From 80 Miles a Week to the 9 to 5
7:15 AM is a special time for the distance squad of the Stanford Men’s Track and Field team. At precisely 7:15 AM, each member converges at the palm tree by the track before setting off on the first of two runs for that day. Individual workloads vary. Some recovering from injury may run a brief 20 minutes, while the more experienced upperclassmen may crank out 10 miles at a blistering pace to start their mornings. Regardless of individual training plans, each teammate holds one another equally accountable for putting in their miles while other students on campus are likely still soundly asleep.
Upon finishing their runs and returning to their dorms, everyone goes their separate paths for the academic day, only to reconvene later that afternoon to put in more miles on the track. The early mornings, countless miles, and stressful nights of academic work all contribute in building a unique work ethos and athletic culture that is squarely focused on competing at the highest stakes - winning an NCAA title. The common goal of raising the coveted NCAA trophy is the only motivation needed to keep this group of individuals motivated through the taxing balancing act of athletic rigor and student life.
Of course, this was all just for a flash in time. The constant grind of putting in 80 mile weeks was replaced by 45 hour work weeks at my current company, UserTesting. I was nervous for this new endeavor, my career as a Business Analyst, but I kept reminding myself that the skills and lessons that the Stanford Track team taught me would be applicable to anywhere I went in life. While I was in a new environment, I could relate my experiences as a young professional to my experiences as a member of the Stanford Track team.
One of the most important lessons that running taught me is that discipline and consistent effort are always needed. Being a distance runner meant that there was no “off-season”. Cross Country was followed by Indoor Track, and Indoor Track was followed by Outdoor Track. During the summer, you put in long miles to build up for the grind of Cross Country. In order to maximize your results on the track, there was only one thing that you could do if you desired success: put in the work. Every single week, 3 times a week, you were at the track at 7:15 in the morning. There were no excuses for a late night of homework or feeling a little sore from the workout the day before. These early mornings, every week, three times a week, were the recipe for success.
As a Business Analyst, there is a constant stream of work that needs doing. The challenges of navigating the workplace and maximizing your impact are present every day. While the work can be stressful, each challenge is one step towards learning and improving. In running, there is no magic workout that will help you win a race. Likewise, in your career, there is no one important thing that will get you a promotion. In the workplace, it’s consistency and discipline that will take your career to the next level. What you put in is what you get out of your job.
Running also taught me the invaluable trait of working as a member of a team. The Stanford Track and Field team is composed of many different units. On any given day, the distance team might not see the sprinters or the throwers on the track at practice. But on race day, we come together as a team to try to achieve success. The team operates as a machine, and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We hold each our teammates accountable to execute their job.
In my time at UserTesting, I realize that in order to achieve success as a company, each department must be aligned in order to achieve a collective goal. Just like the track team sets out to win a competition against other schools, our company competes against other firms. In track, holding a trophy is the measure of your success. In the workplace, market share, revenue, and growth are the key measures to success. In order to win a track meet, you need contributions from every group from distance to sprinters to jumpers. In order to win in a market, you need the same alignment and contributions from the different departments in the organization. No matter how big or small your role is in your company, you are held accountable towards achieving the goals of the company.
Transitioning from athletics to the workplace requires lifestyle changes and a new skill set, which is intimidating at first. Mistakes are inevitable, and will likely occur quicker than you are comfortable with. The last thing that I took away from athletics that has helped me in my transition is being coachable. My sophomore year, I was tasked with the lead-off leg the Distance Medley Relay in the National Championship race. After a tactical error, I fell with a lap to go, taking our team out of All-American contention. Over the next year, I worked with my coach practicing not committing the same tactical mistake that I made in the biggest race of my life. The next year, I tried a new strategy, handed off near the lead, and our team finished with 1st Team All-American honors. At UserTesting, there is no “National Championship” race, but there are always areas to improve yourself. Instead of taking criticism from my manager personally, I know how to turn it into a learning experience.
The 7:15 AM has turned into a 9:00 AM start. I won’t be toeing the line in hopes to win a mile race anytime soon. But one thing is for sure - the lessons I’ve learned through running and college athletics will help shape and guide my career.