Why CrossFit has made me better at my job.
A reflection on my CrossFit experience and how it helped me become a better marketing professional.
Matt currently trains at CrossFit Elysium in North Park, CA and runs a performanced focused digital marketing consultancy.
You might not think 2 years after joining CrossFit would make me a better marketer, but it actually has! Here are 7 things I've learned from CrossFit that have helped my professional career.
(1) Be humble, you're gonna suck at first
You'll read a lot of differing opinions about CrossFit, but one thing you won’t read is that it’s easy. Most people who join CrossFit–or any other decidedly tough workout regimen–will find themselves wondering why they are so bad at a movement some people make look so simple.
That happens to us marketers too. We might see someone knock out a business plan or an ad concept effortlessly and get discouraged that we can’t do the same. It’s okay. You're going to suck at first. But that’s part of learning anything.
The big lesson my coaches try to force feed my peers, is that you only need to focus on being incrementally better than you were yesterday. Focus on you vs. you. This is tough to do in marketing, where competition seems to be the very basis of capitalism. But do remind yourself that the folks you seek inspiration from are on different levels. Hold yourself accountable for improvement, not beating out the competition.
(2) Train your weaknesses, otherwise you'll be a grunt forever
In CrossFit, you'll almost always encounter a move you're not good at, no matter how good of shape you are in. This can be incredibly frustrating for a good athlete, because despite their strength and conditioning, they lack the skill necessary to perform at the top of their class.
We also have athletes known as ‘WOD dodgers’. These are members who avoid certain “Workouts of the Day” because they've seen the programming and don’t like / or don't want to participate in the exercises.
As digital marketers, we need to be as diverse as CrossFit athletes in our approach to our profession. If there is a discipline you don’t know, put in extra effort by staying late, reading blogs, learning, and practicing the skills you're the weakest at.
If you cherry pick what workouts to attend, or shy away from a certain marketing discipline because it’s unfamiliar to you, you’re likely to be a grunt forever. Those who train their weaknesses evolve into full stack marketers that are an invaluable asset to many organizations.
(3) No matter how good you are, someone is better – and that’s okay!
I like to think I'm good at what I do. But no matter how good I get, someone is better. I'm acutely aware of this when some new person walks into the gym and kills a workout I've been struggling with for months. I'm also reminded of this when my coach, who is a weightlifting wonder boy, could be humbled by athletes even more impressive than he is. And there are athletes who make those guys look like they are junior varsity. The lesson here is someone is always better. But that doesn't mean what you do doesn’t provide value. You have a place amongst these great athletes. And if you get discouraged, remember rule #1 (you vs. you).
I read a lot of marketing blogs each day. I’m constantly overwhelmed by both the quality and frequency that some of our thought-leaders are producing campaigns and content. If I compared myself to the likes of Gary V on every blog post, I would be pretty discouraged. But I understand my place in the marketing ecosystem and I'll help share Gary’s message to my fans and followers. I will continue to improve myself and connect with my community along the way. That’s my place; and I'm not going to lose sight of that despite what the scoreboard says.
(4) Consistency is key — don't be a flash in the pan
This is a lesson I had to learn the hard way. I've been guilty of starting and stopping my CrossFit training at inopportune times. The result is two years watching people who've showed up at my gym consistently, get substantially better at most of the core movements. Their bodies look great. Their flexibility and mobility is good. And they are accomplished at many of the same workouts I struggle with. Why? Because they showed up for 4–5 days a week and didn't falter.
It’s almost as easy to get discouraged with your blog as it is to doubt yourself during a tough workout. Many bloggers start a blog, but never stick with it consistently and they ultimately quit. The same thing happens all the time in CrossFit. Either your sporadic behavior leads someone to quit, or it stunts their results and makes them doubt the hard work they put in.
A common tip most ProBloggers will proffer, would be to blog consistently, no matter what. Those who focus consistently on a specific topic and provide value to their readers, reap benefits over the long term.
(5) When you finish, reach behind you and help someone else
My favorite part of CrossFit is watching the athletes that finish first, turn around a cheer for the participants behind them to finish strong. The very people you are competing against, turn into your allies as they clap, stomp, and shout until you've made it. This sportsmanship is born out of the fact that many CrossFit workouts deliver pain in the purest form. These WODs bring people together, forging a tight bond between those who share in the suffering.
In marketing, we don't do enough of this. Business is not a zero sum game. There’s a component of greed that inhibits this mindset. There is also a hyper fear of everyone being your competitor that prevents marketers to reach out to their peers in adjacent industries.
We built our blogs on the foundation of bragging rights for our company and community, and we’ll be damned if we let anyone else in. That mindset needs to change. And marketers can take a page from Rich Froning’s play book and make sure that after they throw their hands up in victory, then turn around and put them together for the competitors finishing behind them.
(6) Measure everything, it’ll come in handy later.
If you a know a CrossFitter, you know they measure and document just about every aspect of their training. They write down the WOD of the day, their best lifts, their best Fran time, etc. We do this because we're not always getting stronger. Your athletic performance is not a linear graph that goes up and to the right. It’s one that goes up and down where the general average you hope trends positively.
Say someone gets hurt, and is rebuilding their strength, it’s helpful for them to see and remember their progress over time. Measuring yourself against benchmarks in the community is a mainstay of CrossFit–and marketing is not much different.
If you don't have a firm grasp of your analytics suite, this is marketing 101. But what’s more, you need to add context to the data you’re collecting. You can do this in many programs using annotations. Make notes within your analytics package about stock outages, competitor news, Amazon pricing, and much more. Document and journal as if you would your CrossFit workouts.
The best marketers are the ones that learn from the past and minimize the mistakes they make by listening to the data.
(7) When you get really good, remember that humble thing.
And after you've put in the hard work to develop your career and you're the stud that everyone admires in your department, don't forget rule #1 — be humble.
Because, as rule #3 taught us, someone is always better than you.
No one likes an arrogant marketer. No one likes a shy or unconfident marketer. Strike a balance between the show-off and the introvert. Imbue lessons like #5, and cheer on your fellow marketers when they do well.
CrossFit athletes like Zach Forrest are great examples of this. Zach is a ‘Games’ athlete (best of the best) who owns a marquee box (or gym for the uninitiated) in Las Vegas. I had the pleasure of meeting Zach for a drop in workout and I was taken aback how approachable and humble he was.
This is a great reminder that you can be the best at something and still remain focused on the important aspects of your practice.
Stay in touch with your values and be proactive at defining new ones. Go out there and push yourself to the max, get better everyday, encourage those around you to do the same, and you'll do great things.
Photos courtesy of the Elysium blog.