Getting down to business
“What are you going to be when you grow up?”
I ignored this question when I was a kid and I sidestepped it as a teenager. In my early twenties I took to Higher Education to avoid it. As a professional athlete in my thirties people often asked me when I was going to get a “real job”! As an athlete I was privileged to have a “real job” that I loved, which challenged me daily to be the best I could be.
In 2015, after 15 years as a professional athlete in the sports of triathlon and duathlon where I represented Team Scotland in two Commonwealth Games, won four World titles and numerous international events, it was time to retire. I didn’t ever really plan to be an athlete. I thought that I would be an environmental scientist. As I progressed in my sport at university and beyond, it just seemed to happen! Fast-forward 15 years and it was time to ask myself “What next?”
Eventually all professional athletes face this question. Some will have a path mapped out; others will not. For many it can be an uncertain and stressful time. I’d say that I was somewhere in the middle. During my time as an athlete I had become involved in Active Schools, Winning Scotland Foundation and in junior coaching at Stirling Triathlon Club. I knew I wanted to have a future in sport, especially in promoting; inspiring and enabling young people to get active.
In the same week that I retired I received an invitation from The Saltire Foundation, encouraging me to participate in The Saltire Fellowship . This is an MBA-type programme that aims to promote entrepreneurial learning and thinking, and develop business skills. This opportunity came to me at the perfect time in my life, giving me the chance to enter a new environment and learn new skills.
Fast-forward a year and a half and I am now the co-director of a new junior sportswear company called everactiv which has recently started trading. It’s a far cry from being an environmental scientist and certainly different to being a professional athlete. However, there are key attributes, experiences and attitudes from my sporting life which have transferred directly into my new career.
Every athlete thrives by learning through failure. When we get it wrong we reflect, adapt and try again. It makes us better and stronger. It seems to be no different in business. There have been numerous mistakes to date and I am sure that there will be many more! However, through these mistakes I am learning fast and the business will become stronger as a result. It helps not to fear failure, but to embrace it as step to improving. Sport has really embedded this in my life.
As an individual athlete I stepped up to the line and raced alone. Each race was a moment in time underpinned by hard work and dedication. Each race was enabled by the help, support and input of many others: friends, family and sporting experts. Athletic performances are just the tip of an iceberg. This is also true in business.
everactiv’s products are also the tip the iceberg. To bring them to life, to take ideas from concept to design and then on to production and market requires the same hard work and dedication. It requires the skills, knowledge and support of others. Where I once sought experts to help me become the best athlete that I could be, I now seek them to help me build the best business.
Athletes are strategists: constantly planning and working towards short, medium and long-term goals and this approach is helping me build everactiv. At the moment I feel like I am learning a new technique – things are unfamiliar, my brain is having to “re-train”. Some things are unexpected and I’m being challenged to respond, learn and adapt. However, my inner athlete knows that success is all about skill acquisition, technique and meaningful practice.
As a professional athlete I was driven by a desire to see how far I could challenge and push myself. I am passionate about inspiring, motivating and enabling young people to chase their own sporting dreams. everactiv is part of this.
We aspire to produce technical sportswear for young people. We support grassroots junior sports clubs through our “Club everactiv” give-back programme and, as we grow, we will redistribute once-loved clothing to young people who may otherwise not have access to sportswear. We are determined to play our part in breaking down some of the barriers that prevent young people from being active.
I love my new “real job”! I am grateful for all the sporting skills and experiences that I am taking with me on my journey and I am looking forward to the challenge of learning and developing many more.