Summer fun or life lessons?

Have you ever heard of New Braunfels, Texas? Have you heard of Schlitterbahn? Since more people answer yes to the second question than the first, I sometimes find it easier to just tell people I am from Schlitterbahn. Seems foolish, but it’s the truth: people know the town because of the water and fun-in-the-sun options the town can provide.

Growing up, every summer job I had involved the water. I realize that you probably didn’t come here to read about my childhood or be tempted by a relaxing vacation on the water (but if you did, I can make some recommendations). But bear with me. The reason I brought it up is that living and working where I did taught me several lessons I still use today.

Lesson 1: You need a process.

Just about everything you do in life requires some sort of process. Whether you’re juggling a busy workload or just deciding where to meet a friend for dinner, having a process helps you stay organized and get things done.

This is something I learned in my first job as a “tube boy.” Yep, that was the actual title. My role was to give tubes out to people who had rented them for the river. We only had a certain number of tubes available, and unfortunately it was quite a challenge to keep drunk people from losing or destroying an inflatable tube. There were only two of us managing thousands of tube rentals per day. Without a process, we wouldn’t have survived. The first summer was a lesson in what could go wrong, but it allowed us to break down the issues and figure out ways to handle them. Tubes not surviving more than two trips? We changed our inflation technique to give new tubes several days to cure in the sun, which allowed many of our tubes to last a whole summer. Tubers losing the tubes before return? We came up with a unique brand for our tubes that we showed renters and that our drivers could identify from across the river. Everyone in town knew which tubes were ours. The job was not the most exciting or educational, but I learned how to come up processes to solve problems, increase efficiencies, and do my job better.

Lesson 2: You have to be able to deal with drama.

Alcohol? Drama. A day in the sun physically exerting yourself? Drama. Water activities? Drama. People? Drama.

The experience of floating on the rivers in New Braunfels or going to Schlitterbahn can be incredibly fun, whether you’re there for a family vacation or an afternoon out with your friends. It can be the most fun you have all summer, but it can also lead to drama. Working in sports is similar. Everyone comes to a game with hopes that it will be one of their greatest experiences, but that doesn’t always happen. You learn to keep an eye out for people who might cause trouble or situations that could lead to frustration for the fans. You learn to spot the idiots and predict the issues before they arise. Knowing how to anticipate drama and defuse it was part of working on the river, and it’s also part of working in the sports industry.

Lesson 3: Knowledge is power.

Working at the river, we would always tell people “Only bring things with you that you are willing to lose.” Did they listen? Not really. Keys, wedding rings, prescription glasses, pocket knives, driver’s licenses, and even “my grandmother’s favorite necklace” were lost on those rivers.

We tried to educate people about the risk of losing things on the river, but not everyone listened to what we had to say. For those who listened, knowledge was power – they left their valuables somewhere safe and had a great experience. Those who ignored our advice and lost something that mattered to them often got frustrated, even though we had tried to tell them not to take whatever it was they’d lost. However, in that situation our knowledge became power. We knew the river well enough that we could often recover the items our customers had lost. Finding those lost car keys or that missing engagement ring made us heroes and it gave us the power to turn one-time customers into families that returned every year.

Working in sports is similar. You have to know where, how, and why people will get frustrated. You have to understand where their mind is and what resolution will help them walk away with good memories. Having this knowledge gives you the power to make someone’s day.

Lesson 4: You need a good team.

This is something that should be apparent in any industry, but starting out working on those rivers really set this in my mind. We would have to load 1000 tubes, 150 rafts, and 300 ice chests into a truck for transport. They then had to be unloaded and inventoried for the next day. To get through something like this efficiently, you have to work as a team. It only takes being slapped in the face once by a rope that was tied to a tube to understand how much you rely on your teammates. If everybody isn’t working together every step of the way, it’s a lot harder to get things done and sometimes the experience can be painful.

Lesson 5: You have to analyze results.

The importance of analyzing results is apparent to me every day in my current role, but it’s something I originally learned working on those rivers. From determining how many tubes to buy for a season or how long to stay open in the fall once school started, analysis was an important part of running the tubing business successfully. We even spent time trying to figure out how much trash was brought in and how many times per week our team needed to do a river clean-up to counteract the tubers.

A lot of the blogs I write end up focusing on the importance of analyzing results. That’s because analyzing results can help you reach any type of goal, whether that goal is personal or professional. In order to improve your future, you have to know how things have gone in the past and take the time to analyze what happened, why it happened, and how it could happen differently. Data gives you that ability. Data helps you grow.

New Braunfels was a great place to grow up. I learned many lessons; some good, some bad. While I never would have thought this at the time, the first few jobs I had working on those rivers are still helping me in my job today. What lessons did you learn in your first job that you still rely on?