Fitness and Discipline: What the World of Athletics can Teach us About Business and Life

By Jimi T Hardee

Every year in January, people around the world set out on their New Year’s resolutions of weight loss and fitness. However, statistics suggest that most of us will abandon our new ‘fit’ lifestyles as early as January 17th! We’re here to offer those of you who are struggling to make good on your resolutions a little support and encouragement, and show how a commitment to health and fitness can improve not only your body but your whole life! We sat down with NuLeaf CEO Rachel Major do discuss how her athletic background has shaped her approach at business and management.

Q: To start off, can you talk a little about your athletic background?

A: I’ve always been pretty active, I was the only girl in my neighborhood so I grew up playing sports all the time. When I was younger I did a variety of sports, from softball to swimming to dance and gymnastics, but I was the best at soccer. I played high-division soccer for about 10 years and I was on the varsity team for most of high school, and through that, I started trail running, weight lifting, and high-intensity interval training as well.

In college, I was involved with rugby and started powerlifting and played on my college’s division II rugby team. I would have continued with rugby but I had two serious concussions and decide to focus on college and healing myself. Today I still weight lift, trail run, and do high-intensity interval training multiple times a week. I also do yoga and stretch a lot!

Q: Do you feel that being an athlete provides you with any sort of insight into the world of business?

A: Honestly, more than you would think. The hardest part about being an entrepreneur to me is having the will power to keep going and put in a day’s work when things get hard. Will power is like a muscle, you need to work to develop it, I think of fitness as a kind of opportunity to exercise your will power as well as your body.

Also understanding that rest is really important, a lot of people start lifting and they will try to just go to the gym 7 days a week. Your muscles need time to rest and regenerate as this is actually where gains come from. I think it’s the same in business. Drudging on endlessly and never taking the time to rest and reflect is going to put you in a position where you will look back on the work you’ve done and realize that none of it is really getting you where you want to be. Sleep, stretch, give yourself a break when you need one.

Another part of it is recognizing pain as a sign of growth. Athletics help you understand that when things are getting harder and you want to stop, that is sometimes the most important time to keep going. Stretching yourself as an entrepreneur and learning to recognize when to relish the challenge and when to take a break is really important to success.


Q: Are there any strategies you carry over from fitness and athletics into business?

A: Being honest with your team and realistic about your strengths is key in either environment, as well as making sure that the right people are doing the right job. Team cohesion is something you learn really well going out on the pitch with other people.

The cool thing is that you can get to a point where you’re partially running on instinct. You don’t always need to communicate on the field to know where your teammates are and can start to get a sense of where to expect people and trust that they are going to do the right thing. Getting people to think for themselves in business, giving them ownership of their own instinct can lead to amazing results, is key in a startup too.

As far as personal strategies, I have a kind of mantra for weight training where I keep thinking to myself “I am greater than the weight, the weight is not greater than me.” I find myself thinking this about work too when things get crazy.

Q: If you were to liken business to a team sport, which one would it be?

A: Well I honestly do think it is a lot like rugby: you are trying to get this ball to the other side of the pitch, and you have to navigate around all the other players to do it. Sometimes the best strategy is to cede some ground so you can try to advance from a better position, sometimes you just need to grit your teeth and force your way through.

Business can be like this too, you are going to need to take a step back sometimes if you find yourself in a tough spot, but other times you just need to plow through adversity with reckless abandon. Also in both cases, you normally go out for a pint after.


Q: Do you have any other thoughts you would like to share on the subject?

A: The thing I think about the most is: you can’t cheat in fitness or business (or rather, you can but it doesn’t get you where you want to be and you’ll probably end up injured along the way.) It takes a long time to see results and there are no shortcuts you can take get there faster, you just have to put the work in. Having a commitment to working hard and working on solid fundamentals like good form before lifting heavy weights, and having faith that you will achieve the desired results is so important. This is the biggest lesson I have learned from athletics.

Lastly, more women should do things like strength training. A lot of people think strength training isn’t for women because it builds bulky, unsightly muscle. Regardless of what you’re motivation for working out is, muscle is very hard to build and I promise you won’t grow any you don’t want on accident! Beyond that, muscle is not only healthy but beautiful. So even for the women who work out regularly, you could be missing out on phenomenal character building and fantastic workouts by limiting yourself with this “don’t be too bulky” mentality. You will find that you are much stronger than you think, that this strength gives you an indescribable confidence all your own, and that your strength is functional. Don’t be afraid to be strong, or to take up space and make some noise, that's as true for women is business as it is for fitness.