Being a founder, not to mention a CEO, can be a very lonely place, carrying loads of stress and requiring to constantly be at peak performance. This often makes it hard to find a balance between one's professional and personal life. Maintaining strong relationships with the co-founders and investors is also not an easy task, where clarity and empathy are not always present. As one of my entrepreneurs says: “It’s not the technological challenge we deal with, it’s the mental one.”
“Throughout my +15 years as a professional, I've always been attracted to the intersection of business and psychology through entrepreneurship - What makes people tick? How do people think and act? And what motivates people in business? What drives me is being there for the amazing entrepreneurs, who are under constant pressure, so that they can make our world a better place. That’s what I’m here for, and this is my podcast – The Human Founder.”
With Noam Gershony, Olympic champion
Israel’s Memorial Day (Yom HaZikaron) is deeply rooted in us, Israelis, and impacts our perception, way of living, and emotional resilience. I chose to reshare my episode with Noam, who symbolizes everything this country and our DNA are all about.
Noam Gershony is a wounded IDF veteran, an Apache pilot who lost close friends in the Second Lebanon War in 2006, and in 2012, he participated in the Paralympic Games in London for Israel’s tennis team. He competed in the quad category (which is for athletes who have permanent impairment of one or both legs and additional restrictions in the arms) and won the gold medal in the singles tournament and a bronze medal in the double’s tournament with Shraga Weinberg. He is also a consultant for the startup Playwork, which is in the field of rehabilitation, a sought-after and inspiring lecturer, and was chosen to light a torch on Israel’s 70th Independence Day Ceremony in 2018 to honour all his triumphs.
During the war, Cpt. Noam Gershony flew an attack helicopter in the 190th Israeli Air Force (IAF) Squadron. On July 20, 2006, he flew his last mission with the IAF. That day a tragic helicopter crash occurred, where Noam and his helicopter partner Major Ron Kochba fell 6000 ft without parachutes. The crash instantly killed Ron. Although, against all odds, Noam survived the crash.
Noam sustained severe injuries throughout his body. He suffered from broken bones and fractures to his pelvis, elbow, jaw, and shoulder, just to name a few. Noam was unconscious in the hospital for one week and lay in bed for 2 months after due to back injuries. His right leg was fractured, and his left leg was paralyzed. Even today, it is very painful for Noam to walk on his own.
What is resilience all about?
In our intimate and honest conversation, Noam shared with us his experience during recovery, from the injury itself to the range of emotions that accompanied him throughout the rehabilitation. Moreover, he expressed how our choice and perspective can influence reality; the belief that "it is possible" to walk again and come back to life. This belief allowed Noam to deal with the injury and take it as far as possible - to the Olympics. And this mantra - "it is possible" - is a mantra that leads entrepreneurs every day, as they face more and more challenges. It doesn't work like magic; just because you decide to have a positive outlook doesn't mean everything will instantly change for the better and be solved. But our attitude gives us a massive influence on our reality. Noam compares this to a muscle you need to train and strengthen, and then you can find the good even in very difficult situations.
Despite receiving a pessimistic prognosis from his doctors, Noam used his attitude to turn the crisis into a mission; he was determined to overcome any challenge. He underwent intensive rehabilitation for 18 months, where he learned to walk on his own with crutches.
Soon afterward, Noam began to compete in various tennis competitions while in a wheelchair, which he considered his best form of rehabilitation. In 2010, Noam won the finals of an international tennis competition in the Czech Republic and was ranked 29th in the world. He continued to compete and reached, among other things, the final round of the Disabled Tennis Championships in the United States, won a tennis competition in Belgium, won another championship in Sydney, and received additional awards in Japan, France, and more.
We talked about how to deal with pressure in peak performance when you know it's probably the only chance to succeed in the Olympics and how to focus on the positive over the negative. We discussed why entrepreneurs should also take failures in proportion and know how to stop for a moment and enjoy victories. "You can fail, it's really okay to fail. Champions, athletes, and successful people, all fail, time and time again. I saw Nadal in the locker room, after his loss to Djokovic and he was devastated. But then you see him in another competition, and he's a beast again. He's upset about the loss, it's disappointing, it sucks, but it doesn’t break him. You can't be at your peak all the time."
Tip from a champion to help you focus
Noam shared about a trick that helps him focus during competitions: it is a ritual that puts his mind into a mode he is familiar with - “if you do the same thing repeatedly there are neurons that connect to the next thing you need to do and can be used actively. If you’re preparing a presentation to investors, for example, go into the room and know at least what the first few sentences you are going to say. Say it fifty thousand times so that you go in and don’t get stuck, because you probably repeated and practiced the presentation itself many times, but not the first sentence. Once you get started it gets easier. "
There are a lot of positive attributes of the adrenalin rush that fills your body during these instances too because the body knows it is preparing for some excitement - after all, we don’t want to be robots in our life. Let these things pass through you and feel them.
Noam also shared about how to manage relationships with your competitors: why the relationship between his tennis partner is like the relationship between co-founders in a startup.
During our conversation, Noam gave me a splash of optimism while teaching me how to take things into proportion and strengthen my inner faith along the way– all with a bright smile the entire time.