If you log into my Facebook account, you’ll see that I’m constantly being ad-targeted by obstacle race organizers. A day doesn’t go by without the temptation to click on a sponsored ad for an upcoming Spartan, King of the Mountain, Mudderella, MuckFest, or Insert-Clever-Mud-Term-Here Race.
You see, I’ve become an obstacle race junkie. I’ve done about six of them so far, each providing me with a sense of empowerment; hilarious and fulfilling memories; some fun medals, t-shirts, and head bands, and — yes — even a scar or two. These races, or “torture workouts that we love,” as some friends and I jokingly refer to them, are challenging, exhilarating, and oftentimes, messy… kind of like the workforce.
After one such race one in which my teammates and I army-crawled through mud pits, balanced on a beam while trying to avoid giant muddy balls from pushing us into a murky pond, scaled cargo net walls, and more, I realized just how many parallels could be made between the race course and my career.
Grab an energy drink, and humor me for a moment…
Going Through Mud Is a Must
The majority of obstacle races feature some sort of mud pit, requiring participants to either roll in it, crawl through it, or — in more extreme cases (those “bad ass” types of races) — swim through it. When you think about it, it can get pretty muddy in the workplace, too. Every job has its mud pit, of sorts; it may be the office-gossip mudslingers, or having to trudge through some dirty work in order to get to the other end of a work project. (We’ve all been there!)
As on the racecourse, the goal is to get through the mud as quickly as possible, accept that you will get dirty, and focus on the fact that you’ll come out the other end the same person, just one that needs a good shower. The mud will eventually run clear, and having put up with a temporary icky period will make you all the more capable the next time you’re facing a not-so-pretty situation. In time, you’ll be able to face any sort of challenge with a hardcore “BRING IT!” — an exclamation popular on the race field. On the course, we put such motivation on a team t-shirt. Go ahead and get it on a mug for the office… with the right “game face,” you, too, can make mud your ally!
Don’t Look Down (or Back!)
For those of us plagued by a knee-shaking, back-of-thigh-quivering fear of heights, scaling walls, jumping off platforms, or balancing on a tightrope over a body of water are quite the challenges to overcome when you decide to try your hand (and body) at an obstacle race. When I participated in the New Jersey Mudderella a few months back, I was faced with the Hat Trick, an obstacle that required me to trampoline onto a cargo net, climb up a gazillion feet, and then slide down into a muddy pool.
I was petrified, but my teammates kept reminding me, “Don’t look down!” I focused on each hand and foot placement ahead of me, one by one, ensuring I had a firm grip before making another move. Before I knew it, I had made my way up. Although I was then faced with a small platform and another huge hurdle ahead of me — what I considered a “death-defying jump” — I had gotten too far at that point to back down (especially since I was still too startled to look down!).
There have been a few times in my career when I’ve found myself in an uphill climb leading only to a cliffhanger of uncertainty. It felt as if every step I took was more difficult than the last, and the amount of times I slipped were too numerous to recollect. In one case, I had tried so hard to traverse my way up the slippery slope that comes with mass layoffs only to find myself on a very narrow platform.
I needed to surmount the heartbreak of knowing that esteemed co-workers were to be let go and maneuver my way across a precarious platform that signified the company’s rebuilding phase. Despite putting up a good fight — I tried to claw and scratch my way out of the situation — I was faced with only one option: I had to jump and swim through dark, murky waters in order to successfully emerge.
The landscape had changed, but so had I. I needed to wipe myself off and start anew. Knowing that I had given it my all, I moved from a forlorn mindset of defeat — one fixated on the notion that I had let my team down — and instead searched for ways to stay connected to them, encourage them, and show them how confident I was that they would succeed.
It’s been almost a decade since that layoff, and though I still count it as the lowest point in my career, the connections I’ve maintained to my co-workers and the amazing accomplishments they each went on to achieve speaks wonders to the power of positivity. Making the most out of any situation, even (especially!) the scary ones, really does make you a better person!
Feel the Fear
On the topic of scariness, no matter how many races I’ve run or how much I look forward to them, the fear is always there. I think we need to approach our careers in the same manner. It’s quite easy and very natural to get comfortable in our roles, but taking things for granted is like not training for your next race. You may think you’re in tip-top physical shape, but if you don’t consistently practice and push yourself, you’re bound to see that reflected in your results or, worse yet, in an injury.
The same rings true on the job. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve often reflected on the “good ol’ days” of my career when I sat at the editorial helm of a national publication that helped teens find their futures, appeared on TV and radio shows as a spokesperson for various brands, and was made to feel like an overachieving superstar. There are times when I think to myself that I may have passed my pinnacle… that the high points of my career are behind me.
And then I remember — I used to feel that way when I was teaching kickboxing in a busy gym during the early days of the fitness craze. I didn’t think it could get better than that. I had prayed for “confidence, strength, and endurance” before each sold-out class I taught, and was always granted my hope — even when I was still teaching at 7 months pregnant!
Since retiring my teaching boxing gloves, however, I’ve gone on to face and conquer new physical challenges — I can lift more weight than ever before, pull myself up ropes and over walls, and run farther and faster than I ever could. And I didn’t start such activities until I was nearly 40 years old!
Once again the racecourse has taught me that no matter what I’ve done before, each time I “show up” will be a new opportunity to accomplish something, a chance to prove to myself that I am made of so much more, and that looking ahead is always — always — a good move.
So now, as I feel like I’m facing a new race in my career — one where I’m uncertain of what’s ahead or if I’m strong enough to do battle — I’ll look to the past courses I’ve completed to propel me forward. “You finish when you’re done, not when you’re tired” is a gym mantra I have on auto-play in my mind, especially when I’m running. It’s something I need to remind myself of daily, whether I’m in sneakers or work heels!
Although situations, co-workers, clients, and career craziness may feel draining at times, there’s something to be said for remembering how far you’ve come and how much further you can go. As they say on the obstacle course, tomorrow is a chance to be better than today. For me, that means out there in the mud and in the office.