Everything I Needed to Know About Success I Could Have Learned As a 9-Year-Old On Swim Team

Any parent whose child is on a swim team knows that meets are about 30 – 60 seconds of cheering on your kid, and three hours and 59 minutes of watching other children compete. At such a recent event, as I wandered the pool deck between races, I spotted a handwritten flier designed to teach kids the keys to success on the team. I was struck by the longevity of these concepts. The tips intended for 6 – 15 year olds are simplified versions of what any leader in the business world would expect from their team. Turns out some concepts are timeless, whether you’re a 11-year-old vying for first place at your swim meet or a professional working in San Francisco’s corporate scene.   how-to-be-professional While the rules weren’t groundbreaking, they covered the fundamentals of what it takes to succeed as a professional. Here are the golden rules for excelling at life, no matter your age or ambitions:

1. Being On Time

Punctuality seems obvious, but it’s first on the list for a reason. Show up when you say you’re going to show up – don’t be late and don’t be egregiously early. This applies to all meetings, conference calls and appointments that involve someone else.There’s nothing that says you don’t respect other people’s time more than being late to a meeting.

2. Work Ethic

Hard work pays off. I have two children, an 11-year-old and a 9-year-old. The younger one has more natural talent in swimming, but the 11-year-old has a relentless work ethic and drive. Through sheer determination and consistent hard work, he is performing well above his abilities, winning big events, whereas his younger sibling is middle of the pack and not living up to his potential. He’s living proof you can compensate for less natural ability by putting in more effort day after day.

3. Effort

Giving your best ties into the strong work ethic, but it’s worth calling out separately. Everyone has bad days when they don’t want to come into work or just aren’t “feeling it.” But it’s the people who give 100 percent, every day, that earn the best positions and accolades.

4. Body Language

Some experts say that 90 percent of communication is nonverbal. How do you present yourself at work? Are you put together, smiling, and enthusiastic? Or are you frowning, exuding negativity and not making eye contact? It’s difficult to see ourselves through other people’s eyes, but try to check in with yourself throughout the day. What you put into the universe comes back to you, so make sure you’re presenting yourself as someone who is eager to succeed and a team player. People want to engage with others who seem open, approachable, and positive.

5. Energy

Success often comes down to the energy you bring to your swim team, your job, and even social situations. Are you positively or negatively impacting those around you? No matter what the circumstances, show up and contribute. Don’t bring your baggage or bad mood to work. Be a team player, and energize the room with your willingness to work hard and collaborate.

6. Attitude

Think about your teammates at work. Who stands out in your department? Is it the guy who excels in his work but keeps to himself and is in a sour mood all the time? Or is it the person who greets you with a smile every morning, asks how she can help out on a project, and remembers everyone’s birthdays? I’m guessing it’s the latter. You can learn new skills, but no one can teach a good attitude. People want to work with someone who brightens their day and positively impacts the environment. Having the right attitude endears you to your peers and your managers – and it can take you even farther than aptitude will.

7. Passion

Passion is the key to longevity in your job. Whether you’re putting in two-hour swim practices before school every morning or long hours at the office, passion will sustain you through the challenging times. It’s also what drives your work ethic. My son firmly believes that he’s going to swim in the 2020 World Championships, and get a full scholarship to Stanford. He dreams of making it to the Olympics. Those goals drive him to practice every day, in the cold and the rain, without fail and without complaint. Will he make it to the Olympics? I don’t know. But if he does, it will be his passion that brought him there. If you’re not passionate about your job, it will show in your performance and attitude. I once heard someone say, “You need to find passion for your job or find passion for finding another job.” Once you land in a career you love, you can achieve amazing things. You will also be a lot happier.

8. Being Coachable

No one knows everything. It doesn’t matter if you’re a six-year-old learning the butterfly stroke or a 30-year-old navigating the finer points of your job. There will always be things you don’t know. Accept your limitations and ask for help to overcome them. Managers love when employees show a desire to learn and grow. In fact, coachability is one of hiring managers’ most desired traits when they interview candidates. Humble people won’t let their egos get in the way of their team’s success.

9. Doing Extra

There’s a baseline level of participation expected of you in life. At work, this means arriving on time, finishing assignments by deadline, and not cutting out early when no one’s looking. But if you only do the bare minimum, you’re not going to shine or be promoted. If you don’t advance, you’ll end up bored and resentful. Take advantage of every opportunity to network, learn, and add value for the company. Life rewards people who go the extra mile.

10. Being Prepared

By the time we need to leave for swim practice, my son has his bag packed with all his gear, including an extra pair of goggles and an extra cap. He likes to arrive early so he can watch the earlier practice and be first in the pool. He’s mentally prepared and always ready to lead off, demonstrate stroke techniques, and help his coaches however he can. He often practices with the age group above his so he’s in good shape for the meets. That’s a level of preparation many adults don’t display in their daily work, but they should. Once you’ve been in the same industry or position for a while, it’s easy to assume you’ve got things under control. Maybe you used to spend days preparing for a presentation, and now you’re comfortable winging it. That’s no way to go through life. No one does anything great by winging it. Even if it’s a quick client call or a weekly meeting, give yourself time to organize your notes and mentally prepare. Those few minutes you spend getting ready will impact your performance significantly. Learning is an ongoing process, but we learn many of our most meaningful life lessons early on. All those times your mother admonished you to practice another hour, get out of bed on time, or get your homework done early? She was right. How we conduct ourselves and how hard we work will make the difference from good to great.

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