Workplace lessons from my personal trainer: Part 3

Cartoon personal trainerThis is the final part in a series of 3 posts. Here are Part 1 and Part 2.

Often, lessons we learn in one area of our life have relevance in other areas as well. This has proven to be the case for me with some lessons I’ve learned in the gym from my personal trainer. In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I wrote about the first five workplace lessons I’ve learned from my personal trainer:

  1. Be productive, not just busy.
  2. Learn to tell when something doesn’t feel right.
  3. Work smart: push yourself but respect a healthy balance.
  4. Don’t rest on your laurels.
  5. You have to push yourself to grow. Sometimes you need somebody to push you.

Here are the two remaining workplace lessons in this series that I’ve learned from my personal trainer at the gym.

6. Focus on one big goal at a time

Desk and wall with Post-It Notes everywhereI’ve been working with Dave, my personal trainer, for a while. My goal with him has been to build strength by lifting weights. A few times while doing that, I also decided to run in a half marathon. The first time I did this, I naively expected to continue building muscle while also training for endurance running.

Dave cleared up this misperception for me. My weightlifting and running goals were too much to do at the same time. And, actually, they were in conflict with each other. When lifting weights, my body needed rest and food to recover and build muscles. But, when also doing long distance runs, my body had less downtime to build muscle. My body was also using that food I was eating to fuel my body for endurance runs. My muscles could not optimally build both strength and endurance at the same time. My fitness goals were competing for the same limited resources, so I just “got by” on both goals without excelling in either. While I was training for a half marathon, Dave explained, I needed to lower my expectations for weightlifting.

I put this lesson into practice when I was promoted to a manager. I had been in software development for years and had a lot of experience and comfort with Microsoft’s .NET programming languages. Right around the time I got the manager role, my company also began switching to a new technology stack that I’d never programmed in. I was faced with the prospect of learning both a new programming language and management skills.

I had a discussion with my boss in which I laid out my case: I could focus either on learning leadership skills and becoming an excellent manager (but ineffective coder), or I could focus on learning the new programming language and become a great coder (but mediocre manager). I advocated to focus on building my leadership skills, and my boss agreed. He understood that focus was needed to truly learn and excel in one area.

When you’re tempted to spread yourself thin to try to reach several goals at once, take a step back and evaluate what is truly most important to you. You’re going to be more successful with that most important goal if you focus on it alone. To quote Ron Swanson from Parks & Recreation, “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.”

7. Don’t be a peacock

PeacockOne of the things I despise about some gyms are the “peacocks.” For fitness peacocks, one of the most important things about being at the gym is to be seen and admired. Peacocks think fitness and achievement are best when you’re faster, stronger, or thinner than others and you brag about your accomplishments. See anyone taking selfies at the gym? That’s probably a peacock about to strut his stuff on social media.

When working with my personal trainer, the focus is entirely on pushing myself and valuing my own accomplishments without seeking kudos from others. We track my own results and work to improve them over time. I’m not in competition with anyone else at the gym or with any of Dave’s other clients. There is no Hall of Fame.

This quote by Grace Lichtenstein describes my philosophy on success and competition: “Your opponent, in the end, is never really the player on the other side of the net, or the swimmer in the next lane, or the team on the other side of the field, or even the bar you must high jump. Your opponent is yourself, your negative internal voices, your level of determination.” For me, that applies at both the gym and in the workplace. It’s not important to me to outperform others and be sure everyone knows about it. I seek to push myself and accomplish more than I’ve done before.

In my career, I’ve noticed that the people that trumpet their accomplishments the loudest and the most are the typically the ones that have accomplished the least. Believe me, if you do something great, people will notice. You won’t need to be a peacock to make sure everyone notices you. Let your results speak for themselves.

We all like celebration of accomplishments and recognition for a job well done. Of course I feel good when somebody recognizes my effort put in at the gym by complimenting me on being in good shape! The same applies when somebody at work tells me they appreciate my help or that I did well on a project. The key is not tooting your own horn for the purpose of bragging or getting kudos. That’s what a peacock does.

My 7 Workplace Lessons Learned from My Personal Trainer

There you have it, 7 lessons to apply in the workplace that I learned from my personal trainer:

  1. Be productive, not just busy.
  2. Learn to tell when something doesn’t feel right.
  3. Work smart: push yourself but respect a healthy balance.
  4. Don’t rest on your laurels.
  5. You have to push yourself to grow. Sometimes you need somebody to push you.
  6. Focus on one big goal at a time.
  7. Don’t be a peacock.

I learned these lessons at the gym. Have you learned any workplace lessons in an unexpected way or place? Let me know by posting a comment.

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