Olympic Lessons for Contractors

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Every four years we see the ultimate triumph of athletes who become the best in the world at the summer Olympics. They defy odds, persevere against hope, and break records to win the gold medal to be crowned champion. We see a brief glimpse of the race, sometimes lasting but a few seconds. But what we don’t see is what counts. It’s the four years “before” the Olympics that really set the stage for winning. It is no different for contractors in the plumbing trades.

Olympic athletes spend endless hours every day practicing and perfecting their skills. They set very specific goals, make a plan, dedicate themselves to do it, and then put that plan into action with all their heart. Whether an athlete or a business owner of a plumbing company, it’s the process before winning that’s the key. In addition, past failures and circumstances can stay in the past to press forward toward the mark of achieving your goals. We can take a look at the Olympics in Rio for some great lessons.

The first is from the fastest man in Rugby, American, Carlin Isles.   He begins and interview with a reporter and says, “I should not be here”. He remembers his mom getting hauled away for repeated drug busts and was placed in a temporary foster home when he was 8. He could not read, write or even do basic math. He started playing football at the age of 8 and quickly noticed a talent for both football and track. At the age of 21, Carlin moved to Aspen, Colorado to play Rugby and put all his eggs into this one basket with no money, no parents, and put it all on the line.

He remembered a preacher had once told him, “What God puts in your heart, he will equip you to do.” This message clicked when he played Rugby. He runs the 40 yard dash in 4.22 seconds and is billed the fastest man in Rugby. In addition to constant training, you need some financial help for the Olympics however. A gym owner in Canton Ohio heard of him, sponsored his private training, and even bought him a car. The gym owner, Chris Maggiore said he believed in him, and feels like he is a good judge of character. Carlin Isles dedicated himself and found a way to make it to achieve his goal of playing on the US Rugby team.

Gabby Douglas is a famous Olympic Gymnast. She won gold in 2012, and another in 2016 for the women’s team all-around. Her early life was very tough as her family was homeless and living out of a van for almost a year after she was born. They soon moved in with relatives but her father left the family soon after. She and her three siblings were raised by her mom and it was one of the roughest times in her life.

When she was 14, she moved away from friends and family in Virginia Beach, VA. to learn gymnastics in Iowa under the direction of Liang Chow. He is very demanding, but fair, and had this to say about Gabby. “Every athlete has strengths and weaknesses, but the purpose must be there. I can see the ones who have mental toughness and determination and they stand out. Facing tough times may have helped her performance on the gym floor”, said Chow. It can be harder for someone to stay at the top of their game when winning is always effortless, never experiencing disappointment or difficulty. Gabby had the determination to dedicate herself to achieve her goals and held steadfast. She didn’t win a gold after 6 months or a year of training, it took a full four years of hard work most are not willing to do. There are others with great skill like Gabby, but they don’t have the purpose and dedication to continue working diligently day after day for years.

This does not come with trials however. And often there comes a gut-check moment to stay the course or retreat. Just two weeks before the 2012 Olympics, Gabby told her mom she wanted to quit gymnastics. She had moved to Iowa for over two years, was homesick, and ready to move back. She told her mom she could work at Chick-fil-A and run track on a city team. During this emotional trial, it took several mother-daughter talks and determined to stay the course. She has been rewarded with Olympic gold two Olympics in a row. Plumbing Contractors run into this same scenario, stay the course, or retreat while you have a chance because it’s difficult and your reward is not in your hands yet.

Now not every battle or event is won. All the dedication and training comes with zero guaranties. But more often than not, you will come out near or on top. In the 2012 Olympics, Missy Franklin won 4 out of 5 possible gold medals. In the 2016 Olympics in Rio, she finished near last in the 200 meter freestyle and didn’t even qualify for the finals of the 200 meter backstroke event she won 4 years ago. She met a reporter after the race and was asked how she felt. She was disappointed but shared this wisdom. She is a young woman who swims, but swimming does not define her. She also said she had to stay focused for the next race in two days. Franklin said, “It’s incredibly frustrating, I need to keep my head up and I need to keep fighting, and that’s what I’m going to do.” She did win gold in the 4 x 200 meter freestyle relay with her US swimming team. When a contractor works hard and you follow your plans diligently to achieve your goals, even as a business owner, eventually you’re going to win.

And how could Michael Phelps, the most decorated swimmer in history not be mentioned. He lost to Chad Le Clos in 2012 in the 200 meter Butterfly. Here in 2016, they were both in the ready room with Le Clos shadow boxing right in front of Phelps, who ignores him. Phelps stayed the course even under intimidation and persevered by winning yet another gold. One photo shows Le Clos next to Phelps, looking at him as he cruises ahead to win. Michael Phelps put it all on the line and went all in without a guaranty of winning, knowing what could be said and written about him if he lost to LeClos again, even with all his other triumphs. How often most of us back down in in our business lives under such pressure.

What messages can we get from these stories? It doesn’t matter what has happened in your past business adventures or failures, you can still triumph over what seems to be impossible odds. It takes determination and guts to do what needs to be done when life and business is extremely difficult, especially when it gets close to making perhaps the final big decision that once put in motion, can’t be stopped. It takes a strong commitment to succeed, knowing you win some and may lose some. But without the goal setting, planning, and the many days of hard work, you never win. As they say in poker, sometimes you just have to go all in.

Finally, no one said it would be easy. We may have to make sacrifices and sometimes the cost can be great being a successful plumbing contractor. You may not get the gold sometimes like Missy Franklin. But without following through when it’s difficult or you feel intimidate, you certainly will never win like Michael Phelps.

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