Few people ever become professional athletes; you need to get several factors right to succeed in that realm. We’re more likely to nurse our sporting interests through fandom or becoming weekend warriors while focusing on more ordinary careers.
Yet as we pursue success and eventual progress at work, we can learn a lot from athletes. Here’s how you can train like an athlete to push past barriers in your career.
Become a master of discipline
In sports, talent is common, even at the youth level. Our schools have built-in systems to enable naturally gifted children to rise up, get noticed, and be nurtured further towards success. But as you go further along that path, the influence of talent fades; skills become more complex.
Every sport requires a different set of sub-skills. And each athlete will have their way of training, as they seek to master those skills. You can personalize the details, but what the best athletes all have in common is discipline.
The same pattern can be seen in our careers. People who enter the workforce with degrees from good schools have a sizable early advantage. But the context of our careers is never static. Modern education is increasingly struggling to prepare students for jobs that don’t exist yet. Like an athlete’s natural talent, initial advantages will fade; the steady improvement from discipline will keep you going.
Adopt the right mindset
As they train, every athlete experiences a mix of growth and plateaus. Sometimes, there will be inconsistency. You might feel better today than yesterday, but you could feel worse tomorrow.
The same fluctuations might be present during competitive performance. However, the stakes are higher; pressure will be amplified. In the face of such challenges, many people would submit to failure, whether in sport or throughout their careers.
Having the right mindset can make all the difference in terms of how athletes deal with failure and inconsistency. The ‘growth mindset’ made famous by the research of psychologist Carol Dweck is one of the most effective tools you can use to transform failure into a learning opportunity.
A second mindset can be just as vital to your efforts to train for your career like an athlete. Called the ‘curiosity mindset’, it entails facing your fears and deliberately seeking out new experiences and ideas. It helps you to improve by developing intrinsic motivation for learning.
Build your team
When you’re engaged in something that really matters, you’ll stop at nothing to find even marginal improvements. You’ll spend hours consulting and canvassing home loans because it could save you thousands of dollars in the long run. You manage your child’s nutrition and get involved at school because it improves their chances of success in the future.
The simple step of networking and spending time with peers who can give you honest feedback is one that can pay dividends repeatedly over time. Even if you’re highly aware of your strengths and weaknesses, an outside perspective always helps. Yet many people fail to work this angle with intent; they don’t maximize its potential benefits.
There’s truth behind the saying that you’re the average of the people you spend the most time with. Surround yourself with positive influences, and reduce your exposure to negative ones. Seek out expert advice; be receptive to constructive criticism.
Don’t hesitate to invest in a coach or build relationships with a mentor. They might only help you improve by a small amount, or in a specific skill. But that could be the 1% that edges you past the competition.
Be aligned with your passion
Even the best of athletes aren’t immune to burnout. They can have all of these things in place; discipline, mindset, and a great team. But they still feel like all that ceaseless pursuit of excellence, and the next new cutting-edge advantage has worn them down.
Of course, you’re probably far better acquainted with the phenomenon of career burnout. Unlike athletes, many people don’t love what they do, to begin with. Our reasons for losing interest and becoming disillusioned with work tend to be more mundane.
Even so, when you seem to be doing everything else right, you could still feel burned out from your career. And the underlying problem in that situation is often a matter of passion. If you allow your identity to become wrapped up in the extrinsic motivations, such as promotions, salary increases, awards, and other forms of recognition, passion becomes an obsession.
Obsessive passion is negative and inherently unsustainable. You need to realign and refocus your passion constantly. Separate yourself from the external validation and other markers of success. This will maintain your inner drive as you build a successful, long-term career.