Thrive Under Pressure

Thrive Under Pressure

Thrive on Pressure

I’ve been thinking about the concept of pressure after a conversation I had with several recent college graduates who are at the beginning of their careers. What is pressure and how do I handle it when I feel it? When I think about this topic, I immediately think about sports and how the great competitors face incredible pressure at specific moments. Yesterday’s PGA as Jason Day closed in on his first major win with Jordan Spieth on the hunt. Day has had so many near misses, putting those nagging doubts out of his head and playing strong for a record breaking 20 under major was incredible to watch. How does one do that and what can the rest of us learn from it?

jason day pga

I decided to go back to a classic and highly motivational book I have gone to since my days of Cornell wrestling, The Edge, by Howard E. Ferguson, 1982. Here is the legendary coach of one of wrestling’s greatest high schools, St. Edward of Lakewood, Ohio take on pressure:

“Time’s running out. Your team trails by one basket. The noise of the crowd is deafening.

What do you do? Do you hide, or do you break from your opponent and come out to get the ball for the last shot?

If you’ve prepared mentally and physically as we have mapped out, you’ll never need to worry about pressure; in fact, you’ll go out of your way to put yourself in pressure situations. You’ll be the type of athlete who thrives on a close game, a tight match. Pressure is something you put on yourself when you’re not prepared. If you don’t have faith in what you are doing and you fear the unexpected, then its something for which you didn’t properly prepare. All pressure is self-inflicted and, like anything else in life, you can look at it in several ways. You can look forward to it or you can cringe in front of it. … If you welcome pressure, you’ll be amazed at how successful you’ll be. When the situation gets tight, you’ll have the edge because you’ll know: 1. There’s just as much pressure on your opponent, 2. Exactly how to handle it, and 3. Chances are he(she) won’t.

No matter how confident you are though, sometimes you’ll find yourself caught up in a pressure situation and little doubts of your ability will creep into your mind. No need to panic, no need ot think its unnatural. Even the great ones have moments of fear. The secret to their success is that they know exactly how to handle these moments – they know they can’t avoid them, so when the pop up, they don’t lose it – they handle them. They slow it down a little, they go back to their very fundamentals of their particular sport and they concentrate. Slow it down. Get your confidence back. Get your edge back. Then face the pressure head-on.”

In business, just as in sports, you make a choice in a “pressure” situation. You can either embrace it with the confidence of preparation and a belief in your ability and your content or your can let it get to you. I’ve probably given 1,000s of presentations or speeches over the years to important audiences, customers, and business leaders. In every one of these situations, even early on, I felt the pressure in the form of adrenalin.   I grew to feed on these situations. I embraced them. Even early on, these were the situations I sought and thrived on. Whether it was getting a meeting with Walmart’s Sam’s Club at 23 years old and traveling to Bentonville, AK to present on my own, taking the lead on presentations to our major suppliers or going out to the investment community and raising $100s of millions while still in my twenties, I put myself in “pressure” situations. While there were always ways in which I could have improved or done better and each of these experiences could have been terribly nerve racking, but instead they where incredible learning experiences in which I thrived.

As a person starting out in the business world, you will have opportunities presented to you to take a lead on a project or to represent your company in a meeting. Take them and embrace them. These are the moments that separate the performers from the rest. These are the moments that enable one to stand out from the crowd. Feeling it is natural, even with proper preparation.

Smoke with Kyle Dake - Cornell Wrestling 2013  kyle Dake

“Pressure is something you really put on yourself. If its not real, why put it on yourself?” -Kyle Dake

Kyle Dake is an American former collegiate wrestler at Cornell University. He won four NCAA Division I national tittles in four different weight classes. With his fourth title in 2013, he joined Cael Sanderson and Pat Smith as the only four-time NCAA champions.

larry bird

As NBA legend, Larry Bird put it back in his playing days, “In the closing seconds of every game, I want the ball in my hands for that last shot – not in anybody else’s, not in anybody else’s hands in the world.”  I look at business situations similarly.

While no one expects a new entrant to the workforce to excel in every situation right from the start, you will have opportunities to put yourself into a “pressure situation”. Seek these out. Always be the one who raises their hand and steps up. Don’t fear failure. Take the chance and be willing to put yourself into these situations. You may not realize it at the time, but your boss and other senior people in your organization will notice. More importantly, you will gain experience and confidence by going through these experiences. The more you do this, the more you will have confidence and never get rattled.

“Courage is grace under pressure.” Ernest Hemingway

 

My Week of Leadership & Entrepreneurship @ Cornell and WSWA

My Week of Leadership & Entrepreneurship @ Cornell and WSWA

Celebration 15 logo

I’m really looking forward to next week’s Entrepreneurship @ Cornell University! The energy building up to this is incredible as I’ve begun to interact with my fellow speakers and attendees.

Right now I’m thinking about my topics and the most important take home value I can deliver to the students, entrepreneurs and attendees.

Before I get to Ithaca, I’m attending the 72nd Annual Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) convention in Orlando, FL.  Since I’m launching a new brand project, it will give me an opportunity to further discuss packaging, branding, sourcing and overall strategy with some of the brightest leaders in the industry.  Last year at WSWA I kicked off the pre-launch of Sugar Skull Rum.

This is a cool brand that unfortunately got stopped in its tracks by certain partners before we could get beyond kickoff in a few markets.  Time will tell where it ends up, but the early response was terrific!  There are lessons in this one I will certainly share at Cornell.

Finally, although I rooted for Wisconsin at the Final NCAA game last week, I am looking forward to hearing Mike Krzyzewski- better known as “Coach K“- head of the legendary Duke University Blue Devils basketball squad, address our group on Monday morning.  Not a Duke fan generally, but definitely hold Coach K in high regard and interested in his message on leadership and winning.

Here’s an outline of my upcoming Cornell visit:Tech Entrepreneurship Roundtable Prgm image

Tuesday/Wednesday – participate in and speak at the Pillsbury Institute’s

Technology Entrepreneurship Roundtable, Chaired by: Mona Anita Olsen, Ph.D. Assistant Academic Director of The Leland C. and Mary M. Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship, Visiting Assistant Professor of Management & Organizational Behavior, Cornell University

Center for Hospitality Res - Cornell

Mona Anita Olsen

I’m looking forward to my session with  Cornell classmate Joe Tagliente, President, Lenrock and a fellow YPO’r.  Our panel is called “Brand Activation Through Social & Mobile Apps and Development of A Social Mobile Company” The full program is here.

It will be catching up with fraternity brother (Sigma Nu)  Zach Shulman, who I found out after committing to my visit is Director of Entrepreneurship @Cornell!  Very cool!

Thursday/Friday are jam packed with the Entrepreneurship @Cornell Celebration.

 

In this I’m joining more than 1,000 alumni, students, faculty, and staff for two days of on-campus events including:

  • Symposia on a wide range of topics including family business, social entrepreneurship, health administration and more!
  • eLab Demo Day
  • New Business & Emerging Technologies Showcase
  • BIG Idea Competition and Cornell Venture Challenge finals
  • Recognition of the Student Business of the Year
  • Networking opportunities …and more!

    Celebration 15 logo

I have the opportunity to speak with Dr. Olsen’s class called:

Technology for Bootstrapped Entrepreneurship

a topic with which I am intimately familiar!

Following class, I’m participating on a panel of distinguished entrepreneurs in what is dubbed a

Slice of Insight Social at Celebration ’15

The the rest of the day includes a keynote by Jay Walker (one of America’s best-known business inventors and entrepreneurs, has founded multiple successful startup companies that today serve more than 75 million customers in 15 different industries) and the banquet with special guest Svante Myrick ’09, Ithaca Mayor

On Friday I’m joining two other entrepreneurs in a celebration talk:

CEN talk Cornell panel

In between all this I’m visiting the Viticulture and Oenology department, with Prof. Gavin Sacks to learn about what Cornell is up to in the wine world and also to see what we can do to tie them into our 11th Annual Wine Industry Technology Symposium (WITS) in Napa in June.

Finally, I’m paying a visit to the Friedman Wrestling center and Coach Rob Koll,  4 X NCAA champion Kyle Dake and first time champion Gabe Dean…  and later meeting up with my old wrestling coach and Athletic Director, Andy Noel... this will entail its own post after we meet up!

I look forward to writing about my experiences and all the interaction with new and old friends!  Cheers!

 

 

 

Rules to Live By and Hills to Climb

Rules to Live By and Hills to Climb

Two recent things friends have shared with me, some changes on the business front and spending time with my family this week have given me cause to reflect on what is important.  In my posts on Being Grateful earlier this year, I address many things for which I am immensely thankful. [ Being Grateful  & On Being Grateful II ]  Here, I’m thinking about the many challenges we all face from time to time or more frequently.  These can be considered road blocks to one’s path forward, things that get in the way and stop us.  I prefer to consider them “Hills to Climb” as Charles M. Blow put so well in his New York Times piece today. Thanks to my friend Michael R. Burcham for sharing.

What Charles does not address is the HOW, although he touches on it.  The HOW is really important to understand.  Just deciding to overcome an obstacle and to climb that hill is essential but inadequate.  Many may decide but upon encountering further impediments, delays or little progress become discouraged.  Nothing ever goes according to “Plan”.  There will be setbacks, naysayers and failures along the way.  Growing up in a family of educators, musicians and self made individuals, I learned early on how important hard work is to achieving anything worthwhile.  But hard work, coupled with incredible never ending PERSISTENCE is what determines success.  My Cornell classmate and fellow wrestler, Nick Whitcombe shared this inspiring video highlighting Kyle Dake’s incredible 4 NCAA National Championships at 4 DIFFERENT weight classes – a feat never before accomplished making Kyle the Sports Illustrated College Athlete of the Year.  It is narrated by The Arnold, who despite his flaws (as all of us have), has always be an inspiration to me.  I don’t think there are a better set of Rules to Live By if one wants to achieve a goal, attain greatness, or Climb a Hill.

1. Trust Yourself

2. Break Some Rules

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Fail

4. Ignore the Naysayers

5. Work like Hell

6. Give something Back

I’m interested in your thoughts on this or anything you might like to add. Post here or send me a note.

Cheers and Happy Holidays!

Smoke

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