Monday, July 4, 2011

The Tour de France and your career

It's that time of year where I find myself glued to the outcome of the various stages of the Tour de France. The race is made up of 21 stages that cover a total distance of about 2,200 miles. These 21 stages include the following profiles: 10 flat stages, 7 mountain stages, 1 medium mountain stage, 2 individual time-trial stages, and 1 team time-trial stage.

The riders spend months and even years training for this event. At the same time, there are many factors beyond the riders control that can influence the outcome on the final day of the Tour de France. This includes the rain, heat, rocks in the road and the actions of other riders. If these professional cyclists focused on these external, uncontrollable factors, I’m certain they would want to just pack up and go home. But they continue because they believe in their preparation, planning and the possibility of winning or simply finishing well. A job search and healthy career requires similar endurance and stamina. Just like the profiles in the Tour de France, there are various stages in a job search or established career.

The flat stage in a job search or career, is where we simply keep the pace and roll along with the other riders. During this stage, we might ask ourselves, what is my purpose? Am I making a difference? Do I see myself here in a few years? Some may even ask--what is the minimal amount of work I have to do to stay with the pack? During the flat stages there are often more questions than answers but we just keep pedaling.

During the team stages, we ride with others and they encourage us when the race gets tough. During this stage we also need people around to provide a reality check and a little tough love when needed. They challenge us to keep going and take the lead when we are tired. Who is cycling alongside you in your career or job search? Who encourages or challenges you in a healthy way? Who understands your industry or situation and can provide wise counsel--not well-intentioned, outdated advice? Who lifts you up when everything seems to bring you down? Find a good team to ride with you.

Next, we have individual time trials. This is when we have to ride alone and try to finish strong knowing we have pushed ourselves and searched for the best way to remain strong during the ride. This stage allows you to grow stronger in mind, body and spirit because it's just you and the road. Sometimes it can be painful. Hopefully during this stage you learn how to better use your time and resources. You may even realize you are stronger than you thought. This stage requires focus and continuous movement toward your goals. If you are in an established career, do you have good mentors and people you can trust and talk to? Are you keeping up with the latest trends in your profession? If you're in a job search, do you keep track of your Linkedin connections, making networking calls and step away from the computer to have real life conversations? Do you try to accomplish one thing each week designed to get you closer to your new job?

The toughest stage is the mountains. This is where you develop the deepest levels of your faith, courage and endurance. The mountain stage requires the most intelligence and wisdom. The mountain demands you are consistent, determined and confident that you can reach the highest point of the climb. In the mountain stage, fatigue is often your greatest enemy. In your career, this is where you feel you've talked to everyone, tried everything and nothing is happening. No interviews, no rejections, no promotions...nothing. Often the mountains require us to trust in our training even when we do not understand the delays or immediately see the outcome. The mountains require great faith. Mental toughness matters in the mountains. You gain this toughness through a good support system and refreshing your approach. You gain this toughness through digging deep and relying on something greater than yourself. You gain this toughness by including those with opposing thoughts in your circle of influence. Do you listen to those who think differently or just those who will tell you what you want to hear? Do you make decisions based upon facts or fear? Do you allow yourself to be influenced by the opinions of others or just stop trying because it's just too difficult?

God is the best trainer, coach and team member we could have. The Hebrew word for “almighty” is "Shaddai" which indicates God’s sufficiency for ANY situation. The word “Lord” or “Yaweh” refers to His faithfulness. God really is sufficient and faithful no matter what we’re going through. Who do you rely on to help you through the stages of your career? I hope you will prepare, avoid discouragement and pray about your career decisions. Stop surrounding yourself with people who think small and have never even experienced the Tour de France in their own careers. Watch and experience the ride for yourself. Seek wisdom. Train well. Move out for the team and individual wins. Don't give up so easily the yellow jersey may be closer than you think. It's worth the work when you know God has a purpose and plan for it all.

What have you learned during your own Tour de France? What have been the toughest stages in a job search or career for you? Please leave a comment below.