Desires trump demands

free yourself

Demands will consume us if we let them.

Recently, my athletic demands outweighed my desires, creating an imbalance between what I had to do and what I wanted to do.

I found myself wanting to explore new and uncharted territory, like Crossfit, shorter, faster rides and runs, and endurance pursuits off my radar screen. I knew I needed to stick to my Ironman training plan, so shorter triathlons in exotic places and branching out into other intense endurance events were merely dreams.

Then, I realized – I have control.

The juggling ended when I decided to forgo the 2014 Ironman Lake Placid – which would have been number eight – to reset my compass and explore other endurance pursuits. I’m toying with some real doozies (stay tuned.) The freedom to dream big and expand my horizons feels great.

When demands creep up and stealthily grab hold of our precious free time it’s much easier to recognize and reverse than when it happens at work.

Forbes reported last year that a majority of us are dissatisfied workers. However, we’re not moving or going anywhere. Fear of a dried up job market? Bills to pay? Comfort in misery? Regardless, the numbers look bad.

This is sad. We are so much more than what we do, yet we let demands define us in unnatural ways. I’ve been there, carrying my workday around like a weight into every other aspect of my life. And why?

Demands.

In the same way I came to the realization I was insane for limiting my athletic pursuits we must take ownership of the work we do. Ask yourself:

  • What have I compromised for my work, and is it worth it?
  • How much of my day is spent reacting to demands?
  • What professional goals are purely mine and how much time do I spend achieving them?
  • Is my brain stale? When was the last time I purposefully learned something new?
  • Who am I really working for?

There is no overnight solution to this dilemma. Your journey towards your desires will take time, but will only commence when you purposefully plot your course, stick to it, measure your progress, and by all means take that first step.

I’m also not naive enough to imagine a life with no demands. Of course they will always exist, but we must fight to reclaim our precious time and effort. Perhaps someone else has quantified the price of my time, but to me it’s priceless.

We’re not going to get a second chance at this thing called life, folks. Think about your desires and how you can get on with the business of achieving them.

Start with your support crew. Who among them are invested in your desires and who keeps churning out the demands?

Define your desires and set your goals. Once you have the beginnings of a road map, start your journey with a single step. Make deliberate changes, celebrate success, then take the next step. You’ll find that one change will ignite the next and you’ll reclaim what should always be yours.

Bilocation

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Great managers and athletes must be in two places at one time.

As athletes and leaders we must simultaneously do what we do while gauging how we’re doing and what’s happening around us.

As a manager you must always be in and above a conversation, aware of its direction and purpose.

I’ve seen managers miss the entire point of an encounter with an employee because they merely dealt with a conversation’s face value. Is a question about who’s on the schedule really a request for time off? What does dissatisfaction sound like? How about outright rage masked as contentment? As leaders we’re challenged with deciphering sophisticated human communication codes all the time.

One key to success is to slow down when speaking with people. Let conversations be tiny oases in your day. Give them time and focus. If you’re not present during a conversation, especially a quick one, you risk sending the wrong message.

I once spoke with a person who had asked her manager how difficult it might be for anyone to get time off during a particularly busy period. Instead of asking if there was something specific behind her question, the manager went on and on about how it’s got to be all hands on deck with everyone pitching in during this critical time. The manager had no idea the woman was dealing with an issue that would have given her protected time off through FMLA to care for her sick husband. The woman left the conversation fearing she’d have to choose between her husband and her job.

As athletes we too must see the big and small picture. We need to see the road under us while gauging our body’s fuel reserves, maintain great form while rationing precious energy. I’ve completed seven Ironman Lake Placid events and each time I’ve gone out too hard on the first 56-mile bike loop. The check I write for that ride depletes my account for what ends up being a much-harder-than-necessary run.

I’m totally in the moment, but failing to plan for the big picture.

Some tips for training these abilities include:

  • Map a definitive race plan for your next training or racing day. If you traditionally go out of the box fast, ease up a little and consciously save some for a stronger finish. Change your tendencies regularly, don’t be predictable.
  • Role play with a colleague. Have them approach you with a hidden agenda, and ask three questions before you guess their goal. Keep going in sets of three until you get it right. Each time you do this, try and dissect the agenda in fewer questions. Measure your success.
  • For a week recognize when you’re in the moment and when you’re above it. Make note of this consciously and these places will become more comfortable for you.
  • Always think about digging deeper, especially during that quick conversation with someone or a seemingly mundane Wednesday evening run. These opportunities rarely advertise themselves’ it’s up to us to recognize and capitalize on them.

Being present in and above the moment are different skills, both essential to your success.

Finish strong

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It all makes sense at the finish line.

The quest to cross a finish line has a life of its own. These are journeys of self-discovery, pain, joy, inspiration, defeat, and victory. When I cross a finish line everything falls into place. Exuberance, relief, pain and glory describe pieces of the feeling, but the emotional totality of crossing that line has yet to be accurately put into words.

I had slowed to a painful walk with three miles to go at my first Ironman Lake Placid, each excruciating step a reminder of the hours I hadn’t spent training. Mustering the energy to speed up to a half run took a courage and resolve I never knew I possessed.

With three miles to glory I summoned everything and jogged. The louder Mike Reilly’s voice got telling finishers they were Ironmen, the faster my legs were willing to carry me. I was drawn to the finish line like a strengthening magnet.

When I hit the Olympic Skating Oval, jam packed with hundreds of enthusiastic supporters cheering their faces off, I achieved a full stride run and finished with a flourish of high fives and a burst of energy I hadn’t felt all day.

It was miraculous, and over time I’ve come to realize that finish line is mine to tap into, forever.

How do you cross the finish line as a manager?

You may say every day ends at a finish line, or every challenge or deadline, but that’s too simplistic. Finish lines are special, never mundane. Their power lies in in a unique, deliberate struggle, one of your choosing.

As a leader, the most worthwhile finish lines are those you create. They should be limited to a doable number at any given time, written down, and mapped. Some should be personal, some involving a few people, and others involving your entire team or organization.

For example:

  • I’m getting my Master’s Degree.
  • My recruitment team and I are revamping the hiring process to make it faster and more efficient.
  • The entire management team is going for a top 10 finish in a Best Places to Work survey one year from now.

Each goal is doable, timetabled, measurable, and has a clear finish line at the end.

If you continue to raise the bar as you begin successfully crossing the finish lines you set for yourself and your team, success will become a way of life. And, make sure you always celebrate at the end, telling war stories and recounting lessons learned.

We’ll always have projects thrust upon us with deadlines and goals, but nothing is more valuable and satisfying than setting your own finish line, reaching it, then looking for another. You’ll find strength along the way you never knew you had.

Who are you?

running-alone

You are what you do when no one’s watching.

On the Ironman Lake Placid run course, there are ample opportunities to slow down, walk, rest, even drop out of the race. At mile 13.1 there’s a fork in the road. To the right, the finish line and Mike Reilly’s comforting voice audibly excited as he gloriously anoints faster finishers ‘Ironmen.’ To the left, a second, painful 13.1-mile loop.

In each of my seven trips to Lake Placid, this moment falsely presents itself as a choice. My inner voice always suggests ending the insanity. It tells me my family and friends would understand, that this was crazy to try again anyway. Stop, turn right, give it up…

Of course stopping is never a real consideration. I always have and always will turn left at the halfway point and finish the race.

Then there are those moments alone in the trenches on Riverside Drive fighting the temptation to back off, slow down, take it easy; moments that define your Ironman journey.

In the office there are as many opportunities to cut corners and take the easy path.

Perhaps you’ve heard trouble brewing but decided to let it go. That phone call you don’t want to return, that paperwork you half-read then signed, the article you didn’t read, the performance appraisal you threw together at the last minute, the snap decision made in the midst of a crises.

Self awareness is key to overcoming this disease. Once we admit we’re corner cutters we can focus on a concerted effort to do the distances and tasks necessary to fulfill our destinies. Strengthening our ability to be honest and encouraging to ourselves is worth the effort.

Knowing yourself is key to success, allowing you to be your biggest critic and fan.

Opportunities to train look like this:

  • The next time you exercise, commit to surprising yourself with something extra, whether it be during or after your workout. Push yourself harder, go further, dig deeper than ever before. Make the commitment, then follow through.
  • At work, commit to resolving the next issue that arises by the end of the day. Let it happen randomly, consider it, reconsider it, then make a decision you’re ready to defend.
  • Sign up for a race that will push you harder than ever before. Put it on your calendar, then raise the bar on your training even if it’s just a little. Set yourself up for success.
  • The next time you come across a snap decision opportunity, put the brakes on. Tell those involved you really would like to sleep on it. Quickly write down your gut decision, then consider the alternatives later on. Give it the night, then see if you’re decision was altered in any way over time.
  • Recognize those moments when you’re faced with a choice that shouldn’t be a choice. This is when your self awareness needs to kick in big time.

When you begin doing the little things right, when no one’s watching, the larger issues will fall in line.

Remember, whether training, racing, or leading, someone is always watching…you.

Don’t stop

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I set out Sunday, July 28th on my seventh Ironman Lake Placid journey, to challenges known and unknown.

One goal was to find inspiration for a blog post, and in perfect form Ironman came through for me.

I was on mile eight of the marathon when I looked up and saw one of many inspirational posters. These stirring signs dot the landscape, evidence that loved ones were here the day before ensuring we would have reason to smile another mile.

This poster in particular had not survived a passing rain shower well, its upper corners folded toward the middle. Being a classic rock aficionado, I knew all too well the simple words placed on the placard. However, the sagging corners blocked several letters, sending an adjusted message:

on

to

Believin’

I vowed not to disappoint Journey, but was struck by exactly what I was believin’ in. It brought up two questions: How does what we do as athletes and managers reflect what we believe in and how do we communicate these beliefs to others?

I believe in myself, that I can overcome anything. I believe there is truth in endurance, that these journeys to push the boundaries of my physical, mental, and spiritual limits enrich and teach me, making me a wiser, better person.

I’ve spread this message in many ways throughout my athletic career, and am proud to say in doing so have shared and learned so much.

I believe in inspiring people to follow their path, whatever their direction may be. I believe in the power of listening and guiding people along their way as opposed to forcing and pushing.

This has always been evidenced in my approach to colleagues. If someone truly does not want to be on the team, it’s my job to make their transition easy. If someone wants to move up the ranks, ditto.

I communicate this by action and in my management training sessions. It’s a style that brings the best out in people, including myself.

On occasion when my belief system and expected actions collide, it’s time to pause and take a look at what the problem may be. Does the system need to be tweaked, or have I failed to see another angle?

Take a moment to write down your core beliefs. Then, take a look at your athletic and professional life and see how everything intersects, parallels, or diverges. Are you moving in the right direction?

Ultimately, we’re more fulfilled and happy when we live one life and don’t need to be the personal us, professional us, social us, parental us, etc.

Thanks for the bent sign, Ironman – I’m on to believin’!

Own your path

own-it

As a manager and athlete there is no shortage of advice out there.

Magazines, books, podcasts, TED Talks, websites, seminars, consultants; counsel comes fast and furious. Our challenge is to keep the white noise in perspective and remember our personal style defines us.

A few months after my first triathlon I returned to Harriman State Park for another crack at the course. I had my new bike, wetsuit, triathlon shorts and shirt, the works. At the race a guy was selling cushioned socks. I picked up a pair and felt softness like never before. I knew these were the most comfortable socks in the world, so I bought them and put them away for another day.

Never try anything new on race day…never!

A few days later I took my new socks for a test drive and my feet were in heaven. My blind allegiance to the ‘never new on race day’ advice read in one of my biblical magazines postponed what would have been a joyful race day run.

‘Nothing new on race day’ remains great advice. I ran alongside a poor soul during the 2011 Ironman Lake Placid who had taken salt pills for the first time that morning because someone told her she needed the sodium replenishment. She was hoping to qualify for the World Triathlon Championship in Kona but was reduced to a slow walk/jog because the pills made her sick. Her dreams dashed, she ate from a bag of potato chips.

First time salt pills on race day = bad idea.

At best, this is advice and must be treated as such. When we blindly internalize suggestions and guidelines we become defined by something other than our instincts. This is never good. The most amazing managers and leaders regularly look at the status quo and ask why, bring common sense and personality to the table, break rules, and push boundaries.

When was the last time you heard someone say, “They followed the rules to greatness”?

Our relationship with personnel policies conjures similar questions. Too often I’ve seen people’s common sense and intuition take a back seat to a written policy. Policies are like any other guidelines or advice; some are necessary and helpful while others are outdated and divisive. You must engage your judgment – who you are at your core – to know the difference. When you reach a conclusion that things must change, as a leader and advocate for your team you must speak up and act.

Ask yourself:

  • Do your policies support or thwart your people?
  • Are vacations regularly denied?
  • Is there a general feeling of haves and have nots?
  • Are there policies that when brought up cause managers to groan, i.e. dress code and cell phone guidelines?

If so, instead of living with the mediocrity, put your stamp on some overdue change.

While you’re at it, conduct a judgment audit on yourself. For one week write down moments when your actions or those around you clash with your instincts. Review your list and ask yourself why. Are your actions – athletic and professional – rooted in your own mind and heart, or someone else’s?

You can learn from, collaborate with, and teach others, but at the end of the day you own your greatness.