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How to Talk about Triathlon (At Work) Without Talking about Triathlon

The first time I saw this parody of “Sh*t Triathletes Say”, or, similarly, ”Sh*t Triathletes Don’t Say”, I thought it was hilarious. It’s hilarious because it’s true. And also was a wake-up call about how stupid we (triathletes, that is - that’s me too, btw!) can sound sometimes when we talk about our sport to people who don’t share the passion or the interest.

But I get it - training for and competing in a triathlon can be life-changing. It’s really freakin’ hard. And when you do it successfully, you not only want the world to know that you did it, you want the world to know WHY you did it, and HOW you did it. You believe that your dedication to triathlon is responsible for every success, epiphany, and achievement in your life.

There is a time and a place to talk about your love for triathlon and extensive knowledge of efficiency drills and breakthrough workouts. Unfortunately, that time is usually not during challenging moments at the office. But there is a way that you can talk about the lessons you’ve learned through triathlon, without talking about triathlon.

Here are a few examples for you to try out the next time you’re tempted to say some sh*t triathletes say.

On Emotional Intelligence

  • The situation at work: That time you spent the last quarter doing market research to inform a new product launch. Your customers are telling you what they want, but your manager is proposing to take a completely different direction - one that you know is not in line with the customers’ needs. Every time you talk about this with your boss, you feel steam coming out of your ears.

  • What you say out loud: “I’d like to take some time to gather insights from our research that supports this new product direction.”

  • What you mean when you say this: During long races, your spirit and patience are constantly tested. It is a tiring mental journey that challenges you to keep a sharp mind so that you can troubleshoot your way to the finish line. Thanks to this experience, you gained insight into your physical cues and learned to control your emotional response to stressful situations.

On Resilience

  • The situation at work: That time you lost a major account and had to lay-off several key contributors on your team.

  • What you say out loud: “This did not work out the way we planned or wanted it to, but we can get through this. We’re losing some valuable team members, but we’ll learn to get more streamlined by the end of this.”

  • What you mean when you say this: Last year was a beast. Your training was interrupted by two injuries, sickness, and your spouse losing their job. But you finished the year a better athlete and partner. Not only did you make it to the start line of your A-race, you finished within your goal time and learned to avoid the same injury again in the future.

On Prioritization

  • The situation at work: That time you had to present a product roadmap to senior management, and justify the prioritization of features.

  • What you say out loud: “Given our limited development resources, I’ve had to make some hard choices in features to cut from our roadmap. What you see here are the features that I believe will help us meet our annual goals and maintain our company values that we decided earlier this year.”

  • What you mean when you say this: If anyone can prioritize the most precious resource - time - you can. You are managing 10 hours of training per week, plus 50 hours at work, 8 hours a night of sleep, and 2 hours every evening with family or friends.

On Self-Confidence

  • The situation at work: That time you were asked to lead a team or project in a functional area in which you don’t have hands-on experience.

  • What you say out loud: “I know I can do this. I’ve done really hard things in the past that I didn’t think I could do.”

  • What you mean when you say this: Finishing that Ironman required you to dig deep at a level you didn’t know you could, but you did it, proving to yourself that you have a drive to succeed at really hard things.

The time-commitment and emotional investment in your training benefits your career, no doubt. It is important for your employer (or potential employers) to know your skills and the value you bring to them, and you can demonstrate this to them without talking their ears off about triathlon.

If you leave out the details of HOW you’ve gained these skills over time, you may find that your co-workers admire you as a leader and colleague and will naturally become more curious about your athletic achievements. Your drive and dedication is inspiring more people than you know. Keep on keeping on.

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