For the first time, learning to compete

Dorie Fain, The Daily Record Newswire

Growing up in Rhode Island, I knew that my home state was the smallest in the union. It is something most Rhode Islanders know as a catch phrase, yet until you leave the state and live in much larger places you don’t realize the scale of just how small Rhode Island is.

This was never more true growing up as an athletic kid who felt like a “good” athlete only to learn upon arrival at Ohio State that Little Rhody didn’t even register on the map in the world of sports competition. Throughout college, I learned the joy of being an avid fan and entered the next phase of athletic pursuit by going to the gym. As many benefits as this has overall, there are none that deliver a similar high as competing in sports can do. I went on in life seeking a way to engage that competitive spirit and found an outlet in my career, running marathons, doing tons of yoga and ultimately finding my way to tennis.

Not until I began playing competitive tennis did I realize how ill-prepared for this type of competition I truly was. Never before had I been taught how to think about the strategy of winning. As I now understand, there is so much more to success in sport, in business and in life, than having pure raw talent. While it helps to inherit some athletic genes and to be exposed to the opportunities to play, the real work comes in the space between our ears — the mental aspect of competing — that often is so underrated and underestimated.

As my athletic talent would only carry me so far, the mental game of tennis is revealing so much opportunity for me to train my mind, to exercise the muscles of mental toughness that only comes from experience in actual competition. No matter how much time and energy I devote to practice, and it’s a lot, time actually in the game is irreplaceable toward creating the muscle memory of a focused mind.

These qualities are transferring to my drive in my work, helping me gain an edge as I apply these lessons to business. I see myself thinking differently about how to approach a situation and what a win looks like by not always defining success with an actual W but with the successful implementation of my game strategy – the outcome not being within my control.

As a woman, I have overcome many of the absurd messages that I carried with me from my youth – be polite, don’t hurt feelings, don’t be aggressive — the messages that, as young girls, can often dissuade us from showing the ultimate form of respect to those around us – bringing our A game and honoring that in our opponent.

I was in a workout session recently at the training gym where I work out when one of the trainers made a comment that I should stop running like a girl. Apparently, as hard as I felt I was running, I wasn’t using my arms, which naturally slowed my stride. My defensive response was to say that I would try to run more like a boy and without missing a beat he responded by saying to run like an athlete.

Being a worthy competitor knows no limits by gender. I have realized that I can leave behind whatever preconceived ideas I have about my abilities and simply try to compete each time I have the chance. Often, I have to remind myself that this is the fun part of my day and that letting the game get the best of me rather than giving it my best, in the end, does not produce the results that I am striving for.

But what a gift … to be at this stage of life and to have the opportunity to feel so alive. The courage to put yourself out there and try… for the first time, being a true competitor, on the court and in life, what a gift…


Dorie Fain is the founder and CEO of &Wealth, a boutique financial advisory firm dedicated to women who are recreating their lives. With offices in New York City and Baltimore, &Wealth has helped hundreds of women who are managing the inherent complexities of the wealth management process.