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The 6 steps to finding happiness in your career – Advice from a former elite rowing athlete

20 augustus '19

Reading time: 4 minutes

As told by Conno Kuyt, until recently an elite rowing athlete, medal winner in world championships. Here, he talks about finding happiness and how following others and putting yourself out there influences your career.


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When I was a student and elite athlete, I visited Burning Man in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada US, and it had a profound effect on me. Suddenly I realized we could change the rules. People using the phrase “some things just are” always bugged me, and I know talking about Burning Man as a life changing event sounds silly, but that moment, it came to me that instead of following someone else’s orders, I could also create something and still reach my high goals.

Most people are interested in hearing about this one segment of my career: How I reached the highest level in rowing and what I did to win medals. But the happiness I felt when I started creating instead of following, suggests a way better story. Make no mistake, extreme discipline to achieve your goal can bring you to great heights, but a comfortable position also makes you lazy. And eventually, it will become more and more difficult to experience the endless opportunities the world has to offer.

1. What opportunity to seize.

Sounds easy. Tremendous impact. What if you could just choose one option and be fine with it? You’d probably try a lot more things. You’d go beyond your boundaries. Looking back at my life-changing decisions, I never regretted the moments when I felt a strong urge to do something and decided to follow those feelings. Your inner compass knows the right path. Plus, when you choose one option over the other, your brain wants to be consistent, so it will create reasons for you to justify your decisions.

2. You are not unique.

I think that many millenials such as myself have had the feeling that they are special snowflakes. This is partly because of our parents that told we could do anything. A mindset that was useful in their time and age. But not so much in a time with endless opportunities and millions of people to compare yourself with. Reminding yourself it is not a bad thing not to be one of a kind, gives you the opportunity to learn and develop constantly. Because if you want to be extremely valuable, you have to find your niche and do things others aren’t. You can be special in that way, but thinking you are special because you are good at something compared to others is not healthy.

3. Don’t sell. Connect.

As a professional rowing athlete, I was confident that I was the best. Over confident maybe, but to a necessary degree to perform at this level. In my professional development, I am realising that you cannot think of your value proposition as amazing and think of potential customers as crazy when they don’t buy. I feel it is valuable to build relationships with anyone who might be relevant. Mutually beneficial opportunities will arise thereafter.

4. Speak the same language.

This is an incredible cliché for a reason. Most success stories will be determined by how a vision is executed. This not only requires a strong story, but also a shared language of how you talk about what works and what doesn’t – hence my focus on data. To work with data you first need to identify your secret sauce. The processes in marketing, finance, and operations are usually comparable with your competitors, but there is one thing that makes your company unique. Identify what is not replaceable and decide what KPI tracks growth of that unique metric.

Management often thinks in concepts, something employees don’t understand. And employees are caught in day to day operations, often far away from management. By visualizing data most people understand data from day 1. Then it’s your job to find the most excited team member, who will run with this, to make sure your company continues on this path.

5. Ask questions.

The smartest people I’ve met, still, even at an older age, have a beginners mindset. They live without judgement. Being wise to them is not thinking they know something. You need to stay open minded to learn instead of living in your bubble, only surrounded by your peer group.

To ensure your ideas stay relevant in the future you constantly need to think about what your company actually is. Nothing is the way it is, for no reason. And nothing stays the same. Of which you need to remind your peers. I use 1 question to decide if someone’s open for feedback: “if I show you data related to the decision you are about to make, would that make a difference, or have you already made up your mind?” Most people don’t have an answer to this question. Either because they have already made a gut decision or they’ve become curious as to what you’re about to share with them.

It’s not part of our human nature to ask questions about everything. Use this in your advantage. Corporates assume and no one wonders if what they’re doing is the right thing. Keep the uncertainty and the need for questions alive in your team. To do so, attract risk takers and let them take risks. The best way to learn, and learn quickly.

6. Don’t want it all. Don’t want it now.

From a young age I admired friends who could do things in moderation. All I could do was push things to their extremes. Even though I still challenge myself and others around me today, I have learned to enjoy the ride itself and not take things to seriously. People sprint towards their grave, constantly in FOMO, while it’s not a bad thing to take a step back once in a while and reflect on your current position and the path you’re on.