from sports to startups
I have followed, I have led, I have been coached and I have coached others. For me, being part of a sports team has guided much of my life. I always knew on some level that being part of a team and being active within athletics was good for me, but I did not fully appreciate that until more recently until it was gone.
The importance of being part of something larger than ourselves is common knowledge. We listen to strangers preach about humankind’s deep-rooted tribal instincts. We listen to professionals tell us about the importance of being part of a community in order to reach a certain level of personal fulfillment. But how do we actually apply these concepts to our everyday lives? How do we apply these principles when there is no locker room, no uniform, no coaching staff, no championship game to aim for. In an ever-growing autonomous society, I believe there are valuable lessons to be learned from the teams that have helped shape us.
The worst thing about participating in sports is that they, eventually, must come to an end. Where does one go when they no longer feel part of a team they have given their all to? I suppose true, elite teams adapt in order to survive while others simply fade away. It is difficult losing your team, your identity. When the seasons are over, you are left with a feeling of confusion. Confusion, in turn, leads to contemplation. I have heard it all my life that “sports are a reflection of life.” I would go a step further and say that the team aspect of sports is what is most relatable to life. There is a reason why every retiring professional athlete mentions the locker room and his or her teammates first and foremost when asked what they will miss most. A team holds many truths. Understanding the dynamics of teamwork and your role within that group ultimately helps you better understand yourself. I often contemplate the idea of what makes a successful team. I have been a part of winning seasons and I have been a part of losing seasons. I have been on teams that felt like a brotherhood and I have been on others that had no solidarity. Taking the time to reflect on these experiences has helped shape what I want in my future endeavors. I judge the worth and value of my team experience not based on wins and losses, but on friendships and allegiances.
After college, I traveled to Dublin, Ireland to play professional basketball. Why leave friends and family to live in a foreign country where I did not know a single soul? Because I was not ready to stop being part of a team, and the only team I had ever known up until that point was in the form of a basketball team. Being part of a team made that experience possible. Teams make transition easier, they always have. But yet again, sports have an expiration date. This leads to the idea of how these same concepts apply to life after sports. What helps us grow both collectively and individually? What can we genuinely take away from our playing days and apply to our next steps?
I often need to remind myself that the end of one team does not negate the start of a new one. I am lucky to have found a new team in a startup company I recently joined. The startup culture, which comes with many far fetched stereotypes, has proven thus far to be a good fit. I feel fortunate to have surrounded myself with very hard-working individuals who put a priority on teamwork. Not only was I was confident that the co-founders shared similar goals and interests, but I also sensed that they were also looking to build a culture around this business. Their experience on athletic teams and in previous professions led them down a similar path. Now, our work preparation is our practice, our office meetings and slack conversations are our huddles, and our defined roles and responsibilities keep us all accountable.
I am still getting to know my colleagues and I am still the new guy on the team, but I am glad I took a leap of faith and left a large corporate gig for one that allows me to be myself. I think the startup culture has become so enticing for so many individuals because we all want to be part of a growing team. We all want to share common goals and work in unison to accomplish more than any person is capable of accomplishing alone. This collective effort is the essence of where sports and business truly intersect. The drive and the grit come from a genuine fear of letting down a fellow teammate/colleague. Throughout countless, brutal preseason basketball workouts I became very familiar (even agitated at times) with the term “accountability,” but I now understand this concept better than ever before. A cohesive group is built, not made, and the more we push each other forward the better off we are for it. For me, the more my work environment emulates that of a team, the more I am willing to sacrifice.
I do not think I am worthy of giving others advice but I do think it is important to share our stories. Whether people learn from it, connect with it, love it or hate it…there is no end goal outside of sharing. I think we should remind ourselves what sports have really taught us, what teamwork has really taught us. We can use these experiences to better understand where we belong after the playing days are over. It is more than a competitive drive, more than a strong work ethic; it is about finding your fit. It takes common experiences to build trusted relationships. It takes ups and downs. There is no other way. We must all stay patient and keep our eyes open and not be afraid to pursue opportunities when they present themselves. Why not be part of as many teams as possible and learn from each and every one of them? There is no ubiquitous formula for success, only opportunities to keep learning. Wherever you are, wherever you go, do not be afraid to find your team.