Thursday, June 3, 2021

Trust Your Talent; Manage Your Forks

So sorry for everything 
You know I really wanted it to work out 
I put the blame on everybody 
Was incapable of not being stressed out 

I, I wanted to move on 
But I, I kept writing the same songs 

Now that everything's burned down 
I can put it all to bed 
If only I could make sense of it 
When it's swirling in my head 
I'm so sick of being proud 
And I've got nothing left to say 
Guess I'm really still the best at 
Getting in my own way

I started my first corporate job and completed my first downhill race the same week. The old me would not have let either of these events go nearly six weeks without blogging about them, but the last couple of years have changed me a lot. I sat down to blog about the race when the pictures came out, but I quickly decided that this Instagram post was a sufficient public race report.

I religiously posted reports of all my races from 2007 through my last race in 2018. Race reports were then replaced with reports on my bilateral mastectomy, breast reconstruction, and recovery in early 2019. I never planned to take two full seasons off from racing, but the universe, as well as Frank's and my bones, had other ideas. I also never expected that when we raced again, we'd bring along two dogs in our camper van, but such is life. The person I've become is the mom of a stinky 11.6-pound Ewok dog who I am always trying to kiss on the lips.

I've often bemoaned my lack of work/bike balance in the few posts that I've written since the end of 2018, but I think the change in jobs was necessary for me to actually start doing something about it. When I look back at the trajectory of my bike career and my work career during my seven years of employment at Penn State, a clear pattern emerges. 

I took the job at Penn State and moved to State College expecting that I would be there 1-2 years while Frank completed his Ph.D. and looked for a permanent teaching job elsewhere. It was awesome at first because it was a significant increase in pay over IU, a more relaxed work environment, a well-balanced team, and a gifted supervisor who I respected immensely. I flourished in my new role even though I theoretically didn't care about work that much since I saw the job as temporary. 

However, by the summer of 2016, Frank and I were still in State College with no real prospects of leaving. Despite "not caring" about my job, I had continued to take on additional responsibility and earn the praise of those above me on the org chart. I was rewarded with an unexpected job reclassification that came with a 10% raise. Looking back, that is when my "not caring" about work subtly pivoted to chasing my new high of professional achievement. 

The change wasn't that noticeable at first, and I still managed to complete the Wilderness 101 that summer using fitness that I can accumulate when I still had a healthy relationship with my job. 2017 saw my big dreams at work start to outpace the power of my role, which led to disappointment and conflict with my supervisor, while bike success came easily during my first season racing the West Virginia Enduro Series. In 2018, I spent my weekends checking parks off of my MTB Parks Pass and sometimes making time to race enduro in between. However, my weekdays were filled with increasing anxiety as I watched my supervisor play a key role in our organization's transformation, and I couldn't ever seem to do or say the right thing to get her to include me in her plans. The breaking point came when my mastectomy surgery and subsequent return to work coincided with her prolonged and painful transition to a central role outside of our department. Despite the positive changes that my next supervisor and I made in our department after she left, the next two years were filled with a long series of dead ends for my career at Penn State. 

Early in the pandemic, it became clear that remote work was here to stay, and I realized that I was no longer limited to the options available in whatever college town I happened to live in at the time. I'd always been a bit afraid of private-sector jobs because of the supposed longer work hours and lower benefits compared to university jobs. However, as I began looking into remote private-sector jobs, I found that those stereotypes were far from being true across the board. Plus, in my last couple of years at Penn State, I was putting in the corporate-level effort, so I figured it was time to try and get corporate-level pay. I eventually got serious about searching for the right remote job at a higher-ed related technology company, and an offer finally came through at the end of March. I'm nearing the end of my sixth week, and so far, I am thrilled with my decision.

An appropriate start to my second bike racing career.

It was a happy coincidence that the Downhill Southeast season opener at Massanutten took place at the end of my first week at my new job. The course was more challenging than expected, and I was more rusty and timid than expected. However, I gave myself a lot of grace since the last time I got on a chairlift, I left in an ambulance. I never had a clean run of the course in practice and felt very physically fatigued due to my lack of fitness. It took a certain amount of force of will just to get myself into the starting gate, and once I did, I walked an 18-inch drop and crashed three times during my race run. I still managed to get second place based on my ability to complete the race run with no significant injuries and a timing chip attached to my bike. I didn't get a podium picture because they did awards immediately after each category finish, and neither Frank nor I had our phones on us. None of that mattered, though, because I FINALLY RACED MY FORKIN' BIKE AFTER 2.5 YEARS OFF!!!

Speaking of forks, it was nice to finally give some about bikes again. What I've come to realize in the weeks since my rebirth as a #professionalslashbikeracer is the beautiful coincidence of embracing a new job and a new bike discipline at the same time. I've decided to make the Downhill Southeast series the primary focus for my racing this summer. This decision is not because I imagine myself to be a budding downhill star, but because a four-race downhill series requires the ideal number of bike-related forks to optimize my mental health right now. It requires me to show up and give just a little effort when I might otherwise spend all weekend on the couch playing Fishdom. I don't need to "train" or really do anything other than show up, do practice laps, then eventually do a race run. However, the satisfaction of completing these tasks will help me rebuild my motivation around my bike and my body so that I can slowly become less of a depressed workaholic. 

In turn, pulling my bike-related forks up from rock bottom has enlightened me on keeping my work-related forks in check. Part of the reason that I was excited about my new job was the novelty of finding a job posting for a Marketing Business Analyst when I was pretty sure that it was just a job I had made up for myself at Penn State. I was motivated by the fact that my new company was advertising for someone to fill a role that I'd cobbled together based on process gaps I'd observed in my previous job. They were motivated because I had direct experience doing the thing that they wanted someone to do. It was a rare and serendipitous match. However, as I began the job, I was a bit anxious and frustrated that I couldn't pick up exactly where I left off when the new job was similar to the old one. 

It was a similar job, but not the same job. I didn't have seven years of institutional knowledge, established relationships with my coworkers, or access to the information and systems I was used to. I eventually realized it was similar to transitioning from enduro to downhill racing after 2.5 years of no racing in between. 

For the first time in either my bike or work career, I showed up with confidence in my foundational abilities, even if I wasn't ready to perform at my top level yet. I learned from racing enduro that even if I sometimes got frustrated with the pace of my progression, practicing going downhill fast and the skills related to it will lead to improvement in a much more direct way than I ever saw in the fitness-centric disciplines I'd raced previously. From this experience, I know that I'll be better at downhill racing by the end of the season just from doing more bike park days and completing the races. I'll actually probably improve faster if I don't try too hard. I feel like my new job might be the same. Rather than working too hard to force an outcome that I think I want, I need to just do what I'm good at and see what happens. I'm at peace with the fact that I probably won't see a category upgrade or a promotion for a while, but I know that I have what it takes to achieve both eventually.

In my previous bike racing career, I struggled to balance my forks given with my talent, but I also discovered that I have more gravity racing talent than I initially thought. Working at Penn State revealed talent that I never knew I had and inspired me to work harder than ever before. Unfortunately, I fell into the trap of thinking that more forks would bring me more success, but it mostly just left me with no forks left for biking racing and little to show for it. It turns out that in both gravity racing and communication/soft skill heavy jobs, too many forks can lead to crashes. 

Now that I've been given a second chance at both, I'm embracing the mantra of "Trust your talent; manage your forks." I'm stuck with the amount of talent that I have in a given area of my life, and the number of forks I give can either enhance it or undermine it.  Hopefully, I'm getting to the point in my life where I have the wisdom to know the difference. I think it will help to remind myself to modulate my forks between work and bikes and remember to save some for Frank, pets, and occasionally cleaning the house. If I get too stressed, angry, or anxious, rather than trying to give fewer forks, I'll examine my life to see how I can redistribute them.