For a lifetime, I’ve been a fan of playing the long-game. And, I’ve been fascinated by artists and athletes who also play the long-game. I’m talking about the career long-game; people who don’t quit or look for the easy way out. People who stick through tough times and are committed, to a job, company, their passion, or hobby. As a self-aware behavioral geek, I love studying behaviors that create success.
Earlier this year, I traveled to Alaska for a holiday from work. The unchartered terrain, wintery climate, diverse wildlife, pristine air, and rugged outdoors are relaxing and exhilarating. Winding down and exploring Alaska always leaves me learning so many new things. This particular trip, I was fortunate to dig deeper into the world of Iditarod, the long-distance sled dog race run from Anchorage to Nome in the US’s most northerly state. These mushers are tough. And, so are their dog teams.
The training, planning, commitment, and physical elements that these athletes and their teams face head-on remind me of playing the long-game in career planning.
Meeting commitment in the flesh
Through observation and inquiry, I learned that commitment to the long-game in Iditarod is a key component to success. I also had the opportunity to meet Libby Riddles, the first woman to win the Iditarod in 1985, and her dog Can Can. Fascinated to learn more about her journey, I submerged myself in her book, “Race Across Alaska”, by Libby Riddles and Tim Jones, to learn more about her journey.
I discovered numerous parallels between the Iditarod champion and the career champion. And, while there are numerous competencies that Libby demonstrated in her journey as a professional musher, the top 4 that I found most interesting are listed below:
Mental strength is something every athlete develops. The ability to set a long-range goal, work towards it, and stay motivated over a long period of time is foundational. If you break easily on-the-job, even in a dysfunctional environment, and find yourself skipping out of position, you most likely need to develop mental toughness. Endurance athletes understand mental strength and the importance of staying focused on the goal, hence the phrase “that which doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”.
Curiosity is constant on the Iditarod trail. While these athletes practice and prepare, they are in constant survival mode and learning to navigate weather conditions, getting lost on the trail, and learning what their teams need. When we stay curious at work, we remain open to possibilities of what can be and what we can offer.
Reduced stress helps us stay calm in chaos. When we’re agile, we can outlast pain points that arise on a daily basis. Being agile lessens stress and results in a more resilient demeanor. It prevents making rash decisions that can lead to abrupt career changes.
Persistence beats resistance is necessary to stay grounded while pushing through tough situations. Tenacity reminds us that pain is short term, but producing personal best results lasts a lifetime.
The next time you consider giving up, giving in, or doubting your journey, slow down, breathe, and calibrate on the 4 competencies listed above. We all have what we need to be successful in the long-game, we simply need to refocus and stay the course just as the mushers and their dog teams do.