3 Valuable Lessons Sports taught me about Success and Fulfilment

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It was summer term at junior school in Nairobi that I was first introduced to the game of cricket. I was around 10 years old. Living in let’s say the more modest part of town, cricket wasn’t exactly a game that my neighbourhood friends ever played let alone heard of. Football was what got our competitive juices going and Maradona and Pele were our heroes!

So as a 10 year old football enthusiast, the game of cricket seemed somewhat awkward, slow and way too “posh” for someone like me. However, the more I played cricket the more I realised I had a knack for the game, and I grew to appreciate the skill level (both physically and mentally) that was required.

Cricket became a core feature of my life particularly as a child and young adult, but it’s also where I learnt the most valuable life lessons that I’ve carried into my personal and professional life.

1. The importance of being part of something bigger than yourself

“One cannot lead a life that is truly excellent without feeling that one belongs to something greater than oneself” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Whenever my team mates and I stepped onto the field, there were two overwhelming drivers that motivated us to bring out the best in us;

  1. We were representing our school and all the pupils and teachers that supported us, and…
  2. We were playing for each other – we won and lost as a team.

That was what inspired and motivated us. That was our WHY.

It was never about any individual or personal glory or accolades. We all felt like we were playing for something greater than ourselves.

A career whereby the work you are doing is contributing to something greater than yourself is what brings true fulfilment. It’s the thing that gets you through the bad days at the office, gives you the grit to bounce back from failure and gives you that feeling of achievement at the end of a long day….the feeling that you actually made a difference. It gives you perspective and always reminds you of the bigger picture.

The closer you are able to align your work and your environment to your personal values…to the things that really matter to you….that are bigger than just you, the greater the meaning and impact of your work will be.

2. The real reward is in the journey, not the destination itself

As a team we achieved a fair amount of success, winning several championships. However, when I look back at the memories that stood out, it wasn’t the awards and accolades that we achieved that I recall. In fact, it was the hours and hours spent practicing at the nets, the moments where I needed to hold my nerve and bowl that maiden over, bouncing back from losses, the bonds and friendships I made with my team mates and coach.

The reward came from the satisfaction of playing cricket. The accolades were just a bonus.

Financial rewards and accolades have become the priority drivers (and for some) the only benchmarks and measures of success. These drivers are what Daniel Pink describes in his book, ‘Drive’ as “Extrinsic Motivators”. The achievement of accolades and financial success certainly brings enjoyment but that feeling of elation is usually short lived, and reality of ones’ day to day kicks back in. Truly successful and fulfilled entrepreneurs and business women and men didn’t set out to make a million or billion dollars. They began by working on a problem that mattered to them and they enjoyed solving. The financial rewards and accolades came after.

Working in a job where the real reward is in solving problems that you enjoy working on, and actually mean something to you, is where true success and fulfilment comes from

3. Surround yourself with only people that are going to lift you higher

I was incredibly fortunate to have been surrounded by a group of people that inspired me in their own individual ways. Many of whom have since gone one to achieve great things. Whether it was the incredible talents of our star batsman or bowler. Or the team captain who used his natural leadership skills to motivate the team and make tactical decisions that often turned the tide of the match in our favour. Not to mention, my coach who taught me many of the life lessons I hold in high regard today.

In life and work, surrounding yourself with people that energise, motivate and inspire you versus drain and bring you down can often be the difference between sustained success and failure. Whether it’s your colleagues, friends, sponsors or mentors, it’s important to surround yourself by people that bring out the best in you, challenge you and champion you.

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