Remember the perfect day you outlined for yourself at the start of this book? I’m not going to promise you that you will achieve it right away. It might take you several years to get close, as it has for me. Or, it might take you just a few changes in your life to get there. But you’ll never get close if you don’t know what you’re aiming for.
I recently ran my first ultramarathon, a 50km (31 miles) trail race through the iconic Blue Mountains of New South Wales. Finishing an ultramarathon is a long way from the overweight, unhappy, stressed out person that woke up in the middle of the night with chest pains. That guy all those years ago was more concerned with not dying. Today, I’m only concerned with what fun thing I’m going to do next in my life.
Because I chose to take on an ultramarathon as a life goal, I had to sit down and think very carefully about how to approach it. Traveling that distance on foot is not something that happens by accident. If I’d shown up on race day untrained and unprepared I would have dropped out of the race early, been pulled from the race for missing a cutoff time, or (most likely) injured myself.
There wasn’t one big thing I had to change to make the day a success. Instead, I had to make a number of small changes to my diet, sleep habits, training regime, clothing, and equipment over a period of time. It wasn’t easy to make all those changes. And I didn’t get them right on the first attempt. Even the simple question of what to eat and drink during the race to keep me fueled took a lot of research and testing.
To achieve my goal of completing an ultramarathon I knew I would need to approach it the right way. I expanded my personal network by joining local and online running groups. I took advice from others who have experience running that race and others like it. I learned a lot from them, not only in the answers to my own questions, but also the questions that others asked that I hadn’t thought of. People I met within those groups have become friends, and we’ve helped motivate each other by meeting up for training runs together. Nothing like a bit of mutual obligation to get you out of bed on a cold morning.
Just like staying up to date with technology, I needed to understand the products in the trail and ultra running industry. I tested food, hydration, shoes, vests, and clothing – right down to knowing the exact pair of socks that would let me run long distances without blisters. For each of them I went through the same process. What problems do they solve? What types of runners use them? Do they meet one of my own needs?
I can tinker around and learn a few things on my own, but I learn best by following structured training content. So I purchased an ultramarathon training plan that was written specifically for this race and came highly recommended. I mapped out the six months leading up to race day and committed myself to doing one thing each day to get me to that goal. Every day I got up early for a training run, did stretching and foam rolling, or did a gym workout. I was diligent about my training days, but also about my rest days, prioritizing sleep and relaxation as often as necessary to keep me feeling fresh and motivated. Overtraining leads to burnout and injury, which caused a lot of aspiring runners to have to drop out and sell their ticket before race day.
I gave my race preparations the exact priority level in my life they deserved. Above most things, but below the most important things like my family. On one memorable morning I woke up at 2:30am so that I could set off on a five hour training run and still finish in time to make it to my son’s basketball game.
I eliminated the unnecessary things in life that didn’t move me towards my goal, but kept enough space to allow some things in from time to time. I still went to parties, a few nights out with friends, had a few beers now and then, watched some TV, and enjoyed life in general. But I didn’t waste time on anything that kept me away from my training.
It’s hard to just put your head down and slog away at a goal for months on end. We need to see progress to remind ourselves how far we’ve come, and refresh our energy and motivation. So I ran a few other local races during my training to measure my progress. Each one gave me the opportunity to test out my pre-race routines, test my pacing strategies, try out a piece of gear or a nutrition plan, and make some other adjustments.
As race day approached I used the same strategies as I use for job interviews to plan out my logistics. Where will we stay? Where can we buy food so I have a good pre-race meal? How do we get to the race precinct on the day? What time will we need to wake up, and what time will we need to be out the door so that I make my start time?
Race day was like a mini version of my ideal day. It had moments of hard work, but also fun and happiness. My family was there to support me. I was doing something I loved, surrounded by like-minded people that I enjoyed being with. If I could get paid to do it, it would have been perfect.
When I crossed the finish line and hugged my wife and kids it was one of the most satisfying moments of my life. I’d achieved my goal of running an ultramarathon. I felt like I’d given it my all, and left nothing in reserve. The time wasn’t important to me. It didn’t matter to me that hundreds of people beat me, or that I beat hundreds of other people. Finishing was what I set out to achieve.
I allowed myself to enjoy the moment, and enjoy the pay off as well. A few sleep ins, eating some treat meals, and playing more video games in a weekend than I’d played the whole month prior. Within a week I was thinking about the next goals that would add purpose to my life, and starting the mental exercise of planning how they would fit in.
Setting a goal, consistently working to achieve it, and then seeing the results is a feeling that stays with you forever. Achieving the same in your career creates a feeling of happiness and fulfillment on a daily basis. And I believe that any of us, including you, can achieve this.
So where do you begin?
Asking yourself, “What does my perfect day look like?” is a good start. Take a few minutes, if you haven’t already, to think about that question and write down some ideas. Keep tweaking it until you’ve got a nice, clear image of what your perfect day would be. Use that ideal day as the goal that inspires you to keep moving forward.
- Decide where you want to be in the technology industry. An innovator? An early adopter? A late adopter? This will determine many things, including which technologies you should focus on, which job markets have the opportunities in those areas, and what type of companies you should pursue working for.
- Examine the jobs in those areas. What skills do they ask for? What gaps do you need to fill to position yourself for those roles? Are you already a decent candidate? Don’t reject yourself, start applying right away. You might get lucky and land a job quickly. If not, you’ll at least have made a start on refining your application and interview skills.
- Expand your personal network. What meetups and online communities can you get involved in to learn from others, grow your skills, and contribute as well?
- Create something noteworthy. Start a project or blog that showcases your skills and builds your reputation. It doesn’t need to be huge. A useful script or tool, some code samples, a curated newsletter, or a once-weekly blog is all it takes.
- Work on your personal skills. Push yourself outside your comfort zone. Pick up hobbies that involve other people, and that give you things to talk about in conversation with others. Read books and arm yourself with the simple techniques that can get you through any social or professional situation.
- Make better use of your time. Ditch time- wasting activities that add no value to your day. Learn new habits that make the best use of your time, allow you to do quality work, and leave enough space in your day to study, pursue hobbies, and spend time with loved ones.
- Prioritize your health. Establish boundaries at your job and stop working excessive hours. Take up healthy hobbies that involve physical activity. Learn to prepare and cook simple, healthy meals. Stop relying on caffeine and other substances to deal with stress. Establish more discipline in the evenings so that you go to bed and get enough sleep each night.
You should end up with a list of changes that will move you closer to your ideal day. If the changes are big ones, such as changing jobs or relocating to a new city, break them down further into what steps are necessary to make them happen. If you have a partner or family, discuss your goals and plans with them too, because any changes you make will also impact their lives.
It doesn’t need to be a huge overhaul all at once. Just commit to doing one thing each day, or changing one thing each week that will move you towards your ideal day. Pick one problem, and solve that first. If you’re not sure where to start, the top three changes that most people need to make are:
- Stop working excessive hours
- Get more sleep
- Eat healthier
In just a few weeks you’ll feel less stressed and more energized, giving you a solid foundation to keep making changes in other areas.
Treat your life like a marathon, not a sprint. Find the right pace that keeps you moving without crashing in a heap. Take that first step. Then take another. And don’t stop until you reach the finish line.
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