Found Things

This week I was riding the high from my obstacle race and enjoying the cloak of invincibility it gave me against life’s normal little quirks and frustrations.  Some tidbits I found and enjoyed:

…this song that I’ve been listening to on repeat over and over (the beat is so addictive, seductive, and just makes you want to dance)

…this cognitive bias that makes incompetent people think they’re all that, and competent people humble

…rereading the Redwall series (one of the mainstays of my childhood), and feeling so much nostalgia for that world.  As an adult, I spend more time reading and laughing at the silly ditties and poems Jacques added–there are so many little gems to amuse both young and old in his books.  If I ever have kids, I will be reading these books aloud to them and hamming up all the outrageous accents (wot wot!)

…a fellow reader’s reasoning for why he only reads fiction instead of watching the news: “If all news is fake news, I’d rather read literature, because at least it’s well written fake news.”  Based on his recommendation, I am adding Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death [public library] to my reading list.

…and of course, I cannot stop recommending that people try out an obstacle race!  The 3 mile Spartan Sprint is very beginner friendly, and as my friend was saying, if you don’t want to do it for the health benefits and obstacle immunity, go to rub elbows with super nice, fit, and good looking people!

On work as a game

Sometimes it’s more useful to take a lighthearted approach to work–there are systems that are like games, and people who are like NPCs (non-player characters) and others who are PCs (player characters) who can join your team or play against you.  There are quests to complete (launch this new product), skill trees to grow (on the art of influence without authority), classes to level up in (rise of the ninja software engineers), and new worlds to explore (tech, healthcare, finance, or maybe gaming).

If you view work as a game, you can decouple your ego from the outcome and not take things personally.  After all, a quest for a level 50 character is going to be much harder, have fewer hints if any, and have a lot more plot twists and unexpected hurdles to pass than a quest for a level 5 character.  You can’t expect handholding when you are more senior.

Similarly, if you don’t like your class, or if you built up the wrong skill tree to do the quests you want, sometimes you have to take time to reset and reallocate those points.  Take different classes, do different quests, find new mentors and teachers.

When you view work as a game, you can’t get mad about how the system works.  The rules of the game are set, and it’s your job to win within their constraints.  Some rules are bendable or hackable.  Others are not so much.  If you can’t win, or if you don’t like the rules, find another game to play.  But it’s not helpful to complain about the rules.

Certainly, some games are more fun than others because someone made good rules to enable those kinds of behaviors.  When you’re playing in a game with rules you don’t like, you should accept that those are what the rules are, but keep in mind that they might not be what the rules should be.  Current state is not optimal state.  You can try to bend or change the rules, or go try out a different game, or maybe take all of that accumulated wisdom and playtime and start your own ideal game, where you make all the rules.

On fluid definitions of your job

Today someone asked me what advice I would give to my younger self when I was just starting out at a new job.  There are lots of pieces of advice I’d give, but honestly some things you just have to learn through experience because you just won’t understand or appreciate the significance of the advice until you’ve been screwed over by not following it.

One of those lessons is that your job is not just what was on the job description of the role you interviewed for.  Your job is…

  • To figure out what you want to do
  • To figure out what your team/company/boss/stakeholders value
  • To deliver things of value that are also of interest/value to you (this may turn out to have nothing to do with your actual job description, but that doesn’t matter as long as you are adding more value than they’re paying you for)
  • To manage and influence up, down, and laterally
  • To make friends with everyone but never take anything personally
  • To always keep a happy enthusiastic public face (even if you’re stewing, furious, frustrated, contemptuous, burnt out, etc.)
  • To market yourself and your accomplishments
  • To be an idea machine and always be pitching
  • To build relationships and find your next job
  • To test hypotheses about what you want to do, what success looks like, how to hack this company/team/person/system
  • To figure out how to optimize your job for what you want out of life
  • To do the job of every person who is supposed to help you or support you but doesn’t (or does so incompetently)
  • To help others help you
  • To get inside the heads of everyone you work with and anticipate their needs and meet them ahead of time
  • To delight and blow expectations out of the water
  • To work hard and work smart
  • To never ever take anything for granted

Basically, your job is not just your job per se.  And if you think it is, the people who know better are going to eat you for lunch, and then eat your lunch.  If you aren’t hungry, then stand aside and enjoy your work life balance.  If you are hungry, well, better start hustling.

On the Benefits of OCR – Part 2

Busy days and morning meetings mean less time for writing.  But I’m committed to posting at least something every day (remember: the perfect is the enemy of the good!).  So here is part of Part 2 on the benefits and life lessons from obstacle course racing:

1.  Have a reason

When you’re carrying a 70-100lb bucket of rocks up a hill, you might start to question the wisdom of signing up for an obstacle course race in the first place.  When you are drained and exhausted and just ready to drop and collapse, when you’ve ripped your hands halfway through the race, when you’ve sprained your ankle and have to do burpees because you’re just too tired to get over an obstacle you’d be able to pass if it was at the beginning of the race…it helps to look within and remind yourself of the reason.  Why do you race?  Why do you choose to do hard things?  Why do you challenge yourself?  What kind of person are you?

Different people have different whys, and your why might change multiple times over the course of your life.  One of my whys is that I am a person who strives for arete (excellence) and continuous growth and improvement.  I am also a person who honors my commitments, with a history of patiently enduring and working through hard things.  A more powerful why might be racing for a cause–to raise awareness and donations for a veterans’ nonprofit, to spread the word about the transformative power of Crossfit.  Or to prove something to your family, to show that you’re strong enough to beat your cancer and strong enough to finish this race.

2.  Success has many different forms

When you observe and talk to the different racers who do obstacle course racing, everyone has a different story and different definition of success on the course.  Some people want to finish as fast as possible and place.  Some people want to beat their previous time.  Some people want to beat their friends.  Some people want to just finish.  Some people want to finish without having to do any penalty burpees.  Some people have practiced javelin throws all year so that they can have the spear stick in the hay bale this time, damnit.

You’ll be happier if you go in with your own definition of success, one that you’ve prepared for, rather than taking on some other person’s definition that may or may not make you happy.

3.  Preparation is key; leverage habits

Speaking of preparation, you could go into a race without it, but you’ll spare yourself some burpee pain if you prepare to pass obstacles normally beforehand.  The most effective racers created exercise habits and routines to build strength, endurance, and agility.  If you are on a more condensed time schedule, practice burpees.  For example, two months before the race, I added a morning routine of doing burpees, just one more than the previous day.  That led to building up to multiple burpee sets of 30 reps–the penalty for failing to pass an obstacle.  Other habits that served me well: going to Crossfit class twice a week, yoga twice a week (I attribute my lack of cramping on this race to yoga), eating healthy (slow carb diet with no cheat days for the 2 months before the race), and sleeping regularly to aid recovery.

4.  Identify your weakness (and play to your strengths)

The one thing I should have done more of was prepare for my weaknesses.  The sheer breadth of the obstacles on the course will unearth any physical weakness or imbalance you have in your body.  Powerlifter who can’t run?  You’ll suffer after mile 4.  Runner with no upper body strength?  You’ll have to burpee your way through the monkey bars, the ring monkey bars, the rope climb, etc. etc.  The key is to identify your weak spots going into the race, and either getting strong enough to pass those obstacles when you’re tired and muddy and sore, or practicing a lot of burpees.

I knew going into the race that upper body heavy obstacles were going to be a challenge, but I didn’t think that I had enough time to get strong enough by race day.  So I didn’t bother putting together a targeted exercise regimen that focused on my upper body.  Instead, knowing that I have more patience than a regular person and a higher tolerance for chugging along and enduring pain, I practiced doing a LOT of burpees, for example 120 in one sitting.  This was useful, since ultimately in the race I ended up doing 185 burpees (5 were mandatory as part of passing another obstacle).

5.  Know thyself

If it’s your first time doing an obstacle race, you might not know what your strengths and weaknesses are.  Maybe you don’t know if you’re the kind of person who will break down on mile 7 and refuse to do any more burpees, refuse to carry the damn bucket of rocks, refuse to slog through one more mud pit.  Maybe you know what your weaknesses are, but you refuse to acknowledge them (you were an All American in college!  What does it matter if you haven’t been to a gym or worked up a sweat in 10 years?  This will be a walk in the park!).

Luckily, OCR will show you the truth.  Throughout the race, your body will tell you what your physical strengths and weaknesses are.  Throughout the race, the thoughts and attitudes each obstacle inspires will tell you what your mental strengths and weaknesses are.  In the last mile, when you are sore and tired and ready to be done with it all, you’ll see what you’re made of.  When you face that gauntlet of back-to-back obstacles testing your core strength, upper body strength, technique, endurance (when you do 90 burpees back to back)…you’ll find out whether you are brittle or resilient, whether you give up in the face of hardship or grin like a savage and power through, whether you can find the beauty and good in every challenging moment.

And at the end of the day, if you don’t like what you’ve found, if you’d like to write a different truth about yourself, there’s always another day and another race!  As long as you keep trying and forging forward, you will be able to taste the sweet fruits of victory.