The Executive Way: Treat Your Career Like a Sport

When thinking about your career, it might seem odd to make comparisons to a sport. But when you zoom out and look at the similarities, they’re more closely related than you may think. For example, a common problem many people face as they end their careers and enter retirement is a loss of purpose and a feeling of emptiness because the thing that consumed eight hours a day for the past 40 years is now gone.

Athletes face these same struggles, but a lot sooner in life. However, some athletes find themselves thriving in life after sports because they’ve learned many valuable lessons and picked up traits from their sport that can translate into many other areas of life.

Derek Jeter, former Yankees shortstop and first-ballot Hall of Famer, is now CEO and part-owner of the Miami Marlins and co-founded the media company, The Players’ Tribune. Hall of Fame defensive end Michael Strahan took his talents and football knowledge to live TV and has co-hosted Fox NFL Sunday, $100,000 Pyramid, and even Good Morning America.

While your career may not lead to headlines and TV gigs, there are a few ways that you can treat your career like a sport to set yourself up for long-term success.

The 10,000 Hour Rule

In his book, The Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell claims that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of work to master a skill. While the specific number of hours has been challenged by many, the principle will always make sense: to be great at something, you must put in the work.

Athletes dedicate years, sometimes decades, to their craft to be the best that they can be, and we shouldn’t treat our own careers too different. Over the course of your working career, you’re most likely going to put 10,000 hours of work in by just showing up. However, if you’re intentional about the work that’s being put in, you can begin to propel your career.

For example, this may be getting additional certifications or a graduate degree that allows you to move up in the ranks of your profession. Also, putting in the work of connecting with like-minded people on the same path as you or growing your skillset to make a career change that provides higher potential income.

When you put in the work, it’s hard not to make progress.

Be Prepared for Uncertainty

Just like athletes devote time to be mentally and physically prepared for competition, an effective way to level up in your career is by being prepared. Whether you’re interviewing for a new job or giving a presentation to your team, preparation is critical and impacts how you perform the given task.

When you’re prepared, you’re more confident. The stress that comes with uncertainty disappears when you’ve prepared appropriately, and with that, the likelihood of achieving the desired result is increased.

Be Accountable in Your Work

Being accountable is a trait that impacts many areas of life, even outside of your career. When things don’t go right, which is bound to happen many times over your career, it’s easy to blame other people or external factors. However, by taking ownership of your work, you’ll stand out from other workers, and you begin to build trust with the people around you.

While being accountable to others is excellent, it doesn’t stop there. It’s also important to be responsible for yourself and your goals. For example, if you want to get promoted over the next year and you’ve laid out the steps needed to make it happen, stick to them. Too often, we set goals for ourselves, like New Year’s Resolutions, and end up leaving them behind when life gets in the way.

Embrace Your Team

In both the workplace and sports, being successful almost always requires good teamwork.

The backbone of a championship team usually consists of two essential factors: cohesion and communication. But one doesn’t come without the other. Cohesion is formed through effective and consistent communication. These two traits then begin to form a solid foundation of trust, leading to better, more efficient work.

Having a good relationship with a team or coworkers can create healthy competition, and a great example of this is the sales profession.

Imagine being a salesperson who works alone, didn’t have a team to fall back on, and didn’t know how the rest of the team was performing. They might get discouraged or lose sight of the end goal. So, there’s a reason that most sales teams operate together – it can create a healthy competitive atmosphere, increases engagement, and keeps everybody’s motives and goals aligned.

Aside from the performance aspect, embracing your team and having an enjoyable workplace makes work that much easier, and the foundation is built through being reliable, offering help to others, and being a good teammate.

The Takeaway

In our careers, it’s easy to lose sight of an end goal and feel like we’re not making progress. But when you treat your career like a sport and strive to get better, it starts to feel like a natural part of your life, not just another task to check off the list each weekday.