Athletics to Assets: Inside the Journey of an Olympian Turned Financial Advisor

To watch the video interview, click the YouTube link above, or read the transcript below.

Lauryn Williams:
Well, the very long story short is that I became a professional athlete at the age of 20, and the cool thing about that is that I started to earn money as a junior in college. The not-so-cool thing about that is that I needed to find a financial person to help me organize my finances. I knew enough to just maybe not even be dangerous as a 20-year-old who was a finance major, and I at least knew enough to know that I needed the help of a financial professional.

I went out, I found one as a recommendation of a family friend and started working with a financial professional. I was fortunate enough to go to three Olympic games, and track and field, I earned two medals, one silver, one gold, and then I went on to switch to winter sports where I did bobsled. I'm the first American woman to earn a medal in both the summer and the winter Olympics, but like I said, it didn't come without its trials along the way as being a female professional athlete.

We don't earn in the same way that like an NFL or an NBA player earns. I had to be smart with the money that I had, and I was really hoping to have a good financial professional in my life to help me organize my finances and make good decisions. I said it didn't go well with the first guy. I fired him, hired another guy, thought that was going to go better. It didn't. Just being really frustrated led me to say like, "What options do you have when you want to make good decisions with your money, and you're willing to pay a professional, but you're not getting the advice that you want?"

That led me to finding the CFP coursework via Google search, good old Google, and enrolling in the coursework blindly really to help myself, not because I realized that it was a part of the industry, or I don't think I understood at all what the financial industry was, or fully what the investment aspects of things were.

That led me to want to start my own business. I now run a company, a financial planning company that is eight years old, called Worth Winning, where I specialize in helping young professionals better understand their personal finances.

Williams: The decision wasn't my own actually. I was really excited about the free education that came with being a pretty good track and field athlete. I went to the University of Miami. I'm a Hurricane. I was recruited there on a full track and field scholarship, and I come from a family of five sisters, two brothers, so a large family, not a lot of income, and so scholarships was going to be the only way that I was going to get my education paid for.

My parents definitely instilled the importance of education in my life, and so I chose the University of Miami thinking like, "Hey, it's warm here. I can meet my obligations as a track and field athlete." I really wanted to repay my coach for the opportunity of getting a free education, so I worked my butt off on the track, and I had success there.

It wasn't really a choice to become a professional athlete. It was my junior year in college. I was at the national championships for college track and field, and I ran the second fastest time in the world that year. Now I had run faster than any American professional athlete, and only one person in the world had run faster than me so far for the year, and that's how I was like, "Okay, it's time to turn your focus to being a professional athlete" versus it being a goal or aspiration of mine.

I'd say the probably most immediate change was the idea that I wasn't a college student living in a dormitory anymore. I was now a college student with one more semester to go that was earning a living, and I felt the pressure of figuring out how to be an adult really quickly. I don't know about you, they say 18 is when you're an adult, but when you look back, my 25-year-old self wasn't an adult, my 21-year-old self wasn't an adult and my 18-year-old self definitely was not an adult. It was really hard to just navigate what is the right thing to do in these particular moments.

Absolutely, yes, so in 2004, I made the Olympic team as an individual athlete in the 100 meters and earned the silver medal. I was also a part of the four-by-one relay on that team, but we unfortunately did not get the baton all the way around. I think we could have easily set a world record, but the key piece is 'could've, would've, should've.' If you did not get the baton around to all four people, you didn't get your opportunity.

You fast forward to 2008, and I also made it for that 100 meters. Unfortunately, I got fourth place, which I just want to let the whole world know that fourth place is far worse than eighth place when you're talking Olympic games. Because in eighth place, you just lost, that's it. In fourth place, you were just out of the medal standings, just out of the opportunity for bonuses, all sorts of different recognition, and so it was a really, really tough loss.

We did also have the relay in 2008, and unfortunately, again, we did not get the baton around. It was really frustrating to-- It's hard to make one Olympic team, but to make two of them, to know that we have the four girls that could easily break the world record, and then we flub it when it counted the most was really tough.

You fast forward to 2012, which was your question, about that experience. There was a lot of pain and a lot of hurt that you carried into that games because we knew there had been times that we had missed opportunities and we wanted to make the most of them however we hadn't. In 2012, I did not have my individual event. I placed sixth at the USA Trials, only the top three make the Olympic team, and so my only option was to be invited as part of the relay pool.

For me, there was so much more on the line this time around because we had already messed up two times. It was a really, really cool experience to be able to participate in the Olympic Games in only the team format because when you have your individual event, it's all on you, it's all or nothing. Figuring out how to come together as a group of people, getting the chemistry right, getting the baton exchanges right, is such a large effort that I took a lot of pride in being asked to be a part of it even though I was a part of those two teams where things didn't go so well.

I think what I brought to that team was the wisdom of what didn't go well, so that we could change the energy, because I was like, "If we can just get the chemistry right this time, there's no reason we shouldn't break the world record," and we did.

Andres, you bring up such a good point about the synergy of sports and finance, and how they just go hand in hand. There's so many analogies that you could use. The one that comes to mind most for me, though, as I think about this, and think about investing, is this idea of slow and steady wins the race. So many people are looking for the next best get-rich-quick scheme, or this thing that's going to make you an overnight success, or that one pick that's going to just do it for you.

What I've learned from both sport and being in finance is that, again, in track and field, you show up every day at practice. Like you said, some days you win, some days you lose. Some days you go to practice, and you're really sore from whatever you did the day before, and you don't feel like practicing. You show up again anyway because you're building something.

Those practices, the addition or the sum of those practices adds up to a really good race. Then you need multiple races to get yourself sharp for the big race, the championship race that's going to allow you to make the USA team, or win the Olympic Games. All of these things are building on top of one another, and in the same way with finances, it's like getting that money into that investment account on a regular basis is that slow and steady aspect of that's what wins the race.

You can't spend all your money and then say, when you're 55 years old, "I got $5, can you turn it into 500,000 for me?" If you just took that $5 every day from 25 to 50, you'd be a lot happier camper, but it's easier said than done to show up every day even when it hurts, even when you'd rather spend the money on something else and continue to invest strategically and continuously on a regular basis so that at the end of it, you can win the race.

Absolutely, so when I originally started my business, the thing that I was really passionate about was being able to serve people similar to me. When I say similar, I was young, I was earning a good living. Like I said, I was really ready to invest in myself, in my investment accounts, and really wanted to understand and organize my finances, but like I said didn't end up in the hands of the right people.

When I started my company, I said, "I want to fill the gap. I want people who traditionally wouldn't be looking for financial planning or wouldn't get access to financial planning to have access to it." A lot of the big financial planning firms where you're going to find a certified financial planner, they're going to say, "You need $1 million in assets before you can be a client."

That puts a lot of responsibility on the person to become a financial planning expert on their own. If you're going to take whatever you're earning and turn it into a million dollars, by the time I turn it into the million dollars, what do I need the advisor for? That's how I think of it at least. What I was thinking is like, what if this 20-year-old girl who was making roughly $200,000 a year had an advisor? She could have had that million dollars in assets pretty easily, but without the information, you don't get a chance to grow your assets. You don't get a chance to understand investing truly.

I wanted to bridge that gap. I started with a traditional financial planning firm that was meant to serve young professionals, millennials, those who, like I said, traditionally wouldn't get access to financial planning or that were forgotten. I built a successful practice over the last eight years. What I ultimately decided is that I was going to be limited in the number of people that I was going to be able to serve by running a financial planning firm.

Along the way, I met tons of high-integrity financial planners. I started to feel like, "Okay, this is no longer the gap in the industry. Where the real gap in this industry is is people having access to high-integrity knowledge. What I've decided to do now is to go out into the world and try to impact a lot more people, influence the masses, if you will.

I do a lot of going into companies and working as a part of an employer benefit and doing a couple-day workshops. I built a 12-point curriculum course. That's basically like money school because there's all this stuff that we should have learned about money because each and every one of us has to deal with it on a regular basis, but nobody taught us. We can't skip right to the investing piece of the puzzle if you don't have a budget, if you don't have a plan in place for your student loans, if you don't know how your 401(k) works, if you don't have a tax strategy.

There's all these little pieces of the puzzle that really help you optimize your finances and they really are a way of investing in yourself. We can't just focus on the investment returns. We've got to focus on our full financial picture. I go into companies or people get small groups together. You and your spouse and three other couples can get together and come meet me in Columbia and we'll take some time off. You'll get a vacation, but you'll also get this money school.

Taking financial planning outside of the box of how it's traditionally been presented, making it a lot more fun and relatable is my thing, and like I said, having a much bigger impact because I'm able to serve groups of people at a time versus being limited to 40 or 50 families as a traditional financial planner.

That's easy. The hardest thing about being an entrepreneur is marketing. Some people have that social media knack and they love to post. There's nothing I'd rather do less. I consider myself an old millennial. I think they said we're 27 to 43 years old this year. I just turned 40. I'm on the older end of it. I don't love social media at all. I think that that is the way that people are doing most of their marketing. You can have the best idea in the world, but if you don't have clients coming through the door then your best idea just gets to be kept for yourself.

Absolutely. Once you build it, they will come. Once you show somebody how good your programming is or how good your services are, they'll tell a friend about it. My business has been fortunate enough to grow by word of mouth better than it has grown over social media. Definitely that slow and steady part of telling people and explaining to them the value and why they should spend their money on this thing or invest in themselves in this way is the hardest part of entrepreneurship.

What gives me hope for the future? The way that the world has, I guess, returned to loving one another is what gives me hope for the future. I think pre-2020, we had become a really grumpy world. There was a lot of anger, a lot of hatred. We haven't gotten rid of all of that, but I think that being trapped indoors during that time gave us a lot of time to reflect.

I've felt more loved and cared for and respected. Going to a grocery store, driving down the street where people are usually laying on their horns. I love to travel, so different places, being warmly received. I just feel like the energy worldwide has changed and I have a lot of hope for the idea that we're going to be able to continue to unite and support one another and continue to just make the overall world a better place.