Boxing and business

My mouth was full of blood. I could feel its warm, metallic taste as my tongue was swimming in the red liquid like it was an Olympic event. “What the hell did I get myself into?”, I thought.

There were 30 seconds left till the end of the round, but it felt like time had slowed down. This is what usually happens when you get hit in the face.

It was then and there I realized boxing had a lot to teach me. About life, and about business.

I was pinned into a corner, back against the wall as my sparring partner was hurling punches at me like a berzerker. All I could do was hard defense. It was one of my first spars so I didn’t know what I was doing. The flurry continued until… *ding**ding**ding* Saved by the bell.

Boxing is a great metaphor for business. There’s a lot I’ve learned since that moment and today, I’d like to share some of those lessons with you.

5. You’re going to get punched in the face.

Mike Tyson famously said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth…” It’s true.

When you get in a scrap, you’re going to get punched. That’s pretty much a guarantee. No one likes it, but if you want to learn to fight, you will need to learn how to take a hit.

Now, I’m by no means a serious boxer. I’m a brand strategist, I’m a writer, and I’m a photographer – all three of which require my brain to stay in tact. That’s why I rarely do hard sparring. And why I train light.

And still I get hit in the face. It’s unavoidable if you want to get good at boxing. It’s not much different from life in business.

Currently, I have my own freelance practice, and my friends and I are trying to get our web development company – E-volvement, off the ground. That’s already two fronts where I eat punches left and right. Both are slow and arduous, and success is far from guaranteed.

Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do. Wouldn’t have it any other way. But it’s sometimes a tough racket. Finding customers, talking to them, understanding their problem, explaining the value of your services, making a deal, signing contracts, doing the actual work… That’s barely scratching the surface.

And then if something goes sideways, it’s on you to fix it. Anything that happens is on you. It’s not an easy weight to carry and not everyone can take it, because the punches keep coming.

So if you’re going into business, you should know it’s a lot like learning how to fight – it’s awesome, but you’re going to get punched in the face.

4. Never back down.

Rocky Balboa is one of my favourite movies. There’s a scene where the titular character explains to his son that, “It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!” But, he adds, “you have to be willing to take the hits.”

This is a great inspiration for me and it gets me pumped every time. Both in boxing and in business. Sometimes things get tough and you’re out of your depth. So what do you do? Do you quit and join everyone else at the stands? Or do you keep fighting until you finally prevail?

Sometimes you need to take the punches and keep getting back up. It’s not easy. It’s not pleasant, but long-term, it’s the only way to win. Especially if you’re the underdog. And when you’re starting out, you’re always going to be the underdog.

You will have bigger competitors. You will have a smaller marketing budget. You will have to wear several different hats in the company. All of that sucks, but in the end, it makes you stronger. If you’re not mentally resilient, you’re not going to make it. Not in boxing, and not in business. Never back down.

3. Don’t stand there like a punching bag.

I’m relatively strong. I thought that was a huge advantage, but when people started to dance around me, I realized I was wrong. Strength doesn’t mean much if you can’t deliver a blow. There are other things that are important – defense, footwork, head movement. You can’t afford to be good at one thing only. Now, granted, you can (and should) specialize, but you need to be at least competent in other aspects of your chosen field.

When I first started boxing, I had zero footwork. I didn’t know I was supposed to move my head. My defense was sloppy. All I had was a mean swing anyone with an ounce of training could easily dodge.

Remember the previous point about taking the hits? Well, at some point you need to learn how to evade them. And how to deliver some of your own. But for that, you need to pick up some skills.

If you want to be successful in business, you need to find a way to endure and adapt. Get better at the things you’re bad at. Gary Vee says you should “double down on your strengths”. To an extent, I agree. But here’s the thing – there are aspects of business you cannot survive without. So you better get good at them, especially when you’re starting out.

For example, understanding accounting, at least to some degree is vital. Understanding strategy is necessary. Understanding customer behaviour, how to communicate with customers, how to negotiate. You can’t just say, “Oh, I’m not good at that” and call it a day. This is why many artists and specialists fail. Doing the work is only half the battle.

In both boxing and business, you need to keep honing your skills. You need to endure taking the hits, but in the end – you need to learn how to get hit less. Don’t just stand there like a punching bag.

2. It doesn’t get easier, you get stronger.

When you train combat sports, even the friendliest of engagements is unpleasant. You know you’re going to get hit. You know it’s going to hurt (if not physically, then at least your ego). And you know it will be your own mistakes that cause that pain.

But in the end, you get used to it. Not because it gets easier, but because you become stronger. You start to pick up the pace. You don’t get tired as easily. You get faster. You start to dodge some of the hits. And if you make it to that point, things start to look up.

When I first started freelancing, I was little more than an outside employee. I was used to getting an assignment, completing it, and moving on. It took awhile before I realized I had to challenge myself more if I wanted to grow. So I started to pick up new skills. Started to take on consulting projects where I helped people identify the problems and plan a path foward. Started doing brand strategy work and things picked up from there.

Conversations with clients got harder at first. I didn’t simply agree to their terms. I learned I could set my own. And it was beneficial for both parties, because sometimes the thing they wanted to hire me for wouldn’t have solved their problem.

After some time, all this got easier. Just like boxing. I learned to “move” better. I learned to better protect myself. And things started working out a lot better. But that’s not because it got easier. I just got better at it. It doesn’t get easier, you get stronger.

1. You have it in you.

I used to be a scrawny kid. I was weak as fuck until my mid-twenties when I started hitting the gym. The idea of boxing was tantamount to getting my head caved in day in and day out. I thought I didn’t have it in me.

Boxing seemed like the thing guys with too many anger issues did to blow off some steam. It wasn’t for scrawny kids who liked reading books, writing, and playing video games.

I used to think the same thing about business. I didn’t think I could make it on my own. In my mind, business required some qualities I lacked. That world was a mystery to me.

In time, it became clear that was bullshit. Fitness, boxing, business – you can learn anything as long as you put in the time, blood, sweat, and tears. It requires getting out of your comfort zone, as the previous points illustrate. And yet, when you do, you realize you were a lot stronger than you thought.

I’m nowhere near where I want to be. Not in boxing. Not in business. Not in life. But I continue to learn important lessons and I’m glad I chose this path. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I know I have it in me. You have it in you, too.

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