For the past thirteen years, I’ve been a marathon runner. This passion has taken me from coast-to-coast and on international adventures including New York, Paris, Morocco, Berlin and Patagonia. As you might imagine, preparing for a marathon requires unwavering commitment, consistency and mental fortitude – a sort of go-go-go mentality. In the past few months, however, a knee injury has forced me to re-examine my training style and map new ways to reach my running goal. These new training techniques also happen to mirror effective strategies for mapping career growth.
It was during one of my morning workouts in the Texas summer heat when I really started thinking about my career “playbook” and how I approach new projects. (There’s nothing like a humid 90-degree run to inspire introspection.) I thought, surely, if I can switch up my running routine, I can also refresh my approach to work. It’s not like I needed a total overhaul since much of my career success has come from approaching projects with the same type of discipline I’ve always used while marathon training. However, as my running tribe will attest, I’m always in the market for personal growth and optimization.
To achieve a balanced workout when marathon training, it's common to use different workouts for different seasons. Sometimes that means long runs at 5 am in the summer to avoid the heat or challenging my body to adapt to various landscapes by doing hill repeats, speed workouts and running in the rain. While I maintain that commitment, consistency and perseverance are still key factors in achieving goals, I’ve learned it’s equally important to be adaptable to outside forces as well as changes in circumstance.
Maybe you’ve been working toward a goal that feels impossible to reach, or perhaps you feel like the rules keep changing just before you reach the finish line. Believe me when I say, I know how that feels! Being injured has taught me a lot about becoming patient with myself and giving myself grace without giving up on my goal and I’ve been able to distill this approach down to three lessons.
I hope these steps help you add new strengths to your career playbook as you map your way forward:
Map it Out. The best time to have a map is at the beginning of a journey. How are you going to reach your goal if you aren’t crystal clear on what that goal is? This goes for any area of your life. For example, if you’re seeking to achieve a new level of career success, you can’t just say, “I want to be successful.” Instead, you define what success looks like to YOU in terms of finances, personal fulfillment and freedom. Take time to create, doodle and jot down what excites you, what it would look like and most importantly, what it would feel like. Work on it for days, weeks or months but the important thing is to stay active with this process. You may get ideas from stillness, chatting with a friend or running mile after mile in the heat.
Create a consistent habit with flexible spaces. My old playbook of relentless training was the way I also used to approach my work. I’ve since learned that the old playbook needed some revamping since I ran the first race and I’ve gotten older which brings another layer of realistic expectations if I’m going to make the most of the exciting possibilities that lay ahead in my life and business. While I have a well-honed habit of taking consistent action in the direction of my goals, I’m now taking more time to research, read, invest in online training and collaborate with friends and colleagues because the journey is where you find the treasure. The flexibility you want to embrace does not take you away from what you’re doing, but it can influence innovation and map new ways on how to get there.
Go slow to go fast. Many, many times my coach says that in order to cross the finish line of a marathon, you must start training at a slow speed and then slowly but gradually pick up your pace - in other words, you need to build endurance over time. Sometimes when we identify a new goal, we go charging toward it only to discover we burn out at “mile five” or midway through the race. To be the leading edge, it is about the long goal in staying relevant today and evolving in time. Be realistic about your current bandwidth and trust that being consistent will increase your capacity in a sustainable way.
Take breaks. In marathon training, taking time off after a race and doing recovery workouts during training is as important as putting in the miles. We need rest and it prevents injury. As one of my coaches says, “We get fitter when we recover.” You are not a machine and while it may seem counterintuitive to take your foot off the gas, but remember that even race cars must refuel every so often.
If you are in a place where it feels like you need to reassess, you are in excellent company. As a business strategy consultant, I have the opportunity to work with leaders at the top of their game, from CEOs and legislators to non-profit change-makers, and have learned that even the most capable and intelligent people can benefit from taking a beat to rethink their approach. It’s not about finding one right way to do something; it’s about moving forward with a plan with a willingness to adjust your sails to match your current environment.
If you’d like to learn more about my consulting and speaking services or are interested in joining a mastermind group, I hope you’ll reach out!
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