Here’s some career advice. Stop obsessing about how smart you are. Instead, get some exercise and you’ll perform better at work — athletes do better in the workplace than non-athletes. Even off the field. This advice is true in a wide range of scenarios — across age groups, job descriptions, and types of exercise.
Athletes make more money because their self-confidence and competitive nature makes them choose jobs that pay more money, says James Shulman, author of The Game of Life: College Sport and Educational Values. “This happens from every group of athletes from the liberal arts colleges to big-time sports. It is not affected or skewed by a few people winning million-dollar NFL contracts or anything like that.”
Another reason athletes make more money is that they fit in better in today’s workplace, which values emotional intelligence over academic intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the “soft skills” that enable smooth running interpersonal relationships at work — such as the ability to read peoples’ nonverbal cues and the ability to manage oneself within a team.
These skills are not taught in a classroom; however, someone with athletic experience is likely to have picked them up. “Sports teach workplace values like teamwork, shared commitment, decision-making under pressure, and leadership,” says Jennifer Crispen , a professor at Sweet Briar College who teaches a course in the history of culture of women’s sport.
Also, playing sports helps people succeed because it teaches skills such as, “time management, mental toughness, and focus,” says David Czesniuk, manager at the Center for the Study of Sport in Society.
This is especially true for women. Crispen told me, “Eighty-one percent of women executives played organized team sports growing up.” These women attribute their success, in a part, to the fact that they learned the values that playing these sports teaches.
Mariah Titlow, a biologist, has been involved in sports all her life. “Sports have given me better focus and discipline,” she says. “I’ve done gymnastics, swimming, dance, field hockey, track. Sports increased my confidence, made me a happier person, and taught me how to get through something tough.”
Elite colleges are aware of this connection, which explains why it is easier to get into the Ivy League if you are an athlete. And employers know that athletes have an advantage in the workplace, so hiring managers like to see candidates with athletic experience.
For athletes, this is great news. Non-athletes should stop complaining about the unfair advantage, and instead, take steps to confer some of the advantages of being an athlete on themselves. Here are some ideas for getting started:
If you’re in school, join a team and approach it with dedication, because that’s an integral part of your education. “Your body and your brain are connected,” says Titlow, “so the benefits of sports spill over into other parts of life.” The career benefits of being an athlete are not necessarily related to talent, they have to do with focus and commitment. So get some.
If you are out of school, there are still opportunities to join teams that cater to adult beginners. But if you can’t image doing that, at least go to the gym. It’s no coincidence two thirds of female business executives and 75 percent of all chief executives, exercise regularly, Crispen said. While you do not gain team-oriented benefits from individual exercise, you do cultivate business essentials such as self-discipline, goal setting, and self-confidence.
In fact exercise in the morning notably improves your workplace performance that very day, according to research from Leeds Metropolitan University.
Still feeling like a couch potato? That couch time is costing you money: The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that good-looking people make 14 percent more than ugly people. Part of this discrepancy is because, `’The perfect leader is someone who is able to control other peoples’ perceptions of him. Everyone has a secret — a weakness or a raw nerve they don’t want to be touched. For a person who is overweight, the secret is out.” says executive recruiter Mark Jaffe.
Before you hem and haw about beauty being in the eye of the beholder, just go to the gym. You know good-looking when you see it, and you know ugly when you see it, and a body that’s been exposed to regular exercise at the gym is probably not ugly. You might not get that whole 14 percent of extra pay, but your career is going to benefit one way or another if you exercise regularly.