I’m willing to bet that after you read the title of this post the first impression was that it would be about working harder than anybody else in your career and then closing the bars at night. If so, you were correct about the first part but not the second. So what could I possibly be talking about?
First, the work hard part. Unless you live in a cave or are fortunate enough to be independently wealthy you know companies are big on doing more with less. This not only requires that each employee does work that used to be belong to (4) employees but that they must also push themselves harder to learn new skills. For example, in the IT industry (which I am hoping to break into after spending years in the dwindling telecom industry) there used to be a division between programmers and network engineers. Not anymore…these functions have been combined. In fact, further consolidation in IT has these folks doing more telecom engineering as well (wait…that’s my job). Of course I use this example because it hits close to home for me but across all industries this is happening. While it would be tempting to be negative about it I just look at this as an opportunity to learn new things and push myself harder. Nothing wrong with that.
Now for the play hard part. A lot of people deal with this stress by hitting the bar after work. Not only does this create additional problems for them but also for others who have to pick up their slack when they called in “sick” the next day. I know this from experience - several times I had to get involved in co-workers projects while they recovered from partying or fill in for them while they felt it necessary to sneak out Friday afternoon to catch a movie. It almost drove ME to drink:) (By the way, before I start to sound too negative or even better let me add that I was privileged enough to work with some great colleagues…as well as the not so great ones:) .)
I have a much better definition of playing hard – exercise. Nothing relieves stress better than a nice 6 (or 3 or 2 etc.) mile run. Add strength training and you’ll be living stress free (well, almost:) ). Also, engaging in a fitness program can help build skills valuable to your career such as:
1. Setting goals and achieving them.
Setting goals and achieving them at a bar (“I’m going for at least a 12 pack tonight.”) is sad really. There is no sense of achievement there…only a hangover which doesn’t help with stress at all nor does it prepare you for future career challenges. I don’t think anybody has felt capable of beating an expedited deadline after an all-nighter.
However, setting and achieving fitness goals can do wonders for your career. Nothing relieves stress better and prepares you to work harder the next day than some intense exercise. Have a bad day at the office? Go for a run. You’ll lose that angry feeling (especially when your realize you just ran faster than you ever have before). You can then show up at the office the next day filled with energy rather than dread.
2. Project Management
If everything could be accomplished in an hour or less nobody would need project management skills. Obviously this is not true and the biggest achievements require strong project management skills. Let’s say you start out with a fairly lofty and long term fitness goal such as my goal a couple years ago: lose 90 pounds in a year. That has to be a long term goal (unless you can get yourself on ‘The Biggest Loser”) which requires research, planning, progress tracking, and execution. Sounds pretty much like the steps required of project managers doesn’t it?
Too often when working as part of a team in a day job many people may not feel able to push others to achieve the group goal. However it is a requirement in fitness (why else on every movie or TV show involving fitness training do you see one person yelling at another?). Find a way to translating this method of “leadership” into your professional life and you will get results.
This does not mean playing “the boss” and shouting orders at everybody. For example, as an engineer I was not the direct supervisor of anyone yet I was still required to lead them on projects. Since it was not my place (nor my style) to shout orders at my colleagues I tried to convey my determination to meet any request to them and my optimism that it could be done. That approach must have worked pretty well – I was by far the most productive engineer in the group and became the “go to” guy for high priority rush projects.
4. Building Self Confidence
I would argue that nothing can build self confidence more than achieving fitness goals. The reason is that although achieving career goals at work is rewarding you have to rely on contributions from other folks. Sure, your self confidence will get a boost but not nearly as big as accomplishing something entirely on your own. This mainly has to do with the fact that unless you are extremely narcissistic you have to acknowledge that without the efforts of the team you would never accomplish anything. For example, as a engineer I would often receive praise or receive instant cash awards for finishing a rush project on time. However, I never felt entirely satisfied and often felt guilty about receiving them. After all, if I hadn’t had the opportunity to work with so many awesome colleagues the projects never would have been completed.
Whether you work out on your own or in a group ultimately your success is dependent upon only one person – YOU. Unlike work, if you are having a bad day nobody else can pitch in and work a little extra hard to help you out. This discourages many people who incorrectly believe they don’t have the discipline it takes to get fit. Nothing could be farther from the truth. If you don’t have difficulty walking to the fridge to grab a snack then you will not have any problems getting fit.
Although I exercise alone I have still had the opportunity to meet people. For example, when I set out to lose 90 pounds in a year or less as folks noticed my progress I found more of them introducing themselves to me. So although the discussions had nothing to do with my career accomplishments I gained respect from them. In a few instances when I later would have to collaborate with some of these folks they already saw me as somebody who can get things done. In that year my professional network expanded greatly.
Also, participating in events allows you to meet new people. When I ran in the Kansas City Marathon last October I had plenty of time (since I am by no means a fast marathon runner) to talk. Although in this particular event I did not meet anybody that would be directly beneficial to my career goals the number of people I even had a small conversation with proved this can be a valuable networking tool.
Hopefully I have provided you with more reasons to start (or maintain) a fitness program and also demonstrate how fitness can benefit your career as well. Most people believe exercise is strictly a recreational activity and that the key to success at work is to stay long hours and run themselves into the ground. Nothing could be farther from the truth though. Yes, you do have to find a way to make time for everything but that’s just another goal to feel good about accomplishing:)