Category Archives: career

Post-Race Interview

CTCFinishI recently returned from South Africa where I competed in the four day Cape Rouleur Pro-Am Road Race, and the one-day Cape Town Cycle Tour (CTCT). I finished 1st Master and 3rd Amateur Overall at the Cape Rouleur, and 1st Master and 6th Overall in the Top Seeded Amateurs Group at the CTCT.

While in Cape Town I also gave a talk about work, life and cycling at the University of Stellenbosch Business School. After the event I was interviewed about my experience in training for and racing the CTCT by Brian Taylor. Below is the transcript of the interview.

Q. Were all the riders in your Top Seeded Group at the Cape Town Cycle Tour amateurs, or mixed with the pros?

The Professionals and Elite Amateurs (typically young guys who hold a UCI Elite racing license) headed off first, about five minutes before us. The guys in my 1A Race Group were the Top Seeded Amateurs and Masters (40+ years old). To make it into this group, riders must qualify by riding specific events throughout the year, in South Africa and abroad. There were around 200 guys in the 1A Group that I raced with.

Q. Were you racing in a team or individually? I am sure that makes a difference if you racing against competitors in a team and you are on your own?

I raced as an individual, which is why the final few kilometres were so difficult as I did not have teammates to lead me out, and I hit the front too early in the final 300 meters or so. But for my main event in Europe in April, the Giro Sardinia, I have a team of four guys riding for me. This means that I am sheltered from the wind, helped to close down gaps, and have a ‘train’ to lead me out in sprint finishes.

Q. What were your tactics for the Cape Town race?

In such a large group you need to make sure you stay amongst the front 20 or so guys throughout the race or you risk missing a split, especially on the tougher climbing sections like Chapman’s Peak and Suikerbossie. For these two climbing sections, I moved right to the front of the group at the base of the climbs, meaning that I could save energy by dropping back somewhat as the pace increased, but still keep contact. The riders tend to string out on these climbs. So if you are still in contact with the string of riders and do not lose contact, then it is kind of like an accordion as the long line of riders comes back together on the descents and flatter segments. This tactic worked perfectly for me, and after Sukerbossie I was with the front forty or so riders remaining – the rest of the starters had been left behind. I then worked my way towards the front ten riders by the 5km to go mark.

Q. You finished as 1st Master and 6th overall, but you said you found yourself at the front too early in the final 300 meters. When should you have launched your sprint?

It is difficult to go into the final kilometres racing guys you don’t know. In the final five kilometres I gradually worked my way towards the leading riders, and you will see from my on-bike video that in the final one kilometre or so I am in a great position, sitting in 4th or 5th position. But then in the final 350 meters the three guys to my left do not open-up their sprint and accelerate! And suddenly I am at the front, but with no wheel to follow. I am in the wind and I know it is too soon to go full gas. That’s not good. Then the three guys jump past me on the right. Of course, it would have been better if I was behind those guys – ideally I would have followed their lead, and then came past in the final 100 meters or so. As it was, I had to do a full 250 meters on my own, and you can see I fade towards the end as one guy comes past me on the line.

Click here to see my on-bike video of the final few kilometers: Video of Sprint at CTCT

So a bunch sprint is kind of like a very fast moving game of chess, as you need to keep a clear mind and predict the moves of your competitors. That is not easy when you are doing around 60kmh – sometimes you get it right, and sometimes you don’t. But I was still very happy with the result, crossing the line as 1st Master for the Top Seeded Group.

Q. Considering you are 45 and riding at the Masters level, the other chaps in front of you looked several years younger. So you did remarkably well?

I am not doing too badly for an old guy, especially since I train and race clean – I do not dope. My belief is that it is all about how far you can push your body as you age. Cycling performance is basically a function of power output, body weight and aerodynamics. Then comes self-belief, tactical wisdom and an ability to suffer.

I focused on weight loss over the winter, and my current race weight is at around 63.5 kilograms, which is the lightest I have been since returning to racing six years ago.  Body weight is especially important for climbing, as the heavier you are the more power you need to produce to overcome gravity.

As I am only 168cm tall I can ride an aerodynamically efficient position, and I race with quite narrow handlebars to reduce frontal drag. For the race I used an aero one-piece body suit and aero helmet, which combined can save 3 to 5 watts of power at race speed. That basically means that because you are cutting through the air more efficiently, you need to produce less power to hold a given speed. Over three hours of racing, those energy savings can help to give you that little bit extra when things get tough.

When in top condition, my power output (the amount of power my body can produce by pushing on the pedals and measured by a Power Meter in my crank set) is around 5.3 watts per kilogram of body weight for a 20 minute threshold effort, and I can produce a peak power output of about 1200 watts in a sprint. While those numbers would not win me a Professional World Championship against Peter Sagan, they are certainly within the range of domestic-level professionals and in the upper end of performance for elite Masters road cyclists.

For a discussion of typical power outputs by different levels of cyclists see: Watts/kg on the Power Curve

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Q. Is your bike purpose made for you or off the shelf?

My race bike is off the shelf – a 6.5-kilogram carbon fibre LOOK 695 with Shimano Components and Zipp carbon wheels. It is a special edition painted in the style of the artist Piet Mondrian, which I think is pretty cool. I talk about the intersection between art and business in my keynote speaking, so it’s nice to ride what I preach.

Q. How often do you train for this sort of race? 

I train between ten and fifteen hours per week, but I only aim to be in top condition for around eight to ten weeks each year – March–April and late August-first half September.  So when I am building up to a big event, it is more like fifteen hours, including a few hours a week in the gym for power training and core strength. I do more than eighty percent of my training alone, as each of my sessions is planned to develop specific areas such as strength, power or endurance.

In the ‘off’ months when I am working more, I train about six hours a week. In the ‘old’ days trainers talked about the need to do lots of slow and steady ‘base’ miles in the off season, but modern training approaches challenge this, especially for Masters athletes who need to work harder to maintain muscle mass, strength and power. So my emphasis during the months when I ride fewer hours is on maintaining power and strength, mostly on my indoor trainer and in the gym, not riding hours and hours of endurance.

Q. What kind of other special training do you do?

The important thing is to train for the hardest part of the race that you are targeting. It is pointless to do lots of six hour rides at a steady pace, if the race you are targeting is just three hours long, will be raced very fast and has half a dozen short and steep climbs. If the race has short, steep climbs then you need to train your body to do repeated explosive efforts over short, steep climbs. If you are racing events in the mountains or time trialling, then you need to train your body to hold high-power output for longer durations, say between twenty and forty minutes. In this case, explosiveness is less important.

My training program is based around a four-week cycle, with three weeks of increasing intensity followed by a one-week rest period in which I hardly touch my bike. I have found that as I age, recovery is increasingly important so I monitor my resting heart rate every morning. If my heart rate is ten to twenty percent above normal when I wake, then this is usually a good sign of fatigue.

Using a power meter during training is also very important to monitor fitness and fatigue. For example, if I do a warm-up, followed by five minute effort, and see that my power output is more than five percent below what is expected at a given heart rate, then this is a pretty sure sign that my body has not recovered from a previous training session. So I simply get off my bike, and shift that training session from the morning until the evening, or even the next day. It is amazing that sometimes an extra five or six hour of rest is all the body needs to be prepared for the next training effort at full intensity.

Q. How do you balance your work and sport?

I am constantly juggling three balls – my family, my cycling and my work. I fully believe that it is impossible to balance things equally all of the time – at certain times of the year I am a very good cyclist and (I think) a good Dad as I am home a lot. But at those times I am not working too much. At other times of the year I am very focused on work, a bit less of a good Dad in that I away from home quite a lot, and not at a top level as a cyclist.

The main conference periods In Europe are May-June and September-November, which is when I earn more than seventy percent of my annual income. During the other months when I am focused on training and racing, I work a bit but not as intensively. I might give one talk a week, or a day of teaching here and there.

During my peak training months, especially from December until March and in July and August, I do not do long-haul travel, and I don’t do multi-day workshops as this disrupts my training too much. I am able to do this as I am self-employed, but the speakers’ agencies and Business Schools with which I work also understand and respect this.

So I plan my year around juggling my cycling and work. And of course, I try to be a good husband and dad most of the time. Although, a few weeks ago I was shouting at my kids at the end of a long day on the bike, and my eight year old son Charlie said: “Pappa, you’re tired and hungry. Maybe we should not be having this conversation right now.”

Q. What are your next goals?

I will now take a week of rest, and then do a heavy ten day training block to prepare for the Tour of Cyprus, a three day Pro-Am stage race at the start of April. Then at the end of April I will race the six-day Giro Sardinia. Both races are quite mountainous, so I am hoping for some good results given that I am climbing well at the moment.

You can find my talk at USB here:  What is Success, Really?

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TEDx Liege – What is Success, Really?

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VIDEO COMING SOON

TEDxJamie

Imagine if you worked for half of your life to be become a success, to really become someone.

You have this bold ambition to reach the moon.

But then when you become that person, you realize that it’s not who you want to be at all.

What would you do then?

I was born in a small country town called Shepparton about 200kms north of Melbourne in the South East of Australia. I was the 2nd youngest of seven children.

It was not always easy to make ends meet, and all of my older brothers and sisters left school to go to work by the time they were 15. It was a necessity, not a choice.

But as a kid, and despite the hardships, I had a big dream.

I dreamed of racing in Europe as a professional cyclist.

I started racing a bike on the BMX track when I was just nine years old, and by the time I was 16 I had progressed to the velodrome and racing on the road.

In 1987, the year that this photo was in the local newspaper I was one of the top riders in the State and on my way to the national championships with my friend and training partner Stuart McKenzie. That’s me on the left.

Cycling was my life, and I worked incredibly hard to reach my European dream. But at the same time, something had started to happen.

I was not just good at cycling; I was also doing very well at school.

I had dreamed of being a professional road cyclist since I was nine years old, but despite having enough talent to make it to the national level I had increasing doubts.

It was not that any one person told me that I should abandon my ambitions, and my parents were incredibly supportive.

But the influence of my environment – school career advisors, teachers and friends slowly but surely created anxiety and fear.

I was told that cycling was a nice hobby, but that I would struggle to make a living from it. That the chances of really making it to the top as a professional athlete were small.

I don’t think that people offered this ‘wisdom’ because they wanted to hurt me or to stop me being happy. Quite the opposite – they wanted me to follow a life that lead to stability and prosperity, and with that prosperity they thought would come happiness.

The message was that a cycling career was a dream, and that I should be more realistic especially since I was clever academically.  Dreams are risky, and dreams might not pay the bills.

These pressures were only compounded when I did very well in my end of School exams, and was offered a grant to study at the University of Melbourne.

You see, where I come from only a handful of kids had gone on to tertiary education. And now I had this incredible opportunity – this chance to get an education.

But I knew that studying a degree full-time, as well as doing the part-time work I would have to do to make it through, would never allow me the time to compete at a high level.

In the end, the choice to pursue an academic path was my own but it was not my most desired path.

I am not sure if you can understand what I am saying – I felt that it was almost inevitable that I should stop cycling, even though it was a heart-breaking choice.

A few weeks before my 18th birthday I moved to Melbourne, and I let go of my European dream.

What I did do for the next 20 years was work incredibly hard. I brought that spirit of discipline and hard work to my studies, and I was very competitive.

I really wanted to make my family proud. But there was also something else – as a kid from a working class background I really resented many of the people around me at university.

The ones who had been born into privilege. The ones who I thought had it easy. I wanted to be better than them.

I didn’t really have career role models when I was growing up, so I looked around. And the wealthiest, most respected and well travelled professors that I saw were the Business School Professors.

So I decided I would become a Business School Professor, and not just any Business School Professor but one of the world’s best.

After my undergraduate degree, I went on to another graduate scholarship and by the time I was 29 years old I was working in London at one of the world’s leading graduate management schools.

And I kept working hard and getting promoted. At the age of 39 I was a professor, I had published in some of the world’s top management journals, and in addition I had started my own consulting business. I was earning more money than I ever imagined could be possible, and I was travelling the world.

But something was missing. You see, when I left Shepparton back in 1988 I had this belief that if I worked hard, and if I had success, then I would be happy. But I was far from happy.

And this is what I looked like. Yes, I was “successful” in a professional sense, and I know that many people envied what I had achieved. But I was tired, I was arrogant, I was unhealthy and I had this inner unhappiness. I was a bit of an asshole, because I had to be to survive in that environment.

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I was now a husband and a father, and yet my obsession with work meant that I was not particularly good at being either.

I was working long hours, I was travelling constantly and I was obsessed with being the best.

I remember reading bed time stories to my three children at this time, and skipping parts of the story so I could get back to work. And of course, the kids had heard those stories countless times, so they knew!

The only problem was that I really didn’t’ know who I wanted to be.

And of course, I also realized it was no longer about me. It was about us. What did we want to become as a family?

There is a quote from the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”

In 2009 my wife Anne-Mie and I spent many hours talking together, and these discussion culminated in a drawing exercise. We sat together with a large sheet of paper and co-created a hand drawn picture of what success really meant to us.

The pencil and ink sketches that we created revealed a much wider definition of success – we aspired to have a loving relationship and to live in a semi-urban environment in which our three children could play and be free.

We desired more family leisure time, and the opportunity to actively participate in the children’s social, artistic and sporting activities.

We both wanted to work, but to engage in professional activities that we enjoyed and which still provided the opportunity for occasional international travel.

And of course, in the bottom right of our picture was a hand drawn bicycle. I dreamed of returning to elite-level competitive cycling because that fire, that love for cycling had never left me.

I set a big and ambitious goal – to race at the next World masters Games in Torino in 2013. The World Masters Games organization is an amazing thing – its basically an Olympics for old people, and just like the real thing is held every four years.

The only problem of course was that this picture did not fit with my career, and a few days later I resigned my job at that prestigious business school to become a husband, father, writer, speaker and, of course, a cyclist.

Taking that leap involved confronting a lot of fears – but Anne-Mie and I decided to try and find our way.

On the 8th of August 2013, I stood on that start line of the mens road race at the World Masters Games in Torino with 160 of the world’s best Masters cyclists.

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I had been preparing for this moment for four years, and in the process I had become a different person.

But of course it was not about who I had become. It was about what we had become.

With me in Torino were my three beautiful children and my wonderful wife Anne-Mie. Just before being marshaled onto the start line my little girl Hannah came up to me and said something I will never forget. She said “Pappa, it’s okay if you don’t win.”

And it was true, because I realized at that moment that being in Torino was about something much more than winning a bike race. It was about the journey.

It was about having the courage to create a new life and to define success in our own way.

It had not been easy, and there had been heartache and setbacks along the way. I had crashed in races and broken bones, there had been the two years when my income had been almost nothing as I learned new skills and connected to new people towards become a writer and a speaker.

But by 2013 almost everything that Anne-Mie and I had drawn in that picture four years before had fallen into place.

And the race was nine laps of an eight km circuit through Park Valentino and the streets of Turin. It was nine laps of pain as we averaged more than 40km per hour, and every single lap I was cheered on by Anne-Mie and the kids.

And I can’t tell you how this felt, to be living this childhood dream. A dream that I thought I had left behind.

Every lap we went over Mt Cappucini. That little mountain had a 1km climb with up to 18% gradient. And each and every lap there were twenty fewer guys, until there were only about fifteen of us left. Fifteen of the best Masters cyclists in the world.

And at that moment, something crazy started to go through my mind – I could win!

But in the end I didn’t win, That was an incredible Czech cyclist. And an Italian came 2nd. But I did come home with a bronze medal.

So my message for you is this. It’s great to strive for success, to shoot for the moon. But there are many moons out there in the Universe, so please make sure that the moon you are shooting for is your own.

Thank you!

Hannah

 

Guilt, Lies & Cycling

I stopped cycling at an elite level when I was eighteen years old. After accepting a scholarship to study at the University of Melbourne, I moved to the city, 200kms south of the small country town where I grew up. I moved in with my older brother and sister, and within a few weeks started classes. I also found some work to make ends meet – the first was an evening job as a kitchen-hand in the restaurant of a local pub, and the other was the 6am-8am morning shift at a nearby gas station.

I arrived in Melbourne with some boxes of belongings and my racing bike. But I think I had already accepted that racing at a top level was behind me. The previous year had been really tough emotionally and financially due to my Dad’s illness, and as I looked forward I found it hard to see any way that high-level sporting competition could fit with what would be required to get through university. Everyone at home had such high hopes for my academic future, and I felt a responsibility not to let them down.

After a couple of months in Melbourne I sold my beautiful Italian Chesini road racer and used some of the money to buy a clunky mountain bike for commuting to classes and work. In the second year at University I got a part-time job as a bicycle courier, and spent my free hours racing parcels and documents to and from offices across Melbourne. I was the fastest non-powered delivery guy that the company had ever seen, and it was fun to experience the courier culture of the inner city. I continued to follow professional cycling of course, and even mountain biked a bit, but my days as a competitive road cyclist were over.

As I have discussed in my previous blog posts, I spent the next twenty years chasing “success” before I had the chance to stand back and reflect upon what that concept really meant to me. I have described how my wife and I created a new picture of what we wanted for our future, and how part of that picture included my dream to return to elite-level road cycling. In 2009 I set myself a goal – that within four years I would compete at in the Men’s Road Race at he next World Masters Games in Torino, Italy.

When I embarked on my cycling dream I was 39 years old, and weighed about 15 kilograms more than I did when I hung up my wheels two decades before. My aerobic fitness was pretty lousy, as besides commuting to work I had done no real endurance training for a very, very long time.

But the weird thing about getting into training again was not how my body felt – it was the way my head worked. As I started to train again, I would find myself out on the road with a sense of guilt hanging over me. What I was guilty about was the fact that I was not working, that I was not being productive in a professional sense. There was this strange feeling that what I was doing was bad, and that I shouldn’t be spending time in such a self-centred way.

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Hard work had been such a part of my life for such a long time, that I had relegated my personal passions and hobbies to the domain of the frivolous. It was not just cycling – by my mid thirties I went to the gym infrequently, rarely read a long book and only occasionally relaxed in front of the TV with my wife. I was infected with the ‘busyness’ disease so typical of high-achievers.

So I would be out on the road, and instead of enjoying the riding my mind would be in overdrive – I should be working, I should be achieving stuff. Sometimes, especially in the first few months, I would be so overwhelmed that I would cut my training session short and head home.

I think the guilt also stemmed from the fact that I did not know anyone else my age who was doing what I was doing. I felt a bit ashamed that while others were working and being responsible, I was cycling in the middle of the day. I would drop off my kids at School in the morning in my cycling gear, and I could see the strange glances from the other parents, most of whom were on their way to work. More than a few mothers asked my wife Anne-Mie if I had become unemployed – they were genuinely concerned.

At first, I also felt the need to tell white lies. A client would ask to schedule a conference call or meeting, and I would say that I was not available as I had another work commitment. Of course, there was no work commitment at all – I was following a pretty disciplined training schedule, and if a call or meeting clashed with my plan then I would try to move it.

The same went for speaking or teaching opportunities – if a conference or program date conflicted with specific race event or important training block, then I would decline by saying I was already booked. I thought that if I told the truth about my training or racing, then people would think I was not professional and that I was putting my sport ahead of my professional responsibilities. Of course, this was exactly what I was doing, but I was fearful of the consequences of being honest.

The problem of course was that telling these white lies compounded my feelings of guilt as I was worried what would happen if people found out what I was doing. And some of my colleagues and clients did find out through following me on social media – I posted about my cycling, and often uploaded my training data to one of the cycling specific tracker apps. Not very clever, I know.

After about two years there was a turning point during a ride with a CIO friend of mine. We were talking about the feelings of guilt that sometimes accompanied my training rides, and Jean-Pierre said to me: “Jamie, you should not feel any guilt. Do you know how many guys would love to do what you are doing? You should feel guilty if you don’t go out on a training ride – because you can!”

That talk was the catalyst for a change for me and I can honestly say that the feelings of guilt completely disappeared after that. It was also a turning point in another way – from that moment I no longer told lies about my training and racing, Instead I did the opposite – I became completely honest by sharing my Torino dream with others.

Whenever I have the opportunity I talk to clients, colleagues and friends about my cycling passion. I talk about how much I love my sport, about the thrill of racing and of course about the bikes, equipment, nutrition and training. I show them photos of my races, and beautiful places where I have trained.

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What astounds me is how many other people have at some point in their lives also been passionate about something that they have left behind, and with a bit of prodding will share their hidden desire to reconnect to what gives them joy. And it does not have to be cycling – I talk to business people who have been aspiring runners, swimmers, triathletes, surfers, musicians, artists, chefs and writers.

But something else happened after I started to talk more openly about my dream to return to competitive cycling – people started to help me on the journey. Colleagues started to ask me about the best time to schedule calls, and if meetings might conflict with important events or training goals. My clients started to offer to do Skype video calls instead of me travelling to their offices, and I even had business contacts introduce me to possible coaches and training partners.

My colleagues at business schools such as Antwerp Management, London Business School and ESMT in Berlin have offered me understanding. The same goes for my amazing colleagues Eithne Jones and Sabine Bulteel who look after my international keynote speaking engagements. Of course, they are never delighted when I turn down an opportunity but they send me the message that my cycling commitments in no way damage our long-term work together.

That’s why it was not just me who won that medal at the World Masters Games in Torino, or who was on the podium at the Giro Sardinia last year, or who accepted the winners trophy in Cape Town earlier this year.

It was a collective effort.

What I Think About When I think About Cycling

To understand why returning to elite level cycling was so important to me, I think it is necessary to  share a story.

It is funny, but I cannot remember a time when I could not ride a bicycle. I have very few photos of when I was a small kid, as money was scarce growing up and my parents were more focused on getting food on the table than spending money at the photo lab. But I do have a crumply white bordered picture from when I was maybe 3 years old, sitting on a rusty metal three-wheeler. I have very red hair, fair skin, loads of freckles and a beaming crooked-tooth smile.

A bike was an essential childhood tool for a kid growing up in a small country town in the country Australia. There were miles of trails and jumps in the bush that ran along the muddy Goulburn and Broken rivers that meandered past Shepparton. In the summer we would ride our bikes to our favourite swimming spots, or go fresh water crayfish catching in the irrigation channels that criss-crossed the orchards on the outskirts of town.

In the mid 1970s we all had dragsters, and then I got a second-hand BMX for my 9th birthday. The arrival of BMX was a life changer for me as I finally discovered a sport that I enjoyed and was reasonably good at. As a scrawny little kid, I was really not cut out for Aussie Rules football, which is a violent cross-between of rugby and judo. And I found cricket, which is basically like baseball on valium, unbelievably boring.

So I joined the Shepparton BMX Club which had its track at the back of the Twilight Drive-In Movie Theatre on the outskirts of town, and I would race there every Saturday morning. My training involved doing a newspaper delivery round for an hour every night after School, and racing around the bush with my mates.

When I was 12 I decided to have a go at track racing. My brother Robbie had messed around on the track, and I was good friends with a kid named Paul O’Brien who’s big brother Shaun was a talented cyclist who raced at the State and National level, and eventually went on to become an Olympic medallist. There was a cycling club in Shepparton, and the club had constructed an Olympic standard concrete velodrome – quite an undertaking in a town of just 14,000 people in which bike racing was considered a bit of an oddity. I remember going along to watch Shaun race, and I was captivated by the speed and excitement of the banked piste.

My fascination with the track soon turned into a passion for road cycling, and my bedroom became like a shrine to the Tour de France, with posters of my heroes Phil Anderson, Bernard Hinault, Greg Lemond and Miguel Indurain. One of my club mate’s Dad was an ex-professional cyclist, and their family had a VCR. I remember racing to his house whenever a Video of the Tour arrived, and watching my first Belgian classic and Paris-Roubaix. All that I dreamed about was becoming a professional cyclist in Europe, and I started to train harder and harder.

By the time I was sixteen years old I had qualified to race the Australian National Championships in Launceston, Tasmania. On the way to Launceston I had achieved high-level results at the provincial and State championship level, and had discovered my ability as a punchy climber. At just 168cm tall and around 62kgs, I was built to go fast when gravity kicked-in. It was difficult for me to always do well – most of the junior-level racing in Australia was on flat terrain that favoured bigger kids. But the state selectors saw my potential.

I never forget being woken up by my Dad at 5am the morning that the State junior team for the Australian National Championships was announced. In those days, the team lists were released in the Sun newspaper, and my dad had waited at the newsagent all night for the papers to make the journey up from the printing presses in Melbourne.

My father was so proud that I had made the team, and we both knew that this was a huge step towards a possible place at the Australian Institute of Sport, and my dream of racing in Europe. In the end, the National Championships were an anti-climax – I fell terribly ill with a virus a few days before, and barely made the top ten. But I knew that I had the ability to race with the best in Australia.

Then, my family’s world began to unravel. My Dad had always been a troubled person, battling alcoholism and a complex personality. But by 1987, the same year that I qualified for the Nationals, he had been suffering from worsening bouts of depression. This manifested itself in full-blown bi-polar disorder, and during 1988 he stopped working and was institutionalized.

My Dad’s mental decline was devastating for my mother, and also hit my 14 year-old brother very hard. Relations between my parents and several of my other brothers and sisters were strained, so I felt a huge responsibility on my shoulders – not just to support my mother and little brother emotionally, but also to contribute to the family financially through working part time.

At the same time that my Father’s illness was worsening, I was also entering my final year of High School. I was an intelligent kid, and had always done well at School. I had never found it difficult to balance my schoolwork and cycling, but with Dad’s illness and the added burden of needing to increase my part-time working to help Mum financially, something had to give.

With my Dad in and out of psychiatric hospital there was no money for us to travel, and I had to rely on friends to get to races. It was a struggle to buy racing-quality equipment, and I remember being laughed at on the start line of more than one race for my cheap balloon like tubular tyres. I became an expert on bike maintenance, wheel truing and puncture repair.

The second half of the 1988 road season was a disaster for me, and I will never forget the moment I was dropped by the lead group in the State Championships. Twelve months before I was the one attacking on the climbs, and now I was being left behind. My Mum and little brother were waiting at the car after the race, and we drove the 150 kms home in silence.

A couple of months after the State Championships I sat my High School finishing exams, and remarkably did very well. In fact, I did so well that I was offered a place to study an undergraduate degree at the University of Melbourne, as well as a state-funded scholarship for the underprivileged.

Everyone around me was so happy with my academic achievement – my family, our neighbours and friends, my teachers and even the people at the supermarket where I worked. My brother and sister who lived in Melbourne offered for me to live with them for the first year, as the scholarship was not enough to pay for university housing. I would also have to continue part-time working to get through.

Of all of the hundreds of kids on the housing estate where I had grown up, only a handful had gone on to tertiary education, and now I had the opportunity to join that privileged few. But for the previous six years – for more than a third of my life – all I had dreamed about was racing my bike in Europe. And it was not just a dream – I really believed that I had the engine and the self-discipline to make it as a professional. Now my dreams were crashing up against cold reality – my father’s illness, economic necessity and social expectations.

I was not yet 18 years old, and I had to make a choice.

 

Feel the Fear, Then Do it Anyway

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In this post I will talk about the fears that prevent us from chasing our dreams, and the path I took to win a bronze medal in the Cycllng Road Race at the World Masters Games in Torino, Italy.

In my last blogpost I talked about how status anxiety drives far too many of us to over-commit financially, thereby locking us into jobs that we hate. We then feel trapped and unable to pursue a different and more fulfilling lifework path, especially if that new path involves financial unknowns.

As a non-linear career progression, anyone who pursues the path of lifework needs to acknowledge that certain givens are no longer valid. Most of us expect that our income will increase year by year throughout our career, and that our reputation, professional status and social standing will steadily grow. Indeed, if this is not the case then most people feel insecurity and fear.

Embarking on a non-linear career adventure often requires an investment in time and money as one builds new skills, explores new contacts and networks, and creates the platform for lifework.  In turn, this sometimes require a ‘downgrading’ of one’s lifestyle and expenses, and even some changes to the social circles in which we move if those interactions involve expenses we can no longer afford.

The further away from one’s core expertise that lifeworking entails, the greater the re-adjustment of living expenses that is needed. For some people this can be a difficult realisation – for others it can be terrifying.

It is not only financial insecurity that prevents us from pursuing a wider definition of success, and a happier and more purposeful life. The people around us can also have a powerful and negative effect upon our choices in life – even those who love us the most.

Besides financial worries, the next most significant set of fears that I faced when my wife Anne-Mie and I decided to embark upon our lifework project related to my social and professional environment. I lost many hours of sleep thinking about the likely reactions of bosses, peers and colleagues and it took a lot of courage to tell these people about my decision to change my life.

I had been mentored throughout my career by colleagues who had chosen to follow linear career paths. They had worked hard to pass the gruelling and competitive process of promotion from Assistant to Associate to Full Professor, and in some cases to departmental or even institutional leadership.

The reaction from some of these people was shock and disbelief at my decision to step of the track, and in one case my decision was met by anger. I was told that I was “throwing away my talent” – that I was going from being a somebody to being a nobody. I was also criticised for “betraying the investment” that the institution had made in me, and exposed to hurtful gossip.

To an extent I felt that the investment story was true – the institution had paid for my doctoral studies, and provided me an incredible developmental opportunity – and I experienced a real sense of guilt. I had been promoted and rewarded handsomely, but the reality was that these promotions and rewards involved me spending a lot of my time doing things that I really did not enjoy. I found academic research for peer-reviewed publication to be tedious, and the organizational politics, committee meetings, recruitment interviews, budgeting and grading sucked the life out of me.

What I really loved was interacting with real people – the managers with whom I shared the classroom as part of my teaching on executive education programs. But as is the case with most Business Schools, mid-career faculty were discouraged from taking on too much teaching as the real focus should be on research and publication.

So I found myself in the situation that 80% of my energy was going into tasks that I hated – and I thought to myself that life is too short to continue doing that. But of course, and what I have realised since, many people in organizations spend an awful lot of their lives being promoted into jobs just like the one I had – the job with the big title and big salary that involves you letting go of what it is that you really love to do.

But of course, many of the people with whom I worked could not and would not understand my selfishness in wanting to do stuff that made me happy. I was even called to a meeting with senior management after resigning my position and offered a significant increase in salary to get back on to the organizational track. I politely declined – they just didn’t get it.

What I appreciated was the wisdom of several of the senior people with whom I worked to respect my decision, and to offer me an on going relationship with the institution as a free agent. I feel a very strong loyalty to those people, and especially a guy by the name of Olaf. I do everything that I can to support him and his team, and I really hope to continue our collaboration until I am old and grey.

In the end I realised (and as I have discovered through conversations with countless other professionals who are pursuing a lifework agenda), one needs to accept that not everyone in a given professional circle will understand the decision of a non-linear career path choice. The people who matter the most are your partner, your family and your friends. They are the ones who will live with the consequences of lifeworking, and they need to have their own fears addressed.

One important piece of advice is not to expect full understanding from parents, especially parents from the post-war generation that only ever experienced the industrial-age work model. You can only communicate to Mum and Dad that you will not become bankrupt and homeless – this is what I did for my parents-in-law in Belgium, and although they were not exactly delighted by our lifework choice they understood that their grandchildren would not go hungry.

This area of parental or wider family pressure also overlaps with the status obsession that I discussed in my previous post – many parents feel ashamed if they think that their children will not be able to move in the social circles that are their ‘birth right’ and to which they themselves have often worked very hard to ascend.

My Mum in Australia was wonderful when I told her that I was leaving my job to go independent. She provided nothing but encouragement, and has been one of my proudest supporters over the past few years. She has attended some of my talks, and carries my book around in her handbag to show to complete strangers at every opportunity. The reaction of my siblings was also great, with my big brother Rob declaring: “We always wondered when you were going to get a real job.”

Of course, your life partner is the one who matters most in this story. As I have described in my previous posts, my wife Anne-Mie and I jointly developed our lifework picture. I am the first to admit that it has not all been plain sailing in achieving our dreams, but we have never lost sight of the overall purpose that we set-out for ourselves back in 2009. We have tried to support each other, especially when we have faced setbacks.

On my path to compete in the World Masters Games in Torino I had several race crashes, two of which sent me to hospital. In the past five years I have shattered my collarbone, broken 10 of my ribs, cracked my pelvis, punctured a lung, dislocated a shoulder and lost a lot of skin as a comeback cyclist. All of that stuff hurt.

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But never once has Anne-Mie suggested that I should give-up, and when I stepped on to the podium to collect my bronze medal in Italy it was not me who had won. We had won. Because the medal was just one part of the story – almost everything that we had dreamed together when starting our worklife project four years earlier had come to fruition. In many ways Torino was not about a cycling road race – it was about who we had become as a couple and as a family in getting there.

In my previous post “Confessions of a Fiat Driver” I described the story of Luiz, his unhappiness and his desire to take a different path. He had told me about how he and his wife’s dreams for the future had started to painfully diverge.

I sometimes find myself thinking about what Luiz is doing now. If you read this mate, please drop me a line.

Confessions of a Fiat Driver & Cyclist

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Despite the existence of the lifeworking choices that I described in my previous blogpost, there are powerful barriers that prevent individuals from embarking on a new journey, even when the possible path ahead can be at least partly visualised. Perhaps the two most powerful blockers of all are the need to define a purpose and address the fear of financial insecurity.

To understand what we both wanted from our future my wife Anne-Mie and I spent many hours talking together during our last year of a five year stay in Berlin. These discussions culminated in a drawing exercise in mid 2009 when we sat together with a large sheet of paper in our apartment and co-created a hand drawn picture of what success really meant to us.

The pencil and ink sketches we created revealed a much wider definition of success – we aspired to have a loving relationship and to live in a semi-urban environment in which our three children could play and be free. We desired more family leisure time, and the opportunity to actively participate in our children’s social, artistic and sporting activities. We both wanted to work, but to engage in professional activities that we enjoyed and which would still provided the opportunity for occasional international travel. And of course I also dreamed of returning to elite-level competitive cycling.

Shortly after completing our lifework picture I found myself watching Eurosport and by accident witnessed the opening of the World Masters Games in Sydney. The World Masters Games is built upon the concept of the Olympics, but for people over the age of thirty-five. Cycling is just one of the more than 20 sports in the Games, and at that moment I promised myself that I would strive to compete in the cycling road race at the next iteration taking place in Torino in 2013. I remember my wife looking at me with a rather strange expression when I announced my intentions – I had not raced a bicycle for more than twenty years, and I had the waistline to prove it.

But before embarking on the journey towards lifework, and of course my Torino dream, I recognised the need to confront a number of deep-rooted fears. The first set of fears for me were intensely personal. I had grown up the second youngest of seven children in a small country town in Australia, and as a small child money was scarce. My Dad was a musician and held scores of daytime jobs just to pay the bills, but it was not always easy to make ends meet in a family with seven kids. Mum did not work outside the home.

To make matters worse my father was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder in 1987, the same year that I competed in the Australian National Road Cycling Championships as a junior. His illness intensified my family’s financial problems in my final years of High School, and meant that part-time work was a necessity for me, even as I pursued my cycling goals and prepared for my final exams.

Our financial problems also brought a sad realism to my decision of whether to pursue professional cycling or studies. In the end, and as I have discussed in my previous posts, I chose the study path and was lucky enough to get a grant to go to University. But I would never have been able to complete my first degree without the financial support of my older brothers and sisters. Sadly, my Dad did not get to see me graduate as he took his own life shortly before my 21st birthday.

So financial stability meant a lot to me, and the fear of economic uncertainty for my family weighed heavily on my mind when I was thinking of following a new path in my late 30s. I was earning a very good salary, close to one-hundred and fifty thousand euros a year, and now I was thinking about walking away from that. Therefore, a critical element of our lifework project involved us calculating how much money our family really needed to live a fulfilling life.

I actually created an Excel spread sheet and calculated how much money the picture that I had drawn with Anne-Mie would cost – the amount was much less than I expected, and only a fraction of what I had been earning. But I also needed to step back and realise that I still had at least twenty years of productive working years ahead of me – plenty of time to take a year or two out to try to build something new. As Anne-Mie said to me: “If it doesn’t work out, you can always go back to doing what you did before.”

The fear of financial insecurity is one of the most important hurdles that I have witnessed for people who are thinking about lifeworking, and I think that far too people ever go through the exercise of thinking about how much income is really is enough. But unlike my fear of financial insecurity which came from childhood want, I think that for many other people this fear is a consequence of society’s obsession with status which results in the financial over-commitments that many people make during their 30s and 40s.

I recently spoke at an Alumni event of a top-tier business school in London and was asked by a 40-something Brazilian guy about how one should respond if wanting to pursue lifework, but your spouse or partner does not understand? Luiz explained that he and his wife came from middle-class roots in San Paolo, but the two of them had fallen into the status trap that required him working incredibly long hours to earn accordingly. Luiz spoke of the apartment in an exclusive neighborhood, private schools for the kids, expensive family holidays, and prestige cars. He seemed desperately unhappy, and said that he did not really care about these things – he wanted to change to a less stressful and lower paid job. But his wife could not accept a ‘downgrade’ in lifestyle, and the shame this would entail within their circle of friends. They argued constantly, and Luiz quietly told me that he was considering divorce.

When I stepped away from full time academia and consultancy to pursue other lifework goals my wife Anne-Mie had not yet returned to work and our family income level dropped by more than 70 per cent in the first two years. After several months of reflection and exploration I decided to focus my professional activities on becoming a keynote speaker, but to do so I recognised the need to write a book, take acting lessons, connect with speakers agencies and create a website. I studied stand-up comedy intensively. At the same time I needed to engage much more actively in family life and ride my bicycle at least ten hours per week.

The decline in income meant that our family needed to think about our living expenses – but this became much easier when I realised I had been earning money to buy things I didn’t really need, to impress people (ie. assholes-see previous post) I didn’t even like. Our first decision was to rent an inexpensive 1970s era house near to Brussels, which was certainly far from luxurious but was all that we needed. It had a small garden, and was close to some beautiful parkland. We bought a second-hand Fiat Doblo, a shock to some of my German pals, and we stopped flying places for our vacations. There was no designer furniture, no Nespresso machine and no private schools for the kids.

I remember feeling a little bit embarrassed when I first invited colleagues and clients to that house, but I told myself to get over it. We lived in it for almost five years until we were in a position to buy the place where we now live on the outskirts of Antwerp. It’s a beautiful house with a big garden, and its something we can afford. The shift towards keynote speaking has been especially fruitful for me, and it pays well. Or as I tell my friends, keynote speaking is the best job in the world as you work a little, and you earn…enough. 🙂

Our long summer holidays are now spent in a tent, usually camped beside the ocean or a river somewhere in France and in the midst of some beautiful cycling country. We might spend a couple of hundred euros a week while we are away, and the kids run barefoot and wild. There is nothing luxurious about those weeks away, but I think we are giving our kids the richest memories and experiences they could ever wish for.

I do have to admit, however, that I still wear my Cartier watch from time to time. I bought it when I felt the need to show off to my colleagues at London Business School many years ago.

But I don’t wear the Cartier as a status symbol anymore – I wear it as a reminder to myself of how stupid status anxiety can be.

Oh, I also own a few very nice bicycles. I raced one of them to a bronze medal in Torino.

Hannah

Escaping the Asylum

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In my previous blog posts I explained my belief that the continuing adherence to the industrial-age mind-set has meant that it is impossible for high-achieving knowledge workers to realise a true work-life balance in most established organisations.

This is certainly what I experienced as a career professional, especially when I was in the ‘acceleration’ phase of my career from my early until late 30s, and I see it being endured by so many of the high-achievers with whom I now engage through my coaching, writing and speaking.

In this post I would like to introduce a roadmap towards lifeworking. I am in no way suggesting that the roadmap is perfect – it is simply built upon my own experiences, and upon my interaction with scores of other lifeworkers who have been willing to share their stories with me over the past few years.

I believe that the realization of lifeworking can be achieved through the pursuit of three possible paths:

PATH 1 – Renegotiate the terms of engagement with your existing employer.

PATH 2 – Create or join an organisation that rejects industrial-age work orthodoxy.

PATH 3 – Become a Free Agent.

Whatever choice they make (and sometimes people choose more than one option), individuals need to be the ones driving the shift towards lifework, and not wait for organisations to create the necessary environment

The first approach is to re-negotiate the terms of engagement with the existing organisation to better integrate other life goals. This requires a track record of high performance (i.e. an ability to demonstrate one’s value to the organisation), trusted relationships with senior management and peers, and willingness for the organisation to be output rather than input focused.

The organisation and the individual need to rethink performance targets and rewards to boost intrinsic motivation, and in some cases to accept that promotion to wider levels of responsibility is not an objective – at least for the time being. The shift might also require the individual to develop stronger skills in collaboration as the transition to lifeworking within an established organisation typically involves greater task sharing with others. In my previous blogpost I described my friend David who is a good example of this kind of approach.

I recently had a conversation with the delightful Paul Stratford who is Head of Talent Development and Performance at Telstra Australia. Paul talked through how Telstra has embraced this approach, and the excitement that it has generated across the organization. One of the most amazing insights that Paul shared with me is that Telstra now takes the view that almost any role should at first be considered part-time.

At first Telstra adopted this thinking in an effort to boost diversity, but it has increasingly come to realise that it has a more widely compelling logic given the evolution future-oriented work practices. It is only after thoughtful deliberation and an objective look at the task requirements of a job that the company will agree to offer a full-time employment contract. This is very different to the unspoken industrial-age assumption that any ‘serious’ job, (especially in senior management) was by default full-time.

The second option involves creating or joining an organisation (often small) that rejects industrial-age work orthodoxy. Such organisations reject a philosophy of scarcity in favour of embracing abundance, and are comfortable in providing individuals with a greater degree of autonomy over how they achieve performance goals. These organizations typically have special kinds of leaders who have a true interest in their people, and who create a meritocratic culture in which people are measured on outputs rather than inputs, but which equally foster a sense of belonging and mutual support.

My dear friend Gert-Jan Van Wijk has created exactly this kind of organization through his executive learning platform ‘The World We Work In’ and in the process has won numerous awards for innovation in executive learning and development. At the same time he and his wife Sandra have adopted two beautiful sons from Kenya, he has put more time into his running passion, and he has discovered his skills as a coach and writer.

The third approach involves the individual becoming a free agent, and offering knowledge as a consultant, advisor or interim manager based upon one’s most valuable skills and capabilities. This approach delivers a key element of lifeworking – autonomy. But it requires deep insight into where the individual’s skills really lie, and an ability to be open to building relationships with clients and colleagues with complimentary areas of expertise.

Connections with peers and networks are the free agents life-line to their own professional and business development. Contrary to institutional environments there is less advantage gained from keeping new methods and concepts to oneself. Sharing knowledge and skills demonstrates your willingness to collaborate openly and is even an implicit standard by which free agents are evaluated and gain work.  Collaboration becomes a platform to showcase your ability among peers who may in fact also become your clients, and my firm belief is that open collaboration between free agents becomes most effective in the face of an immediate client request.

The enablers of free agents are the interactive digital tools which have become widespread and easy to use for non technical people – email, Voice Over IP (VoIP), free video conferencing, Google academic and open-source shareware. The availability of these low cost communication tools for telephone, videoconferencing and document sharing, allow collaboration networks to get connected, to communicate at low cost and to share and co-create intellectual capital. This has dramatically reduced the transaction costs of managing groups of people who are not co-located, but has also created new demands in terms of project management and open communication.

The high tech tools also require a different mindset in building relationships: the value of careful and concise referrals increases and the basic assumption must be one of trust.  In my experience, becoming a free agent also requires the individual to learn how to configure Outlook email on a SmartPhone, network a printer, set-up multi-party videoconferences on Skype, and even find the best flight deals.

All of this stuff is typically taken care of by others when you are a high-achiever in an organization, and it can come as a big shock when you need to do it yourself. Free agents often discover a new found respect and empathy for IT helpdesk staff after they go independent.

My friends Ayelet Baron, Giselle Vercauteren, Bie De Graeve, Sabine Bulteel, Steven Van Belleghem and Vali Lalioti have all become free agents in the past few years and it has been a joy to watch them develop and grow. But is has also been hard to see the struggle and frustration which has sometimes accompanied their endeavours to establish themselves.  I have been gifted with their support and encouragement, but also had the joy to be able to reciprocate.

I was recently badly injured in a cycling accident and was humbled by the outflowing of support from my network. People stepped forward to cover client commitments, to delay certain deadlines, and just to check-in with me during my recovery to see that everything was okay.

I am not suggesting that these three approaches are the only ones that might provide the platform for lifeworking, but they are the most common paths that I have witnessed.

I initially decided to pursue the third path, resigning from my position as a full-time academic in 2009, but in the process re-negotiated my terms of engagement with my then employer to continue working as a free-lance educator on executive education courses.

Since then I have expanded my freelance work with several business schools, built relationships with speakers agencies in India, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom and the US, and co-founded a thought leadership platform called ‘Connected Visions’. I have also engaged in a multitude of consultancy projects with other free agents – including all of the wonderful people I have just mentioned above.

Despite the existence of the lifeworking choices that I have described above, there are powerful barriers that prevent individuals from embarking on a new journey, even when the possible path ahead can be at least partly visualised.  And perhaps the two most powerful blockers of all are the need to define purpose and the requirement to address fears, challenges that I will discuss in my next blogpost.