About 6 months ago, I signed up for a triathlon with 5 of my co-workers. Completing an Olympic tri has been on my bucket list, but I only had a loose idea of what triathlon training would entail. Even so, I signed up on a whim, because I thought I’d regret it if I walked away.
When people ask me what it’s like to follow a whim or how to decide which ones to follow, I liken following a whim to saying yes to a first date, volunteering to demo at an all-hands meeting, or starting a conversation with a stranger. You’ve got to muster up enough courage to get out there by trusting your gut. A thousand little things make up an impression and only the compelling ones move us to take action.
Once I signed up, I took action and found ways to train despite challenging circumstances. Our LinkedIn group was geographically divided: half of the team lived and worked in San Francisco and the other half lived/worked (mostly) in the South Bay offices. This meant that we often had to train in smaller groups, and sometimes even by ourselves. Over the span of 3 months, we trained twice during the week, and then went for a longer swim, bike, and/or run every weekend.
Just to make it to these work-week training sessions, we had to pitch in and help each other with our work. We’d check each others’ SQL queries, proof-read emails, make/grab food for each other, and often just check in and provide support during busy project times, which seemed never ending.
Derek (the enthusiastic guy with outstretched arms pictured above) would wait patiently for me when my meetings ran late and our 5:30 runs turned into 6:30 runs. Mike (the other enthusiastic guy on the other side) and I were able to squeeze in training by skipping lunch and riding the LinkedIn bikes from the Mountain View to the Sunnyvale campus.
At our first open water swim at the Half Moon Bay course (after we used up all of Paul’s guest passes to the Equinox pool), Mike was able to keep his cool even as he pointed out that the seagull I was unsuccessfully shooing away “had whiskers”…I hope he will eventually be able to forget my hysterical scream when it dawned on me that we swam into a seal. We made it back to shore in record time that morning.
I remember race day and how happy and proud we were as we smiled in our LinkedIn trisuits for our team photo. It didn’t matter that it was 5am and I was about to lose feeling in my fingers swimming in 56 degree water. I knew something magical was about to happen. I knew that we were all going to finish and when we did, it would be as triathletes.
Following this whim with a new group of people taught me more about business and how to approach problems and work with people than many of the formalized settings I encounter every day at work. It was during those practice runs and bike rides with miles ahead of us in the middle of nowhere that our conversations drifted from open source libraries available for marketing models and forecasting revenue for ad sales, to favorite travel destinations and plans for the future.
I think it was the freedom that comes from being so notably out of our comfort zones that enabled us to let our guard down completely. When I thought about this more, I realized something about myself that I’m ashamed to admit out loud. The main reason I don’t openly let my guard down to ask for help was because I don’t want to be perceived as the one asking so many questions. But out there on the open waters and roads, we were all just trying to prepare ourselves mentally and physically the best we could.
We were all being humbled together, by water, by heat, by this race, and we were being humbled in open view of each other. We couldn’t hide our weaknesses, but surprisingly, there was no judgment, only relief that we had found co-workers crazy enough to want to swim, bike, and run together. We had found our tribe and we felt comfortable asking anything, and that made us stronger.
Perhaps that’s part of the magic, succeeding in situations that are foreign or even uncomfortable (of your own volition or not) changes your view of what’s possible.
As Muhammad Ali put it, “impossible is nothing.”
We did it.
Originally published at www.linkedin.com/pulse/tri-anything-sophia-l-wong?published=u on 06/25/2015.