Five attempts over a 35 year span finally resulted in a successful crossing from Cuba to Key West, Florida last week. At 64 years old, and a grandmother, Diana Nyad completed a 53 hour open-water swim, after starting her journey from Havana last Saturday.
Her message was simple: “We should never, ever, give up. You’re never too old to chase your dream.”
Now, in the middle of writing this entry, the naysayers have come out after the swim, saying she didn’t do it.
Yes, all forty people on the support boats are lying—all while the woman was doing this to reach her own personal goal.
What was different over 35 years?
Why was she able to do it now and not when she was physically at her prime so many years ago?
What changed… was her mental fortitude.
So why is a private equity guy writing about swimming?
I find so many relevant comparisons to all kinds of sports and investing and financial success, that’s why. The exciting part about it is that you can control the outcome, or at least dramatically influence it! Much of athletic success is mental and not physical, and the same goes for business success.
Let’s look at a few business examples, including the “naysayers” for comparison:
Former standup comic and door-to-door fax machine saleswoman, now self-made Billionaire (that’s with a “B”), hated being forced to wear pantyhose in the hot summer. She knew there had to be a better way to get the same look without pantyhose. Armed with her entire $5,000 life savings she started to experiment with alternatives. Looking for the right material and design, she eventually found a solution and wrote her own patent from a Barnes and Noble “how to” book. Spanx was born.
For two years she knocked on doors just to find a mill that would produce her product. No one saw the value. There were two years of “No’s,” but Ms. Blakely still refused to tell her friends what she was up to, recognizing that “well-wishers” would beat down the dream. She said in a recent interview with CNBC that this was out of love and concern, but she was determined that this would happen. Finally, in a sales-pitch meeting with the retailer Niemen Marcus, Ms. Blakely literally took the buyer into the washroom and did a before and after. They bought and the rest followed. That was in 2000.
(Naysayers: Please form a line at the side, single file. Thank you!) Sell one pair and give away one pair to a needy child – “One for One.” Some said the business model from hell. That was one million shoes ago.
The company designs and sells shoes based on the Argentine Alpargata design as well as eyewear. He noticed, while participating in a TV game show in Argentina that many of the children were running through the streets barefooted. After discovering that a lack of shoes was a wider problem in Argentina and other developing countries than just this one community, he decided that he wanted to develop a kind of Alpargata for the North American market, with the caveat being that for every pair sold he would provide a new pair of shoes free of charge to the shoeless youth of Argentina and other developing nations. Mycoskie had learned that the lack of shoes was a problem that had a serious impact upon these youth, threatening the ability of the children to go to school, prevent infection, and so forth. When Toms sells a pair of shoes; a pair of shoes is given to an impoverished child, and when Toms sells a pair of eyewear, part of the profit is used to save or restore the eyesight for people in developing countries.
Starting from 250 shoes and a four-month plan, Blake Mycoskie and his team built the firm into both a non-profit as well as a for-profit enterprise. They are now sold in over 500 retail outlets. Against all odds, he proved that you can have social and corporate responsibility and make money.
I believe that all successful entrepreneurs, like successful athletes, share traits with each other. They are steadfast under pressure. They are oblivious to the people around them that are ardent that something can’t be done. They all have a dream of being the best. Failure isn’t an option or in their vocabulary. When a problem presents itself, which is normal, the question is simply, “how do we overcome this?”
Likewise, Common Traits.
I believe that naysayers have common traits. They are fearful of the unknown. They are afraid of risk. They are late adopters–if ever. They are jealous in nature and of people’s success. When someone is successful, they say they got lucky.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. Once you realize they are out there you appreciate them. Because if everyone was doing what the successful people were doing, it would surely be much harder.