Becoming Ironman: Everything Went as Planned–Until It Didn’t

Here’s a short summary of my Ironman race at Bear Lake on September 17, 2022. I may provide a more thorough recap at some point.

On Saturday I set out to complete an Ironman triathlon. It was insanely hard. Harder than expected. But when this picture was taken I felt incredible. I had no idea what was about to hit me. 

2.4 miles of swimming and 112 miles of cycling were in the books. All I had to do was run 26.2 miles. I was feeling confident. The afternoon sun peeked through the clouds. 

In many ways I thought the hardest part was behind me. It was 42 degrees at 7am when I jumped into the cold water of Bear Lake. It had rained hard multiple times during the bike portion. It was hard. But I knew it would be hard. Months of training had prepared me for this.

But then reality came crashing down on me. I was 11 miles from the finish line when the weather turned for the worse. It got cold and windy. It started raining. Then it poured down. My pace slowed. Stomach cramps literally brought me to my knees. Darkness descended. I felt so alone. 

21 people had signed up for the full Ironman distance. 13 triathletes had either finished or were somewhere ahead of me. 7 had already pulled out of the race. Most of the volunteers had gone home. 

With 7 miles left and the rain still coming down a truck pulled up to me. A volunteer rolled down the window and asked if I wanted to be picked up. My body screamed yes but I slowly uttered no. They drove off. 

I wanted to stop. I was in pain. I was cold. I was wet. I was exhausted. I had to keep going. This meant so much to me. I knew if I could just make progress, regardless of my speed, I’d ultimately get there. I kept going. 

I was the final person to finish the race. DEAD LAST. Maybe I should have been embarrassed. But I felt nothing but joy as I shuffled across the finish line. I made it. I had persevered. I was an Ironman. 

Triathlon is a good metaphor for life. There are a million lessons that can be pulled from this experience. I’ll mention one. A few weeks before the race, my daughter asked me why I was doing an Ironman. It sounded silly to her. I shared the story of JFK and his speech about putting a man on the moon. 

He said, “We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

You get stronger by doing hard things. You gain power when you set an audacious goal and do EVERYTHING in your control to accomplish it. You don’t give up when things get hard. You keep going.

I wanted my kids to see that. I wanted my clients to see that. To be candid, I needed to remind myself of that. 

We keep going. We don’t give up. Do hard things. Then do harder things.

Don’t Manage Your Time, Manage Your Energy

We focus so much on managing our TIME but we rarely focus on managing our ENERGY. Some work drains us and leaves us exhausted. Other work actually energizes and sustains us. 

Here’s a three step exercise to optimize your energy.

1) Make a list of all the activities you do in a typical week. For each one, note whether the work drains you or energizes you. 

2) Take the items that DRAIN you and ask yourself:

  • Can I stop doing this entirely?
  • Can I delegate this to someone who would be energized by doing it?
  • If I’m the only one who can get it done, when’s the best time to do it? Can I change HOW I do this work?

3) Take the items that ENERGIZE you and rank them by priority (i.e. how important they are to your success).

  • For items of high priority ask yourself, how can I spend more time doing this work?
  • For items of low priority ask yourself, should I be doing this work? If so, when? (Note: often we spend time doing work that energizes us even if it’s not important)

We can’t always control the work that needs to get done, but the better we understand ourselves and what energizes us, the more effectively we can operate. 

I’d love your feedback. How do you manage your energy?

How This Weekly Practice Will Sustain Long-Term Performance

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, an athlete, or pursuing anything of meaning, top performance requires intense effort. And the more intense the effort, the more critical rest becomes. 

How do you find rest? 

For as long as I can remember I’ve set aside one day for rest. Rest from work. Rest from the daily grind. I read. I go to church. I spend more time with my family. I often go on a long walk. Sometimes I take a nap. 

This day is set apart from the others. It feels different.  

Sometimes on this day I feel like I’m falling behind. I tell myself I should be doing more. I should be hustling. But I’ve learned that I need time for rest. I may slow down temporarily, but taking a day for rest sustains me for the long haul. 

Abraham Lincoln said that if he had six hours to chop down a tree he’d spend the first four sharpening his axe. Having a day of rest is how I sharpen my axe. It refreshes and revitalizes me. It helps me prepare for the challenges I’ll face in the new week.

What habits or practices help you rest and recover? How do you sustain long-term performance?

Don’t Focus On Motivation to Change Your Behavior. Do This Instead.

You know building good habits is key to success but both building and ending habits can be really hard to do. BJ Fogg is an expert on behavioral change. Here’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned from his book, Tiny Habits.

B = MAP. 

Behavior happens when Motivation & Ability & Prompt converge at the same moment. 

To start or stop a behavior you need all three. Motivation is your desire to do the behavior. Ability is your capacity to do the behavior. And Prompt is your cue to do the behavior. 

If you’re anything like me, you’ve focused almost exclusively on motivation. “If only I were more motivated I’d be able to change.” 

It sounds counterintuitive, but motivation is the last place we should start. The fastest way to change your behavior is to have a prompt. Two personal examples. 

1) For years I wanted to exercise more consistently but it didn’t start happening until I laid out my workout clothes the night before. Each morning those clothes were a reminder (prompt) to exercise and I immediately put them on. 

2) I knew expressing gratitude each day would lead to greater wellbeing but I was inconsistent. Once I created a daily notification (prompt) on my phone the habit was created. I was motivated and had the ability to express gratitude, I just needed a reminder.   

Behavior = Motivation + Ability + Prompt

Motivation and ability have their role in building stronger habits, but often all you need is a simple prompt to make the change.

Icarus and the Dangers of Playing It Safe

You’ve heard the Greek myth of Icarus. But there’s an essential lesson you’ve likely missed.  

Icarus’ father fashioned wings made of wax and feathers and told him not to fly too close to the sun. But he ignored that warning. The heat from the sun melted the wax, the wings fell apart, and Icarus plunged to his doom. We’ve retold this myth, and many others like it, for generations. 

All these stories have the same lesson: Play it safe. Obey your parents. Listen to the experts. Don’t fly too high.  

But there’s another part of the myth that gets glossed over. Icarus was also warned by his father not to fly too low. If he did, the ocean water would ruin the lift in his wings.  

That second lesson gets skipped but it’s even more relevant than the first. Flying too low is actually more dangerous than flying too high. Flying low feels safe. Deceptively safe. 

We hear the story of a reckless entrepreneur who flew close to the sun, plunging his company into the ground. Those who flew too high become easy targets. It’s fun to call them out. But we don’t hear about the thousands of people who flew too low. Those who played it safe. Those who never swung for the fences. Those stories happen every day but rarely get told. 

Yes, there’s danger in flying too high. But there’s more danger in flying too low. 

Don’t shortchange yourself. Don’t play it safe.

Fly high.

Show up. Then Keep Showing Up.

I’ll let you in on a secret. One I’ve learned from studying and working closely with high performers over the years.

What’s the biggest difference between those who succeed and those who don’t? Two simple words.

Show up.

That’s it. Show up today. Show up tomorrow. Then keep showing up every day. Some level of talent is required of course, but your drive is the differentiator.

I’ve been reading the Iron Cowboy’s biography. He’s the guy who completed 50 Ironman triathlons in 50 states in 50 days. 🤯 It’s an insane accomplishment. One that was thought impossible until he proved it wasn’t. In his words:

All you need to do is just keep showing up.
The more you show up, the more you learn.
The more you learn, the more you evolve as a human being.
The more you evolve, more becomes possible for you.
Just keep showing up.

Want to be successful? Show up. Put in the work. Learn what it takes to get better. Work smart AND hard.

Show up. Then keep showing up.

How Politics Is Killing Your Organization (And What to Do About It)

One of my favorite things about Neighbor is our No Politics rule. No, it’s not a rule against discussing politics at work, it’s a rule against BEING political. What do I mean by that?

In the words of James Courier: “The fundamental particle of politics is the simple act of saying different things to different people.” 

Companies can’t thrive in a political environment. Full stop.

Organizations where politics run rampant are draining. They’re exhausting. They suck the life and fun out of work. Employees are too busy playing political games or strategizing what to say to which person that they’re distracted from doing actual work that will move the business forward.

One way we avoid politics at Neighbor is by “exposing to daylight” any comment or idea that seems like it’s political.

For example, if a VP of Engineering is saying something to me that he won’t tell directly to our Recruiting Lead, then we have a moment of politics. The antidote is to have the VP say it directly to the Recruiter. These direct conversations can be tough, but they’re powerful and necessary.

Neighbor isn’t perfect, but consciously deciding to avoid politics has led to less friction and drama than is typical at a startup. New employees regularly tell me that the environment at Neighbor is refreshing and they love just focusing on doing good work.”

“No Politics” starts from the top (shout out to JosephPreston, and Colton for setting the example) but everyone plays a role here.

For more on how to build strong companies where politics don’t exist, check out this James Courier article

How to Set Expectations for Your Job Search After Getting Laid Off

I recently saw a post from someone in my network that shocked me.

He’d been impacted by a recent layoff and despite trying everything possible to find a new job (applying, interviewing, networking, etc.) he’d been unable to land something new.

Frustrated by his lack of success, he was ready to give up.

The shocking part was that it had been 17 days since he’d started his search. 🤯

He’d expected that after 2.5 weeks he’d have landed the job of his dreams. I wanted to give this person a dose of reality. And a hug.

Years ago when I was laid off, I was similarly optimistic. I genuinely thought I’d be out of work for a few weeks and would quickly land something better. Weeks turned into months and I wondered what was wrong with me.

I took every rejection personally. My optimism had been completely disconnected from reality. I had no idea the average job search took five months. Resetting expectations was painful.

Optimism is good. But the reality is that finding a job will take longer than you expect. And it’s going to be an emotional journey. You’ll face uncertainty and self doubt. Your confidence may be shaken at times.

But your mindset will make all the difference. Mentally prepare yourself. Put in the work. Build relationships. Show up. Control what you can control. Hustle until you’ve achieved your goal. 👊👊

Here’s an article I wrote for Fast Company about how to manage getting laid off.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. What have you done to successfully navigate a job search?

The False Belief Holding Us Back From Unleashing Our Potential

There’s a fascinating phenomenon I’ve discovered from coaching top performers.

This may make you uncomfortable. I feel a bit uncomfortable writing it. But give it a try.

The phenomenon I’ve found is that most of us place a cap on how much success we allow ourselves to enjoy. We believe that we’re entitled to a portion of success or happiness in our life but not much more. We put an upper bound on ourselves.

And once we hit that upper bound of success we do things that prevent us from achieving our full potential. We find ways to sabotage ourselves. We don’t go all out. We play safe.

We do this because there’s a nagging thought that lies deep within us: I am not enough. This thought is 100% subconscious and it’s 100% false.

What I’ve found working with top performers is that everyone has an inner genius. It may vary from person to person, but it’s there. We’ve all been given unique abilities and strengths. The divine is within us. We have the capacity for greatness.

Until we realize that we’re inherently enough we’ll never reach our true potential. Until we realize that we’re inherently enough we’ll never discover and maximize our inner genius.

I invite you to ponder this question: how much abundance am I willing to allow in my life?

You are enough. And the sooner you realize that, the sooner you can realize your full potential.

You are enough.

Don’t Focus on How to Play the Game, Focus on Which Game You’re Going to Play

A few years back I learned a lesson that hit me like a ton of bricks. And changed how I think about life.
 
I started my career in investment banking. It paid well and I enjoyed working on high profile stuff. It was fun being surrounded by talented people. But I really didn’t like the work. 
 
I was competent, but I wasn’t awesome. I wasn’t playing to my inherent strengths. I worked hard but wasn’t motivated to go above and beyond. I was in the wrong game. 

Years later I stumbled on this quote from Kwame Anthony Appiah that hit me hard: “In life, the challenge is not so much to figure out how best to play the game; the challenge is to figure out what game you’re playing.”
 
While in finance, most of my effort was spent on HOW I was playing the game (e.g. improving my financial modeling). But that wasn’t my problem. My real problem was that I was in the wrong game. And until I found the right game, my upside was limited. 
 
It took years, but ultimately I changed games. I made a career pivot that drastically altered the trajectory of my career. It was really hard at first and I had to take a few steps back.

But in this new game I was playing to my strengths and I was energized to go to work each day. That combo brought increased satisfaction and rapid growth. 

So how do you figure out the right game? First, you need to discover your inherent strengths. This can be hard to do early in career, but with with more experience you can look back over the types of work you’ve done and find the activities that come naturally to you and that energize you.
 
Don’t worry about how well you’re playing the game. That will come with time. Focus on playing the right game. Play YOUR game. Because that will make all the difference in the end.