For these two weeks in August, the world's attention is on Rio. What draws us in? It's the athletes themselves. It's watching their strength and dedication over the past four years, over a lifetime really, come to a head on the world's biggest stage.
Most of us are able to have "off days," but for athletes competing at the Olympic level, it would seem those words aren't even part of their vocabulary. It takes a unique amount of skill, determination and hard work to make it at that level. Whether logging hours at the gym or in international competition, it's an athlete's sheer drive and endurance that determine whether or not they'll prevail when the global spotlight is on them.
So how do these attributes translate to careers outside of the games? Xero recently had the opportunity to sit down with Michelle Roark, former Olympic freestyle skier and current owner of Phia Lab, to hear how her athletic career put her on the path to entrepreneurship and, in her words, led her to exactly what she's supposed to be doing.
What characteristics apply to succeeding both at sport and in business?
In short: endurance.
"You always have to be pushing yourself. I skied the world cup circuit for 16 years, and along the way there were many points in my career where I felt like I had to take two steps back to take five steps forward. It's extremely tiring, but I knew my hard work would pay off in the long run. You have to have this same mentality in business," Roark says.
Endurance is critical to the success of athletes and business owners alike, because as mentioned earlier, both will inevitably face failure at some point in their path to success.
How did professional sport make you a better business owner?
Solid life experience outside the office can prepare you to handle the most difficult of challenges in the workplace, oftentimes better than a traditional internship or college coursework. Overcoming challenges, honing skills, and learning from past experiences are all crucial parts of the playbook that you can apply in your future career.
"In athletic competition, you learn very quickly how to deal with failure - you learn from what you did wrong and it makes you better. Every day that you fail, you get up and do it again and again, each time doing it better. Many small businesses fail and those that do get off the ground face a lot of falling down and getting back up along the path to success," Roark says.
By learning how to deal with failure in her time as a competitive athlete, for example, Roark is prepared for the tough, often failure-riddled road to entrepreneurship.
How did you start your business?
Inspiration can come from anywhere, and for Roark, it came with a smell.
"When I was training for the 2006 Olympics, I was working with a sports psychologist on visualization techniques and they kept saying, "you need to visualize with all of your senses." But I kept struggling with smell, asking myself, "how does winning a race smell?" In competition, you are looking for anything to give you an edge, and even the littlest thing can help you invoke the zone. Sense of smell taps into the parts of the brain that contain memory and emotion. As so, scent is arguably the most important, but least appreciated scent when visualizing success," Roark says.
"I decided that I would pick out my own scent for training and competition, but was highly dissatisfied with commercial blends. I started doing my own research on ingredients that went into perfumes and leveraged my studies as a chemical engineer to start developing my own blends based on natural, essential oils as opposed to synthetic substances."
What made you want to be a business owner?
The transition from athlete to business owner might not be obvious in everyone's mind, but through Michelle Roark's experience as a professional athlete, she recognized what she wanted in her next career and the transferable skills she'd developed that could get her there.
"As a premier American skier, you have to ski for the U.S. team - you don't really have a choice if you want to compete on the global level. But that also means someone else is calling the shots: they pick your coach, they pick what you are going to wear, where you will train. Having that limited control over my skiing made me really yearn to be my own boss, and now I love it," Roark says.
"I get to run my business and create my own workplace culture the way I want to. At Phia Lab, we have a lot of positive affirmations, we do yoga, people can dress in whatever they want - feathers and sparkles are encouraged as part of the dress code. I love having the ability to create a workplace that fits my personality."
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
"My biggest tip is have tenacity. You have to learn to weather the storm, take the ups and downs, and understand that you won't make everyone happy along the way. There will be naysayers -- it happens in sports and it will definitely happen in business. You just need to stick to doing what's best for you as well as trusting yourself and the choices you make," Roark says.
For entrepreneurs, there is no clear path to success, and it certainly doesn't happen overnight. But as we can learn from Michelle Roark, inspiration and the skills needed to be successful can come from the unlikeliest of places.
"As long as you continue to do what aligns with your passion, how can that not work out?" Roark affirms.