Lessons In Professional Life…I Learned From Professional Wrestling.
For some of us, it’s a guilty pleasure, for others even the word Professional Wrestling will be immediately met with an almost involuntary rolling of the eyes. It’s two large men (or women), in little more than their underwear, simulating combat in a 256 square foot ring, for the admiration of the masses. The outcome is often predetermined, but its devoted fan base couldn’t care less. It’s a unique world that I’m all too familiar with. You see, long before I was well groomed, khaki-clad, upstanding member of Corporate America, I went to work in a very different outfit. In those days you would have been far more likely to find me in a light blue singlet, a pair of glasses with no lenses, carrying a textbook, or possibly waving a Harvard flag. This was the outfit of my in-ring persona, The Ivy Leaguer, a man who hailed from the “Hard Side of Harvard.” The only thing The Ivy Leaguer went through quicker than texts books, was the list of challengers, who dared to face him. It sounds a little cheesy, right? Yet, as strange as it may seem, my time in professional wrestling taught me many lessons that I was able to carry over into my professional life. I know what you’re thinking. What on Earth could two guys pretending to wrestle each other in a pair of tights, possibly teach you that could be even remotely useful in a professional business environment? Well, here goes;
1.) Working successfully with a diverse team. You hear it time and time again; the most successful teams are often the most diverse. I can assure you, you will be hard-pressed to find a more diverse group of people, then what you’ll find behind the curtain at an independent pro wrestling show. There’s everyone from recently released convicts to upper management at companies you would immediately recognize. You’ll see blue collars, white, collars and even a few dog collars. There were people from Europe, Asia, and countries I’d previously never heard of. Having to create matches with such an eclectic group of people, gave me the confidence to know I could work successfully with folks from all backgrounds, and have a great time doing it, I might add.
2.) Learning how to sell yourself. From job interviews to working towards promotions, the ability to sell one’s self is vital in today’s corporate marketplace. In the world of professional wrestling, you are the product. You must create your own persona and sell it to an audience, in a way in which they will either love or hate you. To accomplish this, I created The Ivy Leaguer persona. The Ivy Leaguer was a pompous Ivy League student who scowled at the audience and often used underhanded tactics to achieve victory in the ring. These actions caused the audience to respond negatively toward the character, which is the reaction I was going for. You see having an emotional response to the character (good or bad), gets the audience engaged in the match, which is the ultimate goal at the end of the day. If you think selling yourself to a potential employer is challenging… try selling yourself to a hundred or so inebriated wrestling fans. It was a unique challenge, but one I thoroughly enjoyed.
3.) Becoming a confident public speaker. If you’re climbing the corporate ladder, you will almost certainly have to give a presentation or two at some point. Often times in the pro wrestling business you’ll be called upon to do, what’s called a promo. A promo is a brief speech intended to get the audience interested in your upcoming match. You can either cut a promo to get the audience behind you, or you can insult them in order to make them want to see you get beat up. If you give a poor presentation in a professional setting, more often than not, people are still polite, applaud, and will generally be supportive. If you give a poor presentation in pro wrestling you will be jeered, heckled and possibly pelted with the occasional bottle. It’s probably the most honest feedback you will ever receive. If your promo/speech isn’t any good, the audience will certainly let you know. Once you’ve given a presentation in this sort of environment , a room full of co-workers in collared shirts and dress shoe’s will seem far less intimidating.
4.) Understanding the value of persistence. At some point, most of us will experience some form of failure or rejection in our careers. It could be getting laid off, not getting a promotion, or being unable to close a major deal. Rocky Balboa, the greatest fictional combat athlete of all time once said: “It ain’t about how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward.” It’s almost become cliché at this point, but it really can’t be stated enough, the ability to move forward after a tough situation, is vital in any profession. When I tried breaking into to the pro wrestling business, I was told I was too short, too skinny, or even too pale. Instead of giving up, I just kept contacting promoters, until finally; a couple gave me a shot. I got to meet people I grew up idolizing on television, perform in front of almost a thousand people at one point, and meet some of the most interesting real-life characters, who I otherwise wouldn’t have encountered. It was a fun four years, that I would have likely spent working a dull menial job (while I finished college) if I listened to the doubters.
If you take a few moments to reflect on your past experiences, I bet you’ll find more than a couple lessons you didn’t even realize you learned. Often, the most beneficial experience can be gained from the most surprising endeavors.