Punit Dhillon was nine when he almost drowned in a swimming pool. 20 years later, he became a competitive swimmer and completed his first of several Iron Man Triathlons. He lives by the philosophy of using adversity as fuel to exceed all expectations.

In his new book, Catapult, Punit gives you his insider’s look at the lessons he learned by turning obstacles into opportunities.

He shares 10 principles up for a purpose driven life and career, linking together the athletic strengths that will help you succeed in the business world. With the right training and mindset, adversity becomes your motivation. This book will show you how to challenge the status quo, leave your legacy, and truly change the world.

Drew Appelbaum: Hey Listeners, my name is Drew Applebaum and I’m excited to be here today with Punit Dhillon, author of Catapult: How to Think Like a Corporate Athlete to Strengthen Your Resilience. Punit, thank you for joining, welcome to The Author Hour Podcast.

Punit Dhillon: Hey, thanks for having me on your show, Drew.

Drew Appelbaum: Let’s kick this off, can you give us a rundown of your professional background?

Punit Dhillon: Yeah, I’ve been in the biotech and life sciences industry for the last 20 years, started off working in the DNA vaccine oncology space. I ran a company focused on cancer immunotherapy and most recently, working for a new life sciences company called Sky Bioscience.

An Opportunity to Look Back

Drew Appelbaum: Now, why was now the time to share these stories in the book? Was there something really inspiring for you out there, did you have an “aha moment” where people keep asking you, “You need to put this down in a book.”

Punit Dhillon: Yeah, that’s funny that you say that. Well, I would say that I was going through a midlife crisis but that’s not true. I actually did obviously hit a certain milestone in terms of my own career and had an opportunity to look back.

I think in the last 12, 15 months we’ve also experienced quite an extraordinary period because of the pandemic, and it was an opportunity for me to reflect in terms of my own years of learning and experiences in the life sciences space, and reflect on my principles in terms of entrepreneurship, and what have I learned from being an endurance athlete.

I started basically writing it down and then developed a framework, and it evolved into a lengthier product, and then it turned into a book. I’m quite pleased with having that opportunity to reflect and it allowed me to pen my own set of principles that I believe have helped me. I hope that it provides a good framework for others.

Drew Appelbaum: When you first sat down, you got your paper, you got your pen, you got your keyboard and you said, “Okay, I’m going to write this book.” A lot of times, you have the idea of the book rattling around in your head and you start to write but you often pivot, or sometimes you come to major breakthroughs and learnings. Did you have any of these major breakthroughs or learnings during your writing journey?

Punit Dhillon: For sure. Thanks for highlighting that. I’ve definitely been inspired by being an athlete, training with other athletes, as well as been very inspired by the work experience. It’s been really rewarding in terms of the work that we’ve been doing in the various companies that I’ve been involved with.

At the same time, there’s also been, I guess we’ve been blessed with working in an area, at least in the life sciences and in biotech, where a lot of what we do has an altruistic nature, just by the nature of developing drugs for our unmet medical needs.

The “aha moment” for me really came in terms of trying to reflect on what has been that intrinsic motivation for me and being in the entrepreneurial space, also recognizing that it’s been a bit frenetic in terms of the different things that we’ve been working on across the different companies that I’ve been involved with.

This process really allowed me to distill down what I believe has been the key drivers, what’s been the motivation for me, how we really harness individual performance, how we force ourselves to really catalyze positive change. There is a lot of that embedded into the whole framework of Catapult.

Drew Appelbaum: Now, when you sat down to write the book as well, who in your mind were you writing the book for? Was this for current entrepreneurs only or can folks who have the nine to five, for the man, have takeaways from the book as well?

Punit Dhillon: I think the audience is really wide. It’s anyone who is intrinsically motivated and is in a position to make decisions to really transform their own life. I have definitely thought about it from C-suite executives but also more broadly to any employee in an organization as well as new people entering the workforce.

I believe that at any part of your career, there’s always a larger purpose that we’re trying to understand, whether you’re early on in your career or later in your career. The key thing for me has been as an individual, how do you determine what kind of contribution you would like to make, small or large?

My perspective in terms of the audience as I kind of mentioned, started from a more introspective look at myself, but in terms of how I want to elevate myself as a transformational type of leader or entrepreneur, looking to determine what are ways to inspire other entrepreneurs or other innovators or other individuals to go after striving for their own greater purpose.

I believe that it’s a wide audience and I hope that readers that get a chance to read the book, recognize their own ability to be self-driven, hold themselves accountable and that they are really looking for a framework to be able to operate with some sort of intent to take positive action towards whatever their goals are.

Endurance Athlete and Entrepreneur

Drew Appelbaum: Now, you talk about being an athlete and being an entrepreneur. Let’s just dive right in, what are the parallels between being an endurance athlete and being an entrepreneur?

Punit Dhillon: Well, the discipline of growing up as an athlete really stuck with me and it’s really been interesting, it’s carried its way into my professional career. There was a short stint when I moved to the US, I’m originally from Canada, where I probably wasn’t as focused on training as I was in university or in high school. But over the decades, it’s continued to evolve.

I used to be a competitive swimmer in high school, I went into rowing in college, and then in my 20s, I was into running. Then in my 30s, I got interested in triathlon and now, in my 40s, I’m just trying to stay and maintain fitness. I think along the way, I definitely appreciated endurance training and I have been lucky to have finished a fair number of different races and different events from marathons to Iron Mans. That endurance training and the process involved with that in terms of discipline, mental focus, and drive has really shaped the approach I take to life and work in a broader sense.

The idea here was to build guiding principles that pull from the parallels that I see in athletics into the corporate world and having that same discipline to elevate ourselves into higher performance, see how that can play into helping us achieve our different objectives, our different focus or whatever types of positive change or positive impact that we want to have on the world.

Drew Appelbaum: Now, did you see these parallels as you were training and as you were an entrepreneur, or was this something where you stepped back after your triathlon or looking back on your career and said, “A lot of these methods were really the same.”

Punit Dhillon: No, that’s the funny thing about going through this reflective process is that it really forced me to think about how this all comes together. As I alluded to, these principles in the book are, I believe, they’re my principles that have worked well for me and provide a framework for others. But really, I’m forcing everyone that’s reading this book to look within and determine their own set of principles.

However, I’ve laid out the book to mirror these aspects that come from athletic training, how it also has these direct parallels to corporate experience, and what I call the corporate athlete. There is a kind of a base thesis here in terms of this idea of a framework, of achieving high performance as an individual. That’s outlined in terms of what’s called the catapult high performance trapezium, and that is basically several layers that begin with accountability and trusting yourself to commit to your own values. I believe that’s a bedrock for everything.

Then adding these additional aspects that you learn from athletics as well, like physical capacity in the terms of building that insurance and the stamina to help promote other aspects of what you’re trying to achieve. The third layer goes into emotional intelligence and having a positive mindset. Then the fourth layer is adding to that in terms of mental capacity and having the mental stamina and the ability to focus.

Then finally, the culmination is in this ultimate layer of purpose where it’s really the engine driving every other element. There’s an up and down component of this trapezium and that purposely didn’t create a pyramid because I believe the top of the trapezium is visually open in terms of it symbolizes the idea that living in purpose is really infinite.

I’m trying to provide a framework where it’s reinforcing these different habits as a way for individuals to move from one level to the next, but also, recognizing that they can develop resilience in terms of the principles you can learn from being an athlete.

Mental Toughness in Entrepreneurs

Drew Appelbaum: Talking about developing, you know developing isn’t just physical as you’re working out. A big part of endurance sports is mental, so could you talk about mental toughness in entrepreneurs, and can you actually build mental toughness as you would build a muscle?

Punit Dhillon: I believe that’s possible and a big part of what I touched on in the book is that although it starts and ends with us, there is a more powerful component of a wider community. So the beginning part of the book has this component of accountability from within, but I also touched on this component of the inherent power of community and working by being challenged by peers, and that helping broadens our capabilities and broadening our ability to do better and working with one another.

Even though I was a part of what’s more of an individual sport as a swimmer, as a competitive swimmer, I really recognize the values that came with being a part of that broader cohort of a team and all of my teammates that I swam with in high school. I think we’re very fortunate to have had a really strong sense of community, and all of them have gone on to accomplish a lot of things. I believe that mental capacity is an important part of recognizing what you can learn by pushing yourself.

Of course, athletics does force you to build that capacity but then working amongst the team also is helping to elevate that, so in terms of having more collective success as a part of community.

Drew Appelbaum: Let’s go into that framework that you spoke about earlier because a framework of the book is based on the 10 principles that you say you believe are the basic tenants for entrepreneurial success. Now you don’t even have to name all 10 of them but if you had to pick one or two, which would be the most important or the ones to start with and why?

Punit Dhillon: I have to say I purposely choose accountability as the starting point. The first principle is named accountability or true accountability, and the idea here is that before we get into looking at working with coaches or the broader community, we only have ourselves to answer to. It’s really that space of ki solitude where we make that vow to ourselves about responsibility, and you’re holding yourself to a certain accountability to be able to build that confidence and think as an entrepreneur or as an athlete.

You make certain commitments that develop that courage and I think courage is very important in terms of some of the big things that different individuals have in terms of goals. Accountability is a big part of the self-recognition of what needs to happen and that’s a build-up to the sense of purpose.

So, I think that’s the other component of this book is that when individuals have that sense of accountability, then it can really lay the foundation towards understanding what’s motivating them, in terms of their life and finding their path to whatever their objectives are.

That momentum is tied to purpose and that’s a big part of this book. One important takeaway here is that I’m hoping that people that read this book, it inspires them to establish a quick framework where they can understand their own purpose and operate with the intent to take that action with whatever they are motivated by.

Drew Appelbaum: Now, let’s say you go through the book, you’re mentally prepared, you’re physically ready to go but what happens when an entrepreneur really lacks experience?

Punit Dhillon: That’s a great question. I think that that’s a very important point. In my own experience, I’ve been very fortunate to be able to be exposed to the life science and biotech space, and my takeaway from that is that innovation and technology have been really big levers of driving rapid and big change in our overall world.

These drivers are really at the core of what inspired me to write Catapult because to me, it’s enabled a connection or facilitated a connection to making life changing treatments for unmet medical needs. But if you look at it in a much broader context, I think entrepreneurs, in general, are very motivated to try to make some sort of positive change.

Innovation and technology, I believe, are really the key parts that anyone needs to harness in order to spark that conduit for change. That last part of my book actually touches on this, and it’s this idea of mavericks, where I’ve actually made a call to action for that very scenario. When people are entering the workforce or people that are looking to figure out how to have some direction, what I’ve done is lay out a framework that’s really focusing on five themes that I believe are very important.

One is life sciences, the other is education, three is technology, and then I’d also touched on artificial intelligence, and lastly, environment or climate action. Through these five major themes, I believe that there are some inherently large challenges that we still have, as well as opportunities to create some great solutions to some of these biggest issues that we’re facing on the planet. There is a lot that can be done, and it’s meant to catalyze people to really go after these challenging opportunities.

Refine Your Principles

Drew Appelbaum: You said you wrote the book when you were looking back and really digesting your own career. If you had this book when you were coming up, what do you think would have changed for you, if anything?

Punit Dhillon: As I said again, I think what it’s helped me achieve here is to really refine my own set of principles and frameworks to keep me focused. I’ve eluded to this in the beginning. I think when we’re busy establishing our careers, and in my direct experience, I’ve had some really great entrepreneurial experiences, but it’s also been quite frenetic with a lot of different things that are thrown at you.

I believe that this set of principles and the framework into the overall philosophy has allowed focus on what needs to happen, so that it sparks, and it provokes the most efficient way to drive towards positive change. Certainly, there are parallels that I talk about between learning from athletics and endurance and being an endurance athlete and how it’s helped in the corporate world, but at the end of the day, it’s that personal growth and helping to have a sense of purpose in what I’m motivated by.

If I had this book when I started off in my career, I think it would have helped me learn a bit more about my own sense of purpose. I think the important thing that readers would appreciate is to have the ability to take a step back and take a beat with finding time for our breath, and time to take a much broader look and really admiring that, instead of striving for some sort of perfection. There’s an appreciation that there’s a long journey ahead in whatever we’re here to do, but recognizing that in order to really accomplish what they’re after that they are appreciating how they can have a framework to be able to achieve that themselves.

Drew Appelbaum: Punit, we just touched on the surface of the book here, but I want to say that writing a book that’s going to help the future generation and current entrepreneurs is no small feat, so congrats on having your book published.

Punit Dhillon: Hey, thank you very much, Drew. I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you.

Drew Appelbaum: I do have one question left. If readers could take away one thing from the book and only one thing, what would you want it to be?

Punit Dhillon: That’s a great question. I think if we zero in, we really are trying to help readers find that motivation within themselves, and find their own path to greatness. That greatness lies within themselves, and their own dedication to establishing what their purpose is. I hope that this book and the framework helps to accelerate any reader’s ability to find their own purpose.

I think beyond that, I hope that readers can take the opportunity after reading the book to take a step back and have a much broader look, and recognize that this is not a book about what we’re always chasing, it’s not about striving for any perfection, and even though there is always the ability to pay attention to details, that there’s a lot more that comes along in that journey.

I’ve tried to touch on all of these different things, I have been in the positives and the negatives in my own experience, and I hope that readers can reflect on that themselves and appreciate that they can accomplish anything that they’re after.

Drew Appelbaum: This has been a pleasure and I’m excited for people to check out the book. Everyone, the book is called, Catapult, and you can find it on Amazon. Punit, besides checking out the book, where can people connect with you?

Punit Dhillon: People can connect with me through my website, punitdhillon.com and there’s a tab where you can connect directly with me and you can also reach me by email at [email protected].

Drew Appelbaum: Punit, thank you so much for coming on the show today, and best of luck with your new book.

Punit Dhillon: Hey, thanks again Drew.