From sports to small business: Lydia Lassila on lessons learnt

22 May 2024

The word ‘inspiring’ almost doesn’t cut it for Lydia Lassila. As a talented teen gymnast with Olympic dreams, she realised at 17 she wasn’t good enough to keep going. Her next pivot was a game-changer: she joined a program that leveraged her acrobatic skills on the slopes. Several gruelling years of training later, she emerged as an Olympic-medal-winning, aerial-skiing legend. But her switch to small business owner – of specialised icepack company BodyIce and sustainable yoga gear brand Zone – may just be the most challenging and satisfying yet.

What’s your money story?

I grew up in a normal working-class family. My dad ran his own building business and while money wasn’t scarce, it also wasn’t crazy abundant. My parents were very careful. They were both immigrants who really started their life in Australia with nothing. So, the value of working hard was driven home.

How has that influenced you?

My dad worked hard, but he always stopped and made time for us on holidays. That’s so hard to do, but I try to make sure that while I work hard, there’s respite, too.

How does running a small business compare to life as an athlete?

In my sporting life, I left zero to chance. In business, I’ve learnt to be a bit more flexible because it can be very stressful at times. There are stock issues and supplier delays and products to develop but I love the challenge. For me, I ask myself: where do I want to be in 6 months? And then I plot what needs to happen to get there. 

Do you still run as hard at your goals?

I was so rigid and disciplined for so long, and that helped me fulfil my dreams as an athlete. But I don’t approach my businesses in the same way. I have less concrete goals and I try to enjoy work more. Am I an Olympic champion in business? No. But I’m earning an income. My businesses are not failing.

How do you manage the stress of uncertainty?

Things don’t always go to plan and you have to adapt and change – and I’m okay with that. I’m okay with trying to find solutions and learning and growing. As an athlete, I had coaches supporting my goals. As a small business owner, it can be lonely, but I bounce ideas off other people and do the best I can.

What’s your advice to people who want to start their own thing?

I’ve never had the security of a nine-to-five job – I don’t know what that feels like. It doesn’t mean I take big risks – I just think when it comes to starting a business, ‘Have a crack’.

And when it comes to work-life balance, what do you know?

I’ve had to unravel limiting beliefs from my childhood – like ‘hard work will make you successful’. Now, rather than working harder, I try to work smarter. That’s what I did to achieve my goals in sports, and when I slip into old patterns and exhaust myself, I try to remind myself of that lesson.

Things you should know

An earlier version of this article was published in Brighter magazine

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