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DraftKings’ Sales Director Gamifies Workflow as a Form of Stress Management

By Stephen Laddin

Last updated: Feb 15, 2023

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A conversation about mental health and career paths with Ryan Shute.

For Ryan Shute, Sales Director at DraftKings, work is play and play is work. Shute is responsible for interacting with Fortune 500 brands like Visa, Taco Bell and Modelo, and in his own words, is “doing some really cool branded partnerships within the fantasy sports and sports betting space.”

When it comes to how he navigates his schedule, Shute approaches each day’s challenges like a game that can be won. By entering each day with a fun, positive mindset, the day-to-day stresses become more manageable when viewed from a more competitively playful lens.

In a conversation with The Org, Shute shares his insights for coping with stress management, how he maintains a healthy balance between his work and personal lives and how the simple practice of taking a breath helps restore his mental clarity.

As a kid, did you ever think working at a company like DraftKings would be something in your future?

Definitely not. DraftKings is only 10 years old, and the thought of me as a kid working for a fantasy sports and sports gambling company couldn’t have been further from a possibility at that point, but I always thought I would do something in sports.

Growing up in Maine, my dad was a baseball fanatic who had me hitting baseballs off a tee in the garage in the middle of January during blizzards. I thought I would play for the Red Sox…but then you don’t make the cut to varsity freshman year.

Looking back as a kid, I definitely steered any conversation around “what do you want to be when you grow up” to sports marketing or working for a sports team in some capacity, so working for a leading sports and entertainment brand is a dream come true.

But your professional pursuit was always merging sports in some way.

I definitely willed it in. After college, I moved to New York and got into digital media and advertising. I worked at Shape Magazine and Men’s Fitness, so while I wasn’t in the sports space, I was in the active lifestyle space. I kept progressing in my career and there was an opening at Under Armour, where I was selling really cool branded partnerships within their connective fitness team. As I grew those larger sports brand partnerships, I was steered toward sports brands, like DraftKings.

Was there ever an experience—or set of experiences—that validated the sports path you were on was the right one?

When I got my first job out of school working at Shape and Men’s Fitness, my name was in the magazine. My mom owns her own hair salon, so she subscribes to all of these different magazines for her clientele, and Shape was one of them. So my name was in the staff credits page, and my mom had all of these magazines lined up with my name highlighted so she could show her clients. She was so proud and it made me very happy.

The experience really excited me about the sports space, and it was a proud moment in my life that proved I was on a legitimate career path. I’m in sales, so you sell a couple of deals and it starts to become a pretty lucrative career path as well if you’re successful.

Getting some really big wins along the way kind of reinvigorates you mentally and professionally. I’m a competitive guy in spirit, and being in sales, you’re dealing with rejection every single day and you have to deal with these “fire drills.” But then, when you close those massive, huge lucrative deals, it makes it all worth it and makes it feel like you’re on the right trajectory.

How does taking care of your mental health help you with closing those huge deals, securing those partnerships, and being the best Ryan Shute at your job that you can be?

I’ve always been active and I’ve always loved salads. I eat healthy, I workout, I’m active—so already I have a leg up having good, healthy habits that give me the stamina to do this job.

Even though I don’t have a very “serious” job and I’m not saving lives, the job comes with pressure because you’re in sales. Sometimes the pressure can get overwhelming, so I always try to have fun with the work. I try to turn it into a game somehow—treating those fire drills or times of rejection like a game—and try to stay positive. That helps me to keep going, helps me work with great brands and get some big wins.

It sounds like gamifying your work helps transform the pressure into something tangible that you can use to better your day.

Yeah, break it up a little bit. Whatever you’re dealing with doesn’t have to be this meteor that comes and lands on your desk. Try and break it up into little pieces throughout the day or find 15 minutes to do a little activity, take a walk, or clear your head. Just try to take it piece by piece.

Is taking it “piece by piece” the strategy you employ when these fires do come up throughout the day? How do you remain calm without catching on fire yourself?

I try to practice my breathing. We have a new partnership with the Calm app, so I put a 10 minute “check-in” every single day. And while I don’t do it every single day, I get a push notification to do so, and then try to step away from my desk and do a mental health check-in or mental timeout to get away from an issue. Conveniently, the app is right in your pocket and hosts a bunch of good exercises you can complete in however much time that you have.

So, I try to practice my breathing, try to be mindful of how I feel in a moment and know that it’s not the end of the world. Sometimes it is serious, but you try to not let it overwhelm you.

Do you employ the same sort of strategy in your personal life?

It’s chaotic. I have a two-and-a-half year old and a three-month old—two boys—and I really do try to employ similar mindfulness tactics for my two-and-a-half year old. When he’s having a meltdown, my first technique is to make him take three big breaths, and he’s pretty good at it. If he can accomplish that, then we have a chance of steering the ship around.

If you just take those couple seconds, you’re able to release that tension in your mind to overcome this meltdown or tantrum or whatever experience you’re in. You realize it’s not that bad and that you have a second to breathe.

Other than that, we’re an active family, so it’s helpful to get out and about and not sit in front of the tv and be sedentarity. We make sure everyone gets a good nap in and eats healthy and we’re good. Similar healthy habits that I subscribe to in my daily life that I try to pass along to the family.

How do you balance the responsibilities of your career with those in your personal life?

That is the silver lining of COVID, right? The past two-and-a-half years, we’ve kind of had a reset—we being everyone in a similar situation—learning to put what’s important in life first.

Like a lot of companies, DraftKings has gotten behind the idea of work-life balance and has taken really amazing actionable steps. With people in different time zones—because my team is located all over—I try to refrain from emailing or connecting with someone after hours unless it’s super dire. After work should be spent with your family, working out, or getting your head right for the day tomorrow.

I’m super lucky to work for a company that has partnerships with Calm and has a Slack channel for connecting you with someone if you’re feeling overwhelmed. DraftKings has employed some great mental health tactics for their employees.

Follow @shuteryan on Twitter for more insights into the life of the Sales Director at DraftKings and follow @sladdin on Instagram for more interviews with interesting people across entertainment, tech, cannabis and crypto.

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