Why Aren’t there Entrepreneurial Olympics?

August 1st, 2012

So, I am sitting with my family watching the opening ceremonies Friday evening (I think I am the only one I know that liked it…must be that strange, British wit!) and I kept thinking about all of the human interest stories about the athletes.  I thought about their struggles…family sacrifices…the long hours training…the obstacles overcome…and the incredible courage it takes to truly be the best in the world.  I find that is truly the best part of the Olympic experience.

All of us can identify with the moms sitting on the edge of their seats wringing their hands in agony as they watch their sons and daughters compete! Or the sense of pride that wells up inside us when our country earns a medal.  There is an emotional connection to the athlete.  All of us seem to identify at some level to the people…badminton or air rifles? Not so much.

This got me thinking about business and the world that entrepreneurs enter every day.  There aren’t any “Entrepreneurial Olympics”, but, there should be.  Yes, there are growth awards, there are special lists for your company in your industry, and you can even become Entrepreneur of the Year. In 2010, I was the Entrepreneur of the Year, and the hardest part of the whole thing was to bring the story of my success to life. My journey up to that moment  had been embroiled in so much risk.  My first office was a coat closet. My first desk, a card table. No customers. Little kids at home. A wife counting on me. Long, arduous days. Shifts in the marketplace. The emotional toll of the terrorism on 9/11. Not to mention the unexpected challenges of IT failure, theft, and flooding on the new furniture – and this was just during my first month!

I can just imagine what would happen if Bob Costas were to interview me or another entrepreneur.  Bob would ask, “How did you continue to train 14 to 16 hours a day while knowing you had put a second mortgage on your home?  What was it like to grow a business from an idea and attract that first, second or third employee to your vision?”, or maybe, “What is it like on Sunday nights when you need to meet payroll?  Does that feeling ever go away and how do you manage that anxiety when you lead and direct?” 

Would the interviews be as riveting?  Would you well up with emotion the way we do for Olympians? If you think, “Eh, maybe not”, I have some zingers for you. Like when our office caught fire and flooded on Super Bowl Sunday a few years back. How I almost lost everything, AGAIN! Video footage would help but, frankly, I am not sure if folks would get it or like it! Pop culture does not quite understand the life of an entrepreneur (unless your family has or is one!) but we all should try.

There are so many parallels, so many comparisons, so much in common between athletes and entrepreneurs.  The odds are steep. The time commitment is exhaustive.  The accolades and medals?  For professional athletes, there is a wide range of possibilities even outside of Olympic medals. For entrepreneurs? Well, they are earned only by a few.

The Olympic metaphors are so much an entrepreneur’s life story:

  • Like athletes, most entrepreneurs do not make the “games”.  So few make it to one year, five, or ten!
  • Athletes and entrepreneurs must train to win,  the athletes that don’t medal seem to lose their focus and routine.  Same for entrepreneurs.  Focus, priorities, and routine are critical to maximizing energy and using limited resources to get the result you want!
  • Playing the sport is all that matters. The lessons learned about yourself, about competition, self esteem and confidence, being a part of a team all apply to small business.  Without them no one earns a spot on the medals stand.

Now imagine your own interview with Bob. Or better yet, put yourself on the podium with flowers in hand, a gold medal around your neck and your company’s logo flying high above you as its raised above your head in flag-form. What would that be like as an entrepreneur?

“I would like to thank my mom…

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