Okay, so maybe competitive swimming isn’t exactly like financial PR, but if I learned anything over the course of my 16-year swimming career (aside from how to perfect my bubble rings), it’s that I will use any excuse to tie my real world life back to the time I spent underwater.
So, let’s dive in. Here are four lessons I learned in the pool that have continued to serve me well in my career on land:
1 – Communicate with your teammates
We work in communications, but it can be easy to forget that this applies not only to clients and journalists, but within teams as well (and this is even more important as we all work remotely for the time being). Just like in swimming, being a good teammate is crucial to quality PR.
Swimming is often referred to as an individual sport, but I know that I always did my best when I was focused on the team, as opposed to any individual results. Similarly, account teams function at their highest level of performance when there’s collaboration. This takes on two forms – checking in with teammates to let them know what’s on your plate and getting a look into theirs, and bouncing ideas off each other.
At Water & Wall, we have weekly meetings where everyone shares the biggest items they have coming up that week, giving a view into everyone’s bandwidth for current and new projects. Not only is this critical for managing deadlines, prioritizing items, and balancing workloads across the agency, but it also gives us the opportunity to share ideas across accounts. Maybe there’s something that I’m working on that’s similar to something one of my colleagues did before I started at the company. We can chat strategies, media targets, pitch ideas, etc., but that only works if everyone’s aware of what’s going on so we can all pool our resources.
2 – Pick yourself back up
As the inimitable Hannah Montana says, “Everybody makes mistakes / Everybody has those days.” There will definitely be times when you reply-all to the wrong email, mix up the time zones on a calendar invite, or get disqualified for kicking out past 15 meters at Olympic Trials. But the important thing is to be able to use those moments as learning experiences, and to dust yourself off and move forward to the next task at hand.
Be accountable for what you produce, and then be willing to get back up and try again when things don’t go your way. It can be tough to let these things go, but the only thing you can change is what you do next.
3 – Rise to the occasion
One of my coaches used to tell us that challenges were just opportunities, and we always knew that “having the opportunity to go fast” meant that we were about to have a doozy of a practice. Being asked to do your best may have been more of an obvious thing in the world of sport, where “challenge sets” were frequent and we were consistently being given “opportunities” to stand up and race.
But this happens in the working world as well, such as when items have a quick turnaround, or every client decides to put out a press release the same week. Putting in the time and the work can be tough, but raising your game to meet and even exceed clients’ expectations always pays off.
4 – Stay hungry
While swimmers are notorious for always physically being hungry, in this case I mean metaphorically. In swimming, this means not being complacent with where you are. Every year, I raised my goals higher, and every year I changed up my training so I’d have the best shot of reaching them. Sometimes that meant putting in extra sessions in the weight room, or adding in more cardio, or joining more mid-distance workouts. Doing the same thing every season would’ve just yielded the same results.
And business is no different. Well, I’m not lifting heavier weights to get better media opportunities, but I do try to evaluate what I’m doing – what’s working well and what could be improved – to see if a shift in strategy could help. Maybe I need to think about how my accounts are organized, or if there are certain publications or opportunities that aren’t on my radar. Changing things up and being creative, in addition to not letting your work be restricted by your title, are key to keeping the process from getting stale and having consistent success for your clients.
There are many things about my life now that are wildly different than when I was competing – my alarm no longer goes off in the 4am-hour, I no longer have red goggle marks around my eyes, and I no longer smell constantly of chlorine. However, after more than a decade and a half in the sport, I did pick up at least a few useful tips that help keep my professional life going swimmingly.