The Importance of Picking The Right Arena


Chad Rowan was going to be a basketball star. An All Star high school center and a native Hawaiian, he won a full-ride basketball scholarship to Hawaii Pacific University. Chad and everyone around him had high expectations for his basketball career.

But fortunately for him it did not turn out that way. Chad Rowan flamed out as a collegiate cager. He rode the bench his freshman year then quit the team and dropped out of college. He didn’t even last a year. Though he was 6’8” and very strong, he was competing in the wrong sport.

Five years later, Chad Rowan was crowned the first non-Japanese champion of the sport of Sumo. Under his wrestling name, Akebono, he achieved Yokozuno status, the highest level in the sport, just a few years after his professional debut. From there, Akebono dominated his competition for eight years.

But starting out, Akebono was not expected to succeed in Sumo. His height and slim lower body were considered disadvantages. In a sport where the goal is to knock your opponent down, Akebono was too top-heavy. He would be easy to topple by the shorter, stockier Japanese wrestlers who would have the advantage of leverage.

He was also a foreigner in a foreign land, where societal pressure weighs heavily on the outsider. No Japanese Sumo fan would want to see their favorite wrestler lose to an American. All of this greatly lengthened the odds for Akebono.

As it turned out, Akebono’s “disadvantages” became his greatest weapons in Sumo. His height  gave him leverage. His long arms kept others from gaining a strong grip on him, and his height allowed him to pick up shorter wrestlers and walk them out of the ring. Akebono2

Being American ended up making Akebono more popular, and he brought a legion of new fans to Sumo. He revolutionized the sport, and paved the way for other foreign competitors to succeed.

But what would have happened if Chad had never left the basketball arena and entered the Sumo arena? Obviously, the great Yokozuno Sumo champion Akebono would never have existed. Neither would his 11 championships and 654 career wins.

Which is why it is so important for all of us to know where we should be competing in life. Choose the wrong arena, and you may toil in obscurity, while a championship life could have been yours if you had just chosen the right arena.

Manic Impressives often find themselves in the wrong arena. Not every team or business knows our value. We’re not that good at doing things the same way every time and following rote procedures. But we’re great at innovating and inspiring others.

Our creativity and sociability is how we influence others. Companies must see this as an advantage, not as us goofing off and being resistant to authority. Knowing workplace expectations is crucial to our ability to leverage our strengths. Otherwise we might end up flaming out on the bench.

Does the company you’re interviewing with prize your creativity and enthusiasm? Do they know how well you can influence others? Or do they simply not care about any of that? Are they expecting you to follow their rules, or break them to bits and create new ones?

Like Chad Rowan, you may not start out in the right place, and your expectations may lead you astray. But if you find the arena where your differences are advantages, like Akebono, you could become the next 518 lb. Sumo champion…


7 thoughts on “The Importance of Picking The Right Arena”

  1. Aram, what an inspiring piece! Thank you so much for this perspective on manic impressives! Great job.

  2. This post hit hard and heavy, Sumo style. It had me see that I am in the wrong arena altogether!
    Thanks for the meaty insight.

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