Yesterday, I learned a great lesson that can directly help you in your career. In my CrossFit gym, of all places!
My moment of insanity
In a moment of insanity, last month I signed up to participate in the CrossFit Open Games – 5 weeks of challenging workouts with official judges, posting of scores, and leaderboards.
This weekend marks the fifth and final week of the Open, after which the regional winners will be chosen to go into the invitation-only rounds. And it all leads up to choosing the Fittest on Earth™ in a variety of categories some time in May.
Even though I am in absolutely no danger of making it past the Open round, I’ve found it to be hugely anxiety-inducing, and definitely outside of my comfort zone. I figured it would help me get stronger and fitter. Plus, my fellow gym buddies encouraged me to join in the “fun”, so I did.
Like I said, insane!
Meanwhile, back at NewWave CrossFit…
Yesterday was my day to “give it a go” (as they say in England) for the final Open workout. I was put in the second group, which gave me a chance to watch the first group of four take on this final challenge.
Cheering on my mates from the sidelines, I have to say it looked like sheer torture: a total of 84 “Thrusters” and “Burpees Over Bar” broken into sets (21, 18, 15, 12, 9, 6, 3).
20 minutes in, most of the group was still slogging on. I was next, and I was scared.
Once they were done, I did get to ask for some tips. The consensus was to keep a steady pace, break it down into smaller chunks, and just reach deep down and tough it out at the end.
Then, it was time for group two to go.
With a little help from my friends
Each of us had a “judge” to keep count and make sure we did the full proper movement. I lucked out to have one of the founders of the gym, Frazer, as my judge. This was the sound track, which you’ll have to imagine overlaid with heavy breathing (from me and the other three in this round) and clapping and cheering (from my gym mates).
“You’re in a good rhythm with those Burpees. Just keep that up. Stay in that zone.” I hadn’t noticed I was in a rhythm but, once Frazer pointed it out, I realized he was right. Very helpful.
“Take 5 seconds between sets. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 – go.” And I’d get back on with the set of 18 Thrusters. “Do 10”, and I stretched to do 10. “Now, give me 8 more”, and I did 8 more… barely. And so it went until the set of 9’s when Frazer said, “Okay, now dig deep. It’s time to be mentally tough.” I braced myself for mental toughness, and heard my gym buddies cheering me on.
“Get back in the rhythm you had at the beginning… that’s it… keep going… now elbows up, chest up, go… three more, get it done under 17 minutes… 45 seconds to go…”
I finished at 16:59 minute mark – a result I never would have gotten on my own. Not ever. In Frazer’s words, “you smashed it!”.
What (and who) made the difference
What made the difference in my performance was having Frazer there sponsoring me by:
- Watching for what I was doing well and encouraging me to keep doing that
- Talking me through the tough patches when I wanted to give up
- Keeping me at a steady pace so I could chip away at the 84 reps
- Giving me tips on my form so I could lift the weight more efficiently
- Pushing me to do more than I thought I could
Or, in Frazer’s words, “My job as a coach was to talk sense and stay strategic while you were in your pain cave. Not to let emotions take over and make sure you stick to the game plan.”
When I finally got my breath back and looked around, I realized that it really takes a community around you to help you produce the best results you can… to fulfill your potential.
Sure, I could get through it on my own, but it’s the community that turbocharges us and gets us to deliver the best outcomes we’re capable of. And makes it fun.
What it means for your career
So here’s what I learned from this experience and how it applies to achieving greater success in your career.
1. Formulate a plan
It doesn’t have to be a perfect plan (is there really such a thing?). Just a basis from which to operate. Once you have a plan, it’s easier to make mid-course adjustments.
Here, my goal was just to “get to done” without hurting myself. And my plan reflected that: take it slow and steady, and keep going no matter what.
2. Find a sponsor
This is the person who will look out for you through the whole process and help put you in a position to succeed.
In this case, it was my judge and coach, Frazer. He cared about me finishing the challenge, and pushed me to turn in my best performance – and refused to coddle me.
3. Consult with mentors
These are people who have experienced, or are experiencing, the same things you are embarking on. They can give you advice and answer your questions. These can be peers as well as seniors.
In the gym, everyone is happy to share experiences, but it’s up to me to ask. No one wants to appear arrogant or assume that they have superior knowledge. The same is likely to be true at work. Be willing to make the first move and ask.
4. Build a community of raving fans
These are people who are rooting for you, and who have your back. And people you would do the same for. We all need a cheering squad to pick us up from the inevitable doldrums that occur even in the “smoothest” careers.
Hearing the voices cheering from the sideline was great motivation. And don’t hesitate to cheer for others first to start the virtuous cycle of raving fan-dom!
5. Don’t keep looking at the clock
Go at your own pace, and keep it up. It’s not about who gets promoted or recognized first. It’s about getting promoted or recognized, period.
In our careers, it’s tempting to focus on getting promotions “on schedule” and expending a great deal of emotional energy on “making” this happen or agonizing if it doesn’t. I know I did, and it was a drain on my energy. While it’s important to keep the timing of your goal firmly in mind in your planning, I can attest that being overly willful and obsessed by it can work against you.
During this workout, I didn’t look at the clock at all and just focused on chipping away at the work I had to do. Watching the clock would have been a distraction that might have pushed me off my pace. It turned out to be best to leave it to Frazer to let me know the time when it mattered.
6. Don’t worry about how others are doing
You’re competing to be your best self. Not to beat the other person to promotion or accolades. The world is full of opportunities and there isn’t just the one job or the one prize that’s the be all and end all.
I remember being terribly upset when someone a year junior to me got promoted to managing director before I did. It seemed like life and death at the time. But we both had great careers, and it really didn’t matter in the end.
While it’s good to be aware of what others are doing, it’s important to avoid unnecessary comparison. It’s like the swimmers who lose those split seconds looking at the person in the next lane, and end up losing the race.
Again, I didn’t look at the other three people doing the same workout. Not only would it be a distraction, there really wasn’t a benefit. It was about focusing on my plan and executing it in the best way possible.
Create Your Community Now
I know you’re busy, but you can’t achieve great success alone.
That’s why it’s crucial to take time during your day to appreciate and invest in your community. It doesn’t have to take a huge amount of time or effort. You just have to remember to do it. Things like helping someone, cheering someone on, keeping in touch, and reaching out to people rather than leaving it till later.
Communities are not a “just in time” phenomenon. It takes a certain amount of time and positive interactions to get there. You never know when you might really need to lean on each other, and when that time comes, it’s too late to start building.
So go make a start, or keep going if you’re already on a roll. Be someone others want to cheer for. Create an environment where cheering for each other is the norm. Cheer for someone else first without expectation that they will cheer back.
That’s the beauty of the CrossFit community. Why not make it the beauty of your community too?
Leave me a comment and let me know what you think.