Lessons from a Triathlete: How to Rediscover Joy at Work

Sara Strope by

Editor’s Note: This is the seventh article in a 10 part series on how an elite athlete applies the lessons she’s learned from Triathalon training to her role as a Fortune 100 marketing executive. Read the rest of this series here.

No matter how much you love what you do, at times, work just feels like work. The inbox is too full. You have a pile of tedious tasks to do. You feel like you’re wasting time updating results for a review – knowing that the PowerPoint slides will not be discussed. Do you find yourself dragging during times like these? Procrastinating on simple things? Perhaps even dreading customer events?

If you know this sinking feeling of having lost your interest in a project, daily work, or an annual event, how do you conquer it? What do you do to turn monotonous tasks into easy wins or how do you reignite your leadership team to review metrics and get to more radical business decisions?

In other words, how do you rediscover joy in your work?

Throughout my past 10 years of triathlon training, one thing has been constant – I love cycling. From discovering new views at the peak of a steep hill climb to feeling the warm sunshine on my back as I roll along a quiet vineyard-lined road, cycling brings a smile to my face and a sense of accomplishment – no matter my average speed or distance travelled.

Last year, after 5 Ironman races completed and thousands of miles logged on my four bicycles (road, triathlon, commuter, and touring), I didn’t want to ride anymore. What happened? How could I change the course?

1. Recognize when you’ve pushed too hard, and give yourself a break.

Despite being in shape to run a half marathon on any given day, I dove into a week long cycling camp in Mallorca, Spain in early April 2017. Did I mention I live in Boston? I went straight from snow to steep hills and sunshine. Mallorca is where pro-cyclists train. Every ride requires climbing hills – often at 5 to 10 percent grades over the course of 3-10 miles. It is grueling. Being a little out of cycling shape and a weaker hill climber, this cycling vacation was just work, work, work. On the third day, we had a choice mid-way through a ride of doing another 10 mile climb or cruising downhill to a port village and getting a coffee at Bradley Wiggins’ favorite cafe. I chose the port and the latte.

How can you give yourself a break at work? Ask for one more day to complete something. Share a work-in-progress with a few peers and work on another project until you get their feedback. Literally, take a break and go get a coffee – with a colleague from a different team or peer from another organization.

2. Actively explore ways to rediscover your joy. Don’t just wait.

I was so burnt-out from cycling in Mallorca, that the Spring passed me by and I barely cycled. I was confident the love of cycling was still within me. What would motivate and entice me to get back out there?

I needed a cycling destination and adventure that would be full of sunshine, fun, and new things – not an intense route or timed race. I needed my bicycle to take me somewhere. One summer weekend, I set out from Boston with my bicycle in pursuit of trails, lobster, and beaches. Thanks to one Cape Cod Flyer train ride, 55 miles of Cape Cod Rail Trail and rolling country lanes, the consumption of at least 2 lobster rolls, and a ferry ride home, I found the joy of cycling again.

Could new content or connections help you rediscover the joy in your work?

  • Tired of business writing? Try reading a novel. Years ago, I heard Danielle Morrill (former Director of Marketing at Twilio and current VP of Product at Mattermark/Full Contact) speak at about content marketing. She said she turns to Pride and Prejudice whenever she needs a break.
  • Lacking inspiration for your new brand design or a refresh on your paid media display banners? Take an afternoon off to stroll through an exhibit at a local museum or gallery. I rushed out of our IBM London office one afternoon to catch the Agnes Martin exhibit at the Tate – and somewhere between the lines of her abstract art, I easily found myself describing structured and unstructured data again. There’s a great data exhibit at the MIT Museum through April 1 (just saying).
  • Are you too steeped in the common practices of your organization, your area of expertise, or your community? Try getting a fresh and opposite perspective. Attend a conference or workshop outside of your field. Take a break from the tech meetup circuit and go to IBM THINK or OracleWorld. As a marketer, I love attending the Spark Summit every year. And, as a B2B marketer, I’m excited to attend the MITX eCommerce Summit – focused primarily on B2C retail.

Managing yourself through burnout is crucial not only to your success, but also to your team and your company. Take a moment to actively rediscover your motivation and interests. It’s incredible where you’ll find inspiration – and the impact it will have on your future work.