! . . . most people work for a year to be able to experience this, for just one hour.” My friend, Fausto, is a triathlete, fitness boot-camp trainer and competitive athlete. His expression was that of genuine gratitude but his assumption perhaps that my boring desk job was subordinate to his healthier, more engaged dedication to sports and nature.

As our conversation continues and I become splattered with the mud from his rear tires, he made it clear that money was not important to him. What was important was enjoying life, sports and nature along with helping others do the same. When I pushed for greater definition on his passion, beating his personal-best, reaching new records, being in the moment of triumph is what matters to him. So the next 10 minutes of our ride, I end up thinking about “what if I had become a . . . ” questions. Then I realized very quickly that I too love what I do; that “boring business career” that Fausto thought I was suffering from.

What is it about business that drives me and my teams to succeed? And how am I going to explain this to Fausto, who is clearly wired differently than me…or is he?

Perhaps my preparation for that long-awaited meeting or annual sales conference is quite like that of an athlete. I too train and get better by practice. Staff meetings and copious conference calls, extensive research, negotiations and business reviews all require lead time and for those who want to train for perfect business acumen, follow the workout for success. Business success is measured also by personal bests and is only sustainable if the winning goal is less about the paycheck and more about achieving greatness and reaching new highs or personal records.

Perhaps being in the business “rat race” whether in sales, marketing, management or any business leadership role, is like a game of monopoly; not because the goal is to make money and take everyone else’s, but because the time you spend playing the game should be enjoyable with all the people around the table. We often forget to enjoy the determination and the training, but rather focus only on the finish line.

Yes, the big bonus, commission or promotion is fantastic recognition of the effort but not the end goal. I thrive on creating more opportunity and success for everyone involved – perhaps you might say I’m a team player but doing my best, enjoying the journey and then reaching never-before-achieved goals is what motivates me to be the better every day.

So, in this respect money is the by-product or trophy of working hard, getting results and doing what is right. This is why I consider myself a business athlete and like to work with those who are wired the same way.