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Pedaling Through Challenges Towards Learning

My Journey of Resilience and Learning Through Racing My Bicycle

I spent a lot of time as a junior at an elite level of bicycle racing. And even though I was good at winning in races with steep climbs, and at pushing my limits so I could stand on top of the podium, I knew that there was no way to make a living at it — I was just too cardiovascularly ordinary. So, I steered away from the peloton, went to college, and transitioned from the speedy world of cycling to the fast-paced world of helping organizations achieve big, bold breakthrough performance changes. That is to say: I slowed down on pushing my physical boundaries to push the limits of my patience!

1989 Time Trial

Through the fast-paced world of bicycle racing as a junior, and as the years have gone by as an amateur Masters racer (that’s a kind term for “old guy”), I discovered that the unique blend of physical exertion and mental fortitude in bicycle racing can go beyond the thrill of competition. The sport demands focus, determination, and an unwavering commitment to staying in the moment; interestingly the lessons learned on the bike are metaphors for organizational learning, resilience, and personal growth.

As I think about The Community and how we help each other, ourselves, and our organizations, I thought I’d share a few things that have impacted me, and that we will all likely explore in way greater detail at the 2024 conference: Fostering Community. Elevating Learning. Embracing Purpose.

Overruling the Temptation to Quit: Perseverance in the Face of Adversity

There have been moments in every race when my body urged me to sit up, take a breather, and drop out. The temptation to choose the easy way out can be overwhelming, both on the bike and in life. However, bicycle racing has taught me a crucial lesson – sometimes, overriding the body's signals is necessary for growth.

In the organizational setting, this translates into recognizing when to push beyond comfort zones and take calculated risks. The easy path may provide temporary relief, but true progress often lies beyond the initial discomfort. Consider building a network of mentors, colleagues, or friends who can provide guidance and encouragement during tough times. Having a support system can be instrumental in overcoming the temptation to quit. Share your challenges with trusted individuals who can offer insights and motivate you to push through adversity.

Foster Community.

Learning from Failure: Reflecting and Improving

Entering a challenging race, much like taking on a demanding project or initiative, involves the risk of failure. The decision to participate in the face of uncertainty is a bold one, and the outcome may not always be a victory. However, the real mistake lies not in trying and failing, but in failing to learn from those experiences.

Reflecting on setbacks has become a powerful tool for improvement. Just as I (obsess) about my performance after a race, I analyze past actions to identify areas for growth. Repetition without reflection hinders progress, making the ability to learn from failures a crucial aspect of my personal and professional development. In our organizations, we can foster an environment where learning from failures is encouraged rather than stigmatized. Share your reflections with colleagues and encourage them to do the same. Cultivate a workplace culture that values continuous improvement, turning setbacks into opportunities for growth.

Elevate Learning.

Staying Present: The Meditative Power of Focus

Pushing my limits on the bike, I find myself in a totally present and meditative state. The intense focus required to navigate the speeding pack and racecourse, and to push through the strain of sustained effort shuts out distractions, anxieties, and the infamous "monkey mind." This level of concentration has taught me the importance of staying present, a skill I've found equally valuable in both my professional and personal life.

In the organizational context, maintaining focus on immediate goals, even when faced with challenges, allows for a deeper understanding of the task at hand. By shutting out unnecessary noise and concentrating on the present, I've enhanced my productivity and learned to navigate complexities more effectively. We can all improve focus by considering what is “urgent” vs what is “important”, we can periodically turn off notifications, close irrelevant tabs, and establish an environment that’s conducive to concentrated effort. By minimizing external disruptions, you can cultivate a habit of staying present and boost your overall productivity.

Embrace purpose.

2003 Road Race

Pedaling Towards Growth

Bicycle racing, with its physical and mental challenges, has become a metaphor for my broader journey of resilience and learning. The impact of lessons learned on the bike – staying present, learning from failures, and persevering through challenges – are invaluable tools for building my resilience and driving continuous improvement. As I pedal through the twists and turns of life, I embrace the wisdom gained from the world of racing: It’s not always about winning the race but about becoming stronger on my journey.


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