5 Entrepreneurial lessons I’ve learned from working out

Confession. I’ve been overweight for most of my life.

So much so, that I had become used to oscillating between slightly overweight and obese. I rarely found myself on the healthy side of the scale and I was used to that.

Six months ago I took a decision that I had to change that. If I was strong and focused in business, I could translate that same focus and determination into my health.

Couldn’t I? I could be healthy too.

So, I went ahead and hired a personal trainer called Jimmy and a nutritionist and took time to learn what I had to do to get healthy. For 3 months I was at the gym 4 days a week, I ate a very managed diet and drank 3 liters of water every day. At the end of 3 months I had results! I lost 12kg (26 pounds) and I looked so much better. The experience was a journey of self-discovery and learning.

I learned so much and from those lessons I’ve distilled five entrepreneurial lessons I learned from the process that could help you shape your business using fitness principles. You’ll be amazed that the principles aren’t very different. Read on and learn how.

No pain no gain

For the first one and a half months I quit every single day but the next day I found myself back in the gym and back on the diet. Sound familiar? If you are an entrepreneur, I can bet you’ve been through that cycle where before you get to bed you throw in the towel only to be back on the grind by the time you wake up. Just like the uphill start when you work out, it’s just not easy.

I remember that I couldn’t walk properly for the first two weeks and after some sessions I couldn’t even drive myself home. I would be in so much pain. Each and every day, my personal trainer, Jimmy, would scream four words which I’d heard before but had never been so true until that time,

“No pain no gain!”

How right he was. The more I pushed myself, the more I saw results and the more I saw results, the more that the pain became motivational.

This is exactly how the entrepreneurial journey goes. In the beginning you see pain and more pain. So much so that you quit so many times before changing your mind and going back for more pain. But when the clients start coming in and the cheques begin to clear, you start to realise the value of the pain and the pain becomes almost motivational.

The lesson is that you will feel the pain before you see the results of it. Give the pain the time it requires before you to see the gain. There are no shortages of examples of entrepreneurs who went through debilitating pain in their journey to success. Right from Space X’s exploding rockets to even Steve Jobs being fired from his own firm or Jack Ma being overlooked from job after job. Sometimes we just need to go through the steps. Very rarely are there shortcuts both in fitness and entrepreneurship.


I had tried to get into shape before. For prolonged periods I’d hit the gym and do what I’d do. Soon after I’d wolf down some fried chicken and burgers, pat myself on the back and wonder why I kept getting heavier. The problem wasn’t only the food, it was also what I did in the gym or rather, what I didn’t do. I had no idea that lifting weights had method to it. It isn’t only about what you lift but also how you lift them. There are so many wrong ways of lifting weights and using gym equipment. So, in many instances, you will feel the pain after the workout but you wouldn’t have done anything useful. The most painful thing is that you would never know.

It is often the case in business where sometimes we go through steps that yield no results. In my case, I had Jimmy to now mentor me through the right ways to lift weights. So, we often know what to do but not how to do it in business. Sometimes we know how to initiate deals and not how to close them. Or we make money and don’t know how to manage it. In some instances, we get contracts but lack the ability to execute them. It is in cases like these that mentorship makes all the difference.

As an entrepreneur or executive, we all need a Jimmy. Someone who can share tried and tested wisdom with us so we don’t make mistakes we don’t need to make. Someone we can trust to offer us great advice. Often, without mentorship, we will burn so much time and money and have no idea what we are doing wrong. Save yourself that time and that money and enter into relationships that guarantee you the result.

To quote Denzel Washington,

“Show me a successful individual and I’ll show you someone who had real positive influences in his or her life. I don’t care what you do for a living—if you do it well I’m sure there was someone cheering you on or showing the way. A mentor.”

Moreover, a mentor acts as a critical eye and a moral compass. You stay the course because you know you are letting down someone if you don’t.

Small Incremental Steps

The first thing I was told was not to weigh myself daily. I still did it even though I was advised not to. I was told to have only a single weigh-in monthly. The reason for this is that sometimes the results are so small, they don’t appear to be there at all. This can be really discouraging. However, those small results cumulatively become a significant result. Each of the grammes (or ounces) you lose daily become kilogrammes (or pounds) ultimately.

This is the same process that occurs with building a business. We need to accept and expect the small incremental steps and not rush them. It is very rare to strike that million-dollar deal early. The process to it lies in months or sometimes years of building capacity, research, goodwill and a reputation. To many looking from the outside, the big deal may seem like sudden success but the entrepreneur knows that it was made possible by making small steps continuously and consistently until the final step is achieved.

Consistency and Discipline

This brings me to my next point. Consistency and discipline. It feeds into everything else we mentioned earlier. You need to keep doing the right things over and over again and don’t tire. I remember times when I would be famished and the only available food was junk food. That’s the time when you need to maintain your discipline. There are times when I wouldn’t feel like going to the gym, but that’s when you need to push and keep going. The moment you break the rhythm, you lose the momentum and it’s hard to get it back.

As you run your enterprise, remain resolute and keep doing the right things all the time regardless of what the evidence shows you. Eventually the results will start to show.

A company like Old Mutual didn’t survive for 172 years by flip flopping. It got to where it is by offering results to clients across generations. Consistency kept them relevant. Consistency created accountability and consistency created a longstanding reputation.

Breaking the consistency and discipline is one sure way to sabotage the results.

Don’t forsake the 20%

We all know the Pareto principle or the 80 / 20 rule. It has been applied to everything in our lives and I’m sure it’s well understood. In the fitness realm, are told that your diet contributes 80% of your results and working out only contributes the other 20%. Logically, one can achieve a satisfactory result just by focusing on the diet without having to go to the gym. That is absolutely true.

However, the biggest lesson I learned about that is that although the 20% may not be the substance, it certainly is the quality. What do I mean by that? Allow me to explain. The diet helped me lose the weight but the working out has given me the muscle definition and physical structure which makes the product or person most attractive. It’s the shiny finish or the final polish that differentiates what you have from what everyone else has. It’s also the reason why someone would pay 200% more for a Nike shoe than a no-name-brand of the same design and quality.

In business, that 20% is what separates us from our competitors and leads us to the front of the pack. Often, that 20% is either neglected or really hard to implement and attain. Therefore, the lesson in this case is not to ignore that 20%. Its value goes far beyond the initial perceived contribution.


In this article I have shared only 5 lessons that I picked up from working out but there are so many more. Some I am even still learning. All the lessons that I have outlined above lead to a simple truth that what is worth the prize is always worth the fight. Both in fitness and in business we must be prepared to roll up our sleeves and do the work and we mustn’t tire if the results aren’t instant. We need to give each process the time it takes to get that result. I hope the lessons have inspired as much as they inspired me.

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