Jake Thompson | Keynote Speaker on Grit and Leadership

Prepared for the Unknown

I’m a third generation entrepreneur. My grandfather had a construction company and even after retirement still works from time to time on projects. My dad built a chain of 13+ convenience stores around the greater east Texas area before retiring. And now, like a true hustler, he un-retired because he was bored. The itch to start & grow a business has been in my blood from an early age. But I failed to find a true outlet for it.

It’s no coincidence that my leap into entrepreneurship coincided with my start within the CrossFit community. I had spent time in the consulting space, freelancing various contract projects but really claiming no ownership in what I built. The idea for Compete Every Day was sparked in December 2011. Generally, I credit some of my soul’s reignited fire to my daily workouts at my new “home away from home” CrossFit Strong, of which I’d joined just four months prior. It wasn’t until the following spring that I had truly formed what Compete Every Day should be. I knew the daily competition against myself had lit a new fire in me, but at the time I hadn’t realized that the entire time my workouts were preparing me for the professional journey ahead.

I’ve learned more than I ever expected in the two and half years since officially launching Compete Every Day. It’s been a rollercoaster of a journey and, despite my best early planning, has gone different than planned. It has involved overcoming my weaknesses, facing my fears, and learning to deal with the unknown while adjusting on the fly.

Just like my CrossFit workouts.

Besides my overall health and improved staying power for what lie ahead (long nights, life on the road, and physical labor), here’s how CrossFit prepared me for life as an entrepreneur:

1. There is a financial & physical investment required

You find out pretty quickly if CrossFit and life as an entrepreneur will suit you. Both require you give yourself to it. CrossFit isn’t cheap and the workouts you put yourself through are not for the faint of heart. Just like life as an entrepreneur. Most of us invest everything we have financially into seeing our dream come to life. And the physical time investment you make? It’s larger than you can expect. I never thought I’d be spending almost every weekend for the final five months of 2013 living out of my truck on weekends and traveling the U.S. working events to grow the business, but that’s what happens when you’re committed to see the end results. You invest your life into it.

2. Both require patience

There is no such thing as an “overnight success.” Businesses do not just explode on the scene overnight. For every success story, you’ll find an entrepreneur or team who spent months and, in most cases, years grinding out hard work until that crucial tipping point. You never see the sleepless nights, long hours on the road, or rejections they face climbing the mountain. Most only see them once they reach the peak.

You are not going to be a CrossFit Games competitor overnight. Everyone who walks into CrossFit struggles in something. Endurance, Olympic lifting, strength, or bodyweight movements. Everyone has a weakness. Everyone will have to work each day on them in order to turn their weakness into a strength. I had to learn this with overhead squat. The first five months of CrossFit I was forced to front squat because I couldn’t even hold a bar overhead. I invested the next year and a half into mobility and conquering that movement. I encountered the same experience in learning production. What constitutes a good print, how to layout a design, and how to best use color combinations. All took time (and a lot of mistakes) to get to where we are today. Success happens in both business and CrossFit — but never overnight.

3. Learn to address your weaknesses

CrossFit, especially competitions, will expose your weaknesses. No one can hide when standing alone on the competition floor, staring at the barbell, unable to lift it. It is a humbling moment many competitors face. Just ask the current 3x CrossFit Games champion Rich Froning about the 2010 Games final workout. You will eventually have to stare what your weakness square in the eye. No more running. It is that moment that motivates all into training that weakness until it becomes a strength. Same with business. You have to learn to address your weak spots with teammates, mentors, or co-founders, or you will never progress as a business. Many a business failed because its founders refused to address their weaknesses and adapt where necessary.

4. CrossFit & successful businesses stem from great communities

One of the beautiful aspects of CrossFit is its passionate community. There will always be outliers, but for the whole, the community is an amazing, encouraging, and positive group of people dedicated to helping each other improve their way of life. The community, as much as anything else, is responsible for the brand’s rapid rise to power. An entrepreneur’s brand without a community is a nothing. A powerful, passionate community willmake or break a brand. The sooner businesses realize this, the sooner they will jump into engagement and great content — not forcing one-way messaging down their throat. Is it any surprise that the best entrepreneurs are active on social media, especially Twitter? It’s one of the same reasons most of the CrossFit community embraces the platform — they understand the importance of connecting with others in the community in two-way dialogue.

5. Resilience

CrossFit workouts are not for the weak of heart. I list many as some of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Hero workouts? Brutal. CrossFit “Girls?” Downright painful. Many have left me face down on the mat, grasping for air and just trying to figure out what just happened. Yet, no matter how hard the workout, each one of us finds a way to finish. Be it the first person done or the last person to cross the finish line, each day you find a way to reach down deep, grit your teeth, and finish out the reps or until the clock strikes zero. There is no quitting early in CrossFit.

The most important thing of any workout-of-the-day is this: finish with all you’ve got. Like a grueling workout, entrepreneurship will test your soul. You will question yourself multiple times, asking“do I have what it takes?” You will face doubts. And there will be plenty of opportunities to quit. Failure will slam in your face time and time again. And honestly, there will be more than one time you’ll wonder if the sacrifice and pain is truly worth it. Quitting is easy. Stop the workout before the pain hits. Anyone can do that. Fold the business after the first financial failure? Most do that.

But finding a way to finish? That takes heart. I questioned myself quite a bit after taking two near devastating financial blows earlier this year. It took a lot of soul searching and hours staring at the words that wrapped my wristband. It was many of the same feelings I had when alone in the box I grabbed my shorts and felt death coming, letting the voices tell me that I could quit right then and no one would ever know the better. But I knew I would know. I couldn’t quit. Because our community — be it CrossFit or entrepreneurs — doesn’t quit. It is never an option — especially to those who believe in competing every day.

6. Prepare for the unknown

The unknown is full of fear. “What if?” is a question that haunts most people. Athletes at the CrossFit Games had no idea they would be completing in a triathlon in 2012 or rowing a half-marathon this year. But they didn’t back down from the challenge.

The idea of walking into a gym and not knowing the workout is terrifying. Yet, every day, millions face that fear and show up to their CrossFit affiliate. They conquer that fear and the workout. They grow stronger, both physically and mentally in the one hour at the box.

Entrepreneurship is full of the unknown. I knew nothing about apparel, fashion, printing, and the industry when I launched my business. But I was tired of writing business plans that eventually landed in the trash can so I took a leap of faith. Even the most qualified of entrepreneurs face unknown problems and business logistics they didn’t account for. No business will stay true to its original business plan. You greet the unknown, you learn, and you adapt. I found assistance in great teammates and mentors, relying on others for what I didn’t know. Unexpected blows? Endured some of the worst and continued forward. Facing the fear of the unknown strengthens the soul and is a necessity in order to succeed.

And that’s why I am confident our team will find a way to win. It’s no surprise to me that some of the best entrepreneurs in business today are also my community members in CrossFit. Affiliate owners, apparel owners, equipment manufacturers, CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, and elite athletes can all attest to the list above. They endure the trials and tribulations of being a business founder each and every day.

CrossFit has prepared us for the unknown, and in doing so, has set us up for success.

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