Patrick Smith is an open water swimmer and entrepreneur who writes about the parallels between swimming and business. In his latest post he considers the parallels between what makes a ‘proper’ swimmer and a ‘proper’ entrepreneur.
Although I’ve been open water swimming for three years and completed some of the sport’s most iconic swims, I’m still never quite confident enough to call myself a ‘proper’ swimmer. As a child I could always swim, but I was never a member of a swimming club. I never did the early morning training sessions before school and the gala meets. I never had a coach or even had any coaching of any sort.
Even now when I watch some of the other swimmers at the events I go to and take part in I don’t feel like a proper swimmer in comparison. And that’s not even mentioning comparing swimming times – which I hate myself for doing after every event, but I can’t help depressing myself by working out just how much faster nearly everyone else was.
And yet, even though I don’t think of myself as a proper swimmer I’m welcomed in. I’m welcomed in to the BLDSA events, to Facebook groups, to Channel swimming training days and to other groups and swimming conversations. People who are definitely proper swimmers talk to me and we discuss water temperature and the wind and the position of the buoys. They seem to treat me as if I know what I’m talking about and have a valuable opinion on these issues.
Even stranger than all of this, some people have even started to ask my advice about swimming and swims. They specifically seek me out to ask me questions and listen to what I have to say. Every time this happens it seems strange to me, they don’t seem to have noticed that I’m not actually a proper swimmer.
The same is true in business. Despite having run my own businesses for over 12 years now I still don’t think of myself as a ‘proper’ businessman or entrepreneur.
I could list the many ways that make me feel like an interloper in this world, including never having studied business (or anything associated to it), or never having worked for a large multinational, to not having a room full of staff (even though my current business is intentionally structured to work with teams of freelancers).
There are lots of ways in which I’m not a proper businessman and yet I keep doing it. And the more I keep doing it the more those things don’t matter.
Remarkably some people even ask my advice about business too.
Not being ‘proper’ is what puts many people off starting – whether it’s open water swimming or their own business. Whereas what actually makes you ‘proper’ is just getting on and doing it.