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I’m not sure what’s harder – starting a company or playing roller derby. I spent a year as a “fresh meat” skater; while it wasn’t my forever sport, it made its mark (and many bruises). I don’t get to employ hip whips much anymore, but much of what I learned in derby applies every day in business.

  1. Time is your most precious resource, and your choices on how to spend it will have consequences. - This sucks for those of us raised to think we can Have It All, but it’s true. Every week, there were up to four derby practices. Each one meant leaving my family, missing a girls’ night, skipping a professional event. I tried to go once a week, which wasn’t enough to be safe and skilled. My peers lapped me, sometimes literally. I realized I didn’t love derby enough to sacrifice other parts of my life. Understand you can’t do it all, make some choices, and let go.
  2. You will progress on your own timeline. - We may all start as rookies, but we don’t all evolve at the same pace. Skaters have different levels of experience, fitness, aptitude and time (see above). For some people, transitions and jumps came second nature, while I crossed over like Frankenstein. Try to avoid comparison and jealousy. On the track and in business, some people will move faster than you. That’s OK.
  3. Have an ally – and be one. It’s called the derby wife – someone who will have your back, someone you’re excited to see, someone who will keep things in perspective. My derby wife inspires me, she makes me laugh, and she knows the difference between stress tears (give me space) and busted-kneecap tears (get help). Allies make you better. Choose a good friend, and be a good friend. Celebrate each other. But be prepared to…
  4. Tackle with integrity. - No cheap hits. Know the rules, know the etiquette, and do it right – navigate difficult situations with commitment, straightforwardness and class. It’s not personal. You can play to win without throwing elbows.
  5. You’re going to get tackled, too. - It’s a certainty, so let go of being afraid it might happen. Accept that it will happen. Bad days, rejection, tough crowds, lost customers. It’s going to happen, and your experience will have you ready to minimize the impact and keep on skating. And when your challenger does it right, you will be proud to have taken the hit. Because…
  6. Falling is learning. - Get back up, and think about how you could avoid it next time. (A fellow “freshie” introduced herself in our Facebook group by saying “I’m the one who falls all the time and takes the longest to get up.” One veteran’s response: “You mean the one who learns the most and gets up every time.” I love that.) Know how to fall, too – fast, smart and small.
  7. Own it. - For months I didn’t tell my friends I was trying derby, or I’d minimize it. (“I don’t know, it’s you know, just something, not a big deal.”) I didn’t feel that I could say I “did roller derby” unless I was killing it on a team. Then I saw how dismissive I was being of something that was important to me. If you looked at my calendar and my bank account, I was doing roller derby. I did it, and I have the Modern Athletic Derby Endeavor badge to prove it. Are you learning to code? Starting a company in your basement? You do that now. Own it. Bonus: The more you say it out loud, the more accountable you are to master it.
  8. Learning how to slow down is just as important as learning to go fast. - When you burn too hard, too fast, for too long, you will make dumb mistakes. That’s when people get hurt. Know how to stop without crashing into the wall.
  9. Buy nice or buy twice. - Quality is worth it. That doesn't mean the most expensive item is always the best, but be a knowledgeable consumer and think about what you really need and want. High-dollar knee pads are cheaper than knee surgery.
  10. You can pretend to care, but you can't pretend to show up. - When you know what you want, commit to face time. Facebook groups are not a substitute for the team bonding you get in a wicked relay race. Teammates and coaches – and investors and clients and referrals – remember who showed up, who helped out, who cheered.

No Guts, No Glory

Owning a business takes fortitude and guts, and I’m bolstered every day by the derby experience. Confidence comes from having tried something hard, silly and wonderful; knowing I am fast; remembering that I can give tackles, get tackles, fall down and get up.

Because falling is learning, bruises are cool, and life is full of tricky transitions.

tagged with: Leadership

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