7 Life Secrets from a mother, business owner and aspiring triathlete
I recently received a call from DHL headquarters in Dubai. It was the Head of HR and the purpose behind her call was to invite me to speak at the launch of DHL’s women’s networking forum; to offer words of inspiration and advice on how to fulfil their potential. As a female entrepreneur with an eight-year old business, I am frequently asked to make motivational speeches, yet every time this happens I am humbled and excited! I still remember wondering if I really could succeed as a business owner with all the bridges I had to cross. I consider it both a privilege and a reminder of my journey every time I have the opportunity to share my story. Today it is my honour to share part of that story with you in the form of 7 secret superpowers.
Having accepted DHL’s offer, my next task was to identify what to present. How do you inspire a team of already highly motivated, hard-working woman at a successful global company? I needed a story with a triumphant element.
A triumphant story has a whole new meaning to me now. You see, lately, I have accepted a new companion into my life. A companion that has helped me achieve new milestones, brought me into the company of consummate achievers, that wakes me before the break of dawn and that has made me a stronger person. I decided to make this companion the subject of my presentation. Why? Because I could then tell a TRIumphant story. Who is this mysterious companion, and what relevance do they have to my DHL talk?
This companion that I speak about is actually a sport, or more precisely a triad of sports.
TRIathlon. Swimming, Biking, Running. One after the other in rapid succession.
The most authentic way that I could inspire talented women was by setting myself a challenging triathlon goal and achieving it. So, for the first time in my public speaking career, I took on the challenge of changing my life to create a new story to be shared.
Why Triathlon and what does it have to do with personal success?
The commitment and discipline required by a triathlon, and its potential rewards offer a great analogy for achieving one’s goals. The act of continually racing to higher targets sets a powerful example for how anyone, particularly us women, can overcome fears and perceived limitations towards developing mental strength, self-confidence and personal satisfaction.
I chose triathlon. That works for me. But what is your triathlon? What is your purpose and your preferred medium to stretch yourself, to push you to be brave and bold in your decisions and actions, and ultimately triumphant in what you do?
I set myself the challenge of competing in my first-ever Olympic distance triathlon on October 30th at the 2XU Triathlon Championships at Mamzar beach in Sharjah. The distance was twice my previous achievement. I would have to swim 1.5 km in open water, transition into my bike gear and cycle for 40km then change into my running gear and beat the heat and sun for 10km. Ouch. The thought scared me. What if I fail to complete – how would that impact my presentation to DHL? I convinced myself that either way there would be a story to tell. So game on!
Did I succeed? What happened? You’ll have to read on to find out. In the meantime, I‘ll share the 7 secret lessons that I derived from the highs and lows of that experience and draw parallels with being a purpose-driven entrepreneur and a compassionate mother. It is my hope that somewhere in my experience you find a parallel and derive comfort, courage or inspiration for your own story.
Secret 1: Who could be a better You? Find your purpose and stay authentic.
Sounds obvious doesn’t it? However, I constantly observe men and women measuring themselves against other’s scales; and more often than not emerging either disappointed or smug. I am talking about the ‘keeping up with the Jones’ syndrome but on a much deeper level.
But there is another way. I’ll lay the stage and hope it comes into context and provides some wisdom.
Each one of us, every organism that has ever existed, is a dot in the timeline of 4.5 billion years of life on this planet. A priceless opportunity.
Focus on your dot in the timeline of the universe. What is your purpose and unique gift to the existence? And how are you developing that gift? My experience is that focussing on this question is a far more useful than wondering what other people are doing, and at what pace. Once you’ve identified that purpose, move towards its realization and see your confidence grow. Then celebrate yourself; your indelible and unique mark on the timeline, and your positive impact on those around you.
Secret 2: Build physical and mental strength to get you through the journey
I am fortunate to have three beautiful children who are together the shining, life giving stars of my soul. They are my purpose. I revolve around them, which means earning to sustain their growth, education and happiness. It can be tremendously hard.
I took up distance running four years ago to empower myself after the tragic loss of my third child. I started by doing circuits around the football pitch while my son played with his team. I literally revolved around him! Vigorous exercise offered time for focussed self-reflection, relief from grinding everyday pressures and represented a physical manifestation of self-improvement.
The revolutions around the pitch became ten kilometres, then half marathons and marathons. Relatively late in my life I’ve grown into an athlete and now aspire to be a triathlete. The ellipse has widened, but my centre of gravity remains the same. Athletics grant me the stamina and release that I need to keep everything in my very full life moving forward. It brought me to new territory and shone light on who I am.
Secret 3: Set your goals and plan ahead
Becoming a triathlete has required goal-setting and careful, disciplined planning, in which my work as a management consultant has been incredibly helpful. In particular, my experience in process improvement for client’s businesses meant using models such as DMAIC (which stands for Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, Control) relevant to six sigma programmes. In this context the structure went something like this:
- Define the goal and the scope of the task ahead; for me it was to complete the Olympic distance triathlon.
- To attain this objective I needed to constantly measure my progress while training to understand my baseline performance and adjust routines such as sleeping early in order to recover ahead of a 5 am training session the next day.
- I analysed barriers to progress, like not consuming enough calories to replace the 500-1000 that I could burn in demanding sessions. I researched widely and consulted experts on the art of recovery - both physical and nutritional. For example, after a 2-4 hour bike ride, I drink 0.5 litre of protein shake to assist my muscles in their process of rebuilding the tissue necessary to avoid injury.
- I sought advice from successful triathletes to build a training plan that helped me improve performance and sustain progress. I remember the first day I rode my bike, about 11 months ago; I barely managed to complete 15km. I couldn’t have imagined cycling 100km 10 months later, but I did!
- I continually use technology to review my activity, empowering me with control over what I do next and how I adjust my plan. With all the above tools I’ve been able to monitor what does and doesn’t work towards attaining positive outcomes.
Secret 4: Test your limits and stretch yourself
Through the triathlon, I’ve learned to conquer my fear of the unknown and be in tune with my mind and body. It was similar in many senses to the courage I needed to resign from a dream job at Ogilvy in New York City, pack up my young family and return to Dubai to set up Bensouda Consulting eight years ago. I had many moments of doubt; but I persevered. Push yourself and you’ll find that you’re stronger than you could ever have imagined. For balance, listen to your body; pace yourself, slow down or occasionally take a break. This can serve you in many areas of your lives.
One of my biggest fears was distance swimming in the sea. I could barely do 50 metres without falling into a panic, but I wanted to stretch myself so I dived into those deep waters. It wasn’t smooth and I needed the encouragement of people around me; calming me when I panicked and providing useful tips on how to adapt to the environment. ‘Breathe in, then submerge your head underwater and breathe bubbles out until you feel at one with the water…’ were the wise words of my sister (and fellow triathlete) and my mantra to quiet my loudly thumping heart. It seems unbelievable to me that I can now swim over two kilometres with my co-triathletes. Me? Racing in the ocean? It’s difficult to know what lies beneath or around us in the sea but that unknown is best overcome by focusing on what’s ahead, above the water.
Secret 5: Organise your time and it will multiply
Time is our most valuable asset. Finite lifespans mean time also serves as our anchor, deserving the utmost respect and discipline. I’ve learned that the more I valued time by organizing it wisely, the more time I would be rewarded with! Sounds magical? Well it’s true. The better I became at prioritising my goals and organising them with care, the more I was able to fit in. A year ago I struggled to find a way to fit three runs a week into a schedule packed with business and family obligations; whereas today, I train six days a week and still uphold my commitment to my children, their homework support and bedtime. It’s not easy and I often fail, but I’m learning.
Secret 6: Belong to a supportive community
I could not accomplish all of my personal, professional and athletic goals without the support, guidance, inspiration and love of a wonderful community. I’ve seen the results in my business and my triathlon of having the right mentors to guide and advise me by sharing their own personal experiences. I enjoy the excitement and inspiration of belonging to a community of aspiring female triathletes, exchanging stories and facing similar challenges as we journey together towards shared athletic goals. Most importantly, I have been blessed with a loving, patient and encouraging family who cheer me on, celebrate with me, shower me with affection and console me when I am down. Build a community of support around yourself to propel you, prop you up when you stumble and act as a safety net if you fall.
Secret 7: Learn to recover quickly
With the ebb and flow of life’s ups and downs, I use the powerful endorphin high of rigorous training to reset my balance, eliminate negative energy from disappointing experiences and start my days with my batteries fully charged! The faster you’re able to pick yourself up from an upset, the easier it is to maintain a higher level of positivity and energy; which sets you up for more successful output.
In conclusion, I’m happy to say that I successfully completed my Olympic triathlon race on October 30 in just over 3 hours. It wasn’t a podium finish, but a success nonetheless! I was able to share this story with a very receptive and appreciative crowd at DHL; and rumour has it, that they were left energized and inspired.
So what’s your story?