Phil Knight, 24 years old. One thing was clear from his biography. He was an educated man, a trained soldier and skinny as a stick with very little experience in life. Even though it was the 60s with the sexual revolution, rebellions and flights to the moon, he still felt like a kid.
He was a good runner, but that wasn’t enough to make a career in running. He knew that at the level he was, running won’t bring him glory. Despite that, he was completely unaware of who could he become and what he was able to achieve, he desired only one thing – success. But he had no idea what would that success mean.
What if there was a way to experience what athletes do, without being an athlete?
„Running. It’s hard. It’s painful. It’s risky. The rewards are few and far from guaranteed. When you run around an oval track, or down an empty road, you have no real destination. At least, none that can fully justify the effort. The act itself becomes the destination. It’s not just that there’s no finish line; it’s that you define the finish line. Whatever pleasures or gains you derive from the act of running, you must find them within. It’s all in how you frame it, how you sell it to yourself.”
Phil, despite his existential fears, terrified of the future and with a complete lack of faith in himself thought of this Crazy Idea. If it wasn’t for the fact that the whole world is built on crazy ideas, Phil would have never found the courage within. For all the life’s hardships, lack of understanding from his father and his friends, constant lack of funds and rejections from banks, despite all the problems that constantly appeared, he was going to move forward, and never stop. He had no connections, no experience, he wasn’t a businessman and didn’t have enough money. What he had, was a great team, which in the eyes of an outsider most likely looked like a pathetic bunch of misfits.
18 years later, 90.000 hours of exhausting work, 100.000 traveled kilometres, 100 break downs, 50 doubts concerning your idea and 200 sleepless nights. The Nike company was formed, which is now one of the most powerful players in the clothing, footwear and sports gear market, with yearly sales of 30 billion dollars.
Even though Phil quit professional running, the whole period of his life was one of the longest and toughest marathons he’s ever participated in. If he’d learned anything trough this time, it would most definitely be:
If you lack in tools, find the right people
Most people won’t perceive your business the way you do, so it’s worth to seek for people who share your passion. The culture you create in your workplace is important, and if you surround yourself with people, whom you can trust instead of looking over their shoulders to see everything they’re doing, you will gain mutual loyalty.
Great accomplishments come with pain
Athletes know this and so did Michelangelo when painting the Sistine Chapel. Despite the constant back pain, paint dripping into his eyes and hair, he didn’t quit and moved on to drawing portraits or mammoths on the walls. He knew that the end result was more important than him. The road to greatness is never easy but if you find a greater meaning to your work you will survive any pain.
Rivalry is really just a fight against yourself
There is no rival, no competition, no obstacles. There is only you, your weaknesses, the voices in your head that tell you to give up because it’s too hard, to take a break, to let it go or that it hurts. There is no point negotiating with your internal voice, you can only drown it out with the beating of your heart or your victory.
Fight for it, even if there seems to be no hope
To give up does not mean to lose, because losing happens when you keep stagnant. You need to know when to let go and that’s not always when the situation seems hopeless. There are always other ways and glimmers of hope, because as long as you keep on going you either learn or you win.
If you have an idea, faith and determination, you don’t need a fat bank account
The most important thing is to find the right people and infect them with your idea. If the idea is good, don’t be afraid of competition, even if it’s huge and backed by a large capital. At the end of the day, it’s all down to people, who choose what they like.
Don’t give up just because someone doesn’t believe in your idea
When Phil tried to sell his shoes in sports shops he heard “Kid! More running shoes are the last thing the world needs these days!”. It didn’t stop him. He started selling them independently. Soon Phil couldn’t catch up with taking the orders and dealing with all the people, who’d come to his house as the word to mouth spread. Experts who know the rules of the modern world are pessimists. They don’t want change because it comes with risk. They want to be safe and stable.
Sometimes rules need to be bent
Stretching the truth and exaggerating the size of your company, which might not ever yet exist, in order to gain a producer from Japan is not always a bad thing, as long as you believe and know that you can get there quickly. Richard Branson once said: “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later.”
Everyone has the ability for sales
Do you know why so many people are crap at sales? Because they wouldn’t buy their own product and if they wouldn’t then why would anyone else? If you’re doing something and you want others to participate you must feel it and communicate it with your whole being. I’m not talking about the fake enthusiasm of door-to-door salesmen but about being authentic in what you do. Passion is contagious and it’s easy to spot the real from the fake. Always be honest in what you do, don’t bullshit because people will remember that and appreciate it. That’s how you get customers and friends for life, not just for a one-off.
Make room for experience
Imagine, that when the founder of such a powerful company as Nike was 24, he still felt like a kid and had no idea what to do with his life. Personally, I’ve always wanted to be happy, but what was that happiness supposed to mean? Often, if you don’t want to end up living someone’s else’s life, it’s best to experiment, to get to know yourself first. Change of surrounding, a 180-degree turn, can do the trick. Phil, for example, borrowed money from his father and went travelling around the world. Travelling makes you grow and widens your horizons. It allows you to change your perspective to the one you didn’t know before. Travelling alone can be a lot of fun too. You never know who you’re gonna meet and because it’s harder, it really makes you grow much faster. Be open, find your own way, give yourself time, experience, learn, grab knowledge by handfuls and don’t waste your youth on the search for security and stability.
Take care or people and help out when you can
People don’t forget. Make sure to differentiate between those who need your help and those who want to use you- it is a fine line. Selfless good deeds create loyalty. Usually, it’s the things we don’t do for money that bring us the biggest rewards – since the heart doesn’t remind anyone about their bank account’s balance.
I could barely take a break when studying Phil’s history and I’m full of awe for his determination and naivety. How else would you describe an inexperienced kid (his own words), who long before Aliexpress and Google decided to go to Japan, right after the end of cold war, and almost gave his grandmother a heart attack because of that; a kid who decided to find a footwear manufacturer in Japan and distribute shoes across the USA.
This is why the most important point, which I almost forgot about, is number 11 and that is:
Don’t let anyone kill off the naivety in you.
If you want to achieve something that is bigger than you and the world around you, you need to be a naive dreamer.
Thanks for reading! It means the absolute world to me.