What Military Fitness Taught me about Making it as a Solopreneur

15 burpees.

200 rope jumps.

Deadlifts to failure.

15 skull crushers.

10 tire flips.

20 wall walk-ups.

Repeat x 3

Most mornings over the last two years looked like that.

I have been with X-Team Fitness since I moved to the US in late July 2015. Originally I joined to shed a few pounds; little did I know that I would find much more than some weight loss. And weight gain. And a surprising amount lessons that I apply to my career path as a solopreneur.

Making the Dream Work: Team Work

First off, let me clarify. What I call military fitness does not mean getting yelled at, cleaning our indoor facility with a toothbrush while on your knees (don’t get ideas Bob!) or whatever gruesome image just popped into your head. X-Team is made up of a group of outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy functional fitness: running, jumping, climbing, crawling. Picture yourself in the Revenant scene starring in the face of that terrifying bear: X-Team trains you for escape. We spend three days a week in parks around Richmond and have two workouts in our indoor facility; add to that a run and a yoga class on Saturdays and you get a good grasp of what it’s all about.

I remember my first day with X-Team. We were on a track for some baseline testing that ended in a 1-mile run. After most of us were done and had caught our breath, our instructor Katherine send us back out on the track to cheer on the people who were still running. We fell in line behind them and as a team we crossed the finish line while the sun was rising over the track. I knew right then that I had found my ideal workout group.

photo credit: Scott Adams/X-Team fitness

Working as a team is a key element of what makes X-Team such a good fit for me. Whether we do a team workout carrying each other overhead uphill or running races (Spartan, Tough Mudder, Rugged Maniac, etc.) as a group, striving as part of a team enhances performance. Even if we do individual workouts, you will often find me teaming up with someone else so I don’t have to work through the exercises by myself. I am just more motivated when I want my team to succeed. I thrive on the energy of the team cheers, encouraging each other to push harder and give it our all.

As a solopreneur I ride on the same wave: Collaboration is everything. When I first moved to the U.S. in summer 2015, I worked from home all by myself which was an isolating and lonely experience. I didn’t know anyone and had no clue how to start meeting people. After an ankle injury that glued me to the sofa for the better part of three weeks (read more below), my friend Larkin Garbee — owner of 804RVA — picked me up each morning, planted me in her coworking space, and drove me home at the end of the day. It was during those three weeks that I understood the value of being surrounded by and working with other freelancers. Since joining 804RVA as a coworker, I have not only become more productive; I have also grown my network more than tenfold. For projects such as CO.STARTERS VA, Rebelle Con, RVA VDay Love, Unreasonable Lab VA or RVA Women’s Day, I get to bring my best skills to the job and learn from my collaborators on the team. We get to thrive off each others’ strengths and — most importantly — work on projects much bigger than ourselves!

Form is Everything.

When we line up for a headcount at 5.59 a.m. each morning, I know that some people are there to work hard and push themselves to their limits over the next hour (looking at you Frency!), and some people… well… show up. Everybody has their own reasons for coming, no judgment. As for me, getting on my bike to ride to a workout no matter the temperature means I am going to work hard and leave it all on the field. Otherwise what’s the point of getting up early and going in the first place?

photo credit: Scott Adams/X-Team fitness

One recent morning I teamed up with fellow solopreneur Shelly Rose of Pure Roots Nutrition during a workout. While the declared goal was to do as many reps as possible in two minutes, Shelly put all her effort into performing with the best possible form. Elbows tucked in tight, controlled movements, no swinging. She didn’t care about how many sloppy reps she could do, she wanted to get as many excellent movements as possible. She insisted on quality in her workout, as she does in her business. Some say practice makes perfect, but the truth is that PERFECT practice makes perfect.

I have seen a similar pattern among solopreneurs: The ones who show up, and the ones who hustle to continuously improve. As a solopreneur, what is the last time you updated your website? Took a good hard look at your marketing efforts? Inquired about your clients’ satisfaction? Researched potential new areas of growth for your business? Invested in training? My biggest pet peeve with consultants for early-stage entrepreneurs is a lack of self-criticism (read more here). I can’t offer my clients great advice and services if I don’t stay on the cutting edge of the latest research and best practices from the field (check out some of my favorite resources: GALI, Village Capital, GSEN). If we’re being honest with ourselves, you are not going to make it as a solopreneur if you are someone who only shows up; you’re better off as an employee. The only way to work yourself out of slaving away six days a week just to make ends meet is building a business around your calling, one in which you turn your expertise from an hourly commodity into a valuable service with sufficient passive income streams (thank you Pia Silva at Worst of All Design and Kate Northrup in Money — A Love Story for the insight!).

Do SOMETHING!

Like most people, when I feel beaten down I prefer to mope on the sofa devouring a cake (#ShyndigzForLife). And sometimes that’s just the thing to do. Less widely recognized is the fact that our body can also affect our mood. I’ve found that when I force myself off the sofa and into my workout gear, my mood adjusts accordingly. Overcoming inertia is not easy, but remember that inertia is not just about bodies at rest. Bodies in motion stay in motion as well. At X-Team, there have been times when I wanted nothing more than to quit and go home. Just grab my keys and leave, in the middle of a workout. But my two mantras are:

  1. Finish your exercise.
  2. Never walk up a hill.

In other words, no-one goes home before 7 a.m.

photo credit: Scott Adams/X-Team fitness

On January 6th, 2016, I found myself screaming in agony on the floor of our X-Team indoor facility. I had climbed the rope and let go too early on the way down, rolling my ankle on the coiled end. I was on crutches for four weeks and unable to work out for the first three. In fitness, injury leaves you with two choices:

  • Give into your misery and self-pity while your teammates continue to work hard.
  • Do what you can to stay in the game and keep your spirits up, even if you feel like a whimp most of the time.

After option #1 didn’t do it for me, I switched to #2. I googled workouts for athletes with ankle injuries and researched upper body training. That alone made me feel better instantly.

A year earlier, I had faced a similar challenge in my professional life. After leaving Germany to spend some time in the U.S. with my future husband, I returned to Europe three months later with no job, no apartment and little more than my clothes and passport while my green card was being processed. Newly married to a husband whose country I wasn’t welcome in (for the time being) I could either

  1. Go home to mum and dad to wait out the visa process twiddling my thumbs and feeling sorry for myself, or
  2. I could do SOMETHING.

I put on my backpack and, for the next six months, toured Europe on a quest to learn as much as I could about my field. I set up interviews with incubators, accelerators, summer schools, bootcamps — any kind of structured support programs targeting social entrepreneurs — in the UK, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. I slept in hostel bunkbeds, AirBnB’s and on countless sofas of my generous friends. I got on planes, trains and many cars to research best practices and common challenges in social enterprise support around Europe. You can read all about this first exploration on Social Venturers. I have since expanded my research to Australia and the United States adding up to over 50 support organizations interviewed and profiled on Social Venturers.

A snapshot of my first trip for Social Venturers

I did SOMETHING. And that something turned out to be incredibly valuable for the work I deliver to my clients today.

I have found over and over again that the best athletes are not automatically the ones who are the strongest, but those who bring a determined mindset: who work well in a team, know how to balance their strengths and weaknesses, and bring the tenacity to relentlessly pursue their goals despite the obstacles life throws their way. The same holds for brilliant solopreneurs: They collaborate and help others succeed, stay self-critical, invest in their training and education, and find a way to push forward even if things go not as planned.

In both worlds, always bring your best self.


Learn more about my work at www.anikahorn.com