This seems to be the theme for the past few months, both on the personal and professional fronts. Over the summer, thanks to the prodding of Alicia Bonner Ness‘s 28 Day Summer Creativity Challenge (full disclosure: I lasted about five days), I set some goals to try to move out of my comfort zone. On the sportz front, this meant finally taking the plunge and participating in a bike race. Professionally, I wanted to polish my leadership skills and build my network beyond my day job. But how?
As you may know from reading this blog, I dove into cyclocross racing in December — “dove” being the appropriate word, as I fell of my bike. A lot. But it was still fun and addictive and I ended the season wishing I knew more people in the race scene and wistfully noticing how much fun people on bike teams seemed to be having — and some of them even had heated tents! I put that in the back of my mind and started training again for triathlon season. One of my motivation zappers had always been after-work trainer sessions at home, since my evening commute frequently lasted an hour and then I wouldn’t finish my ride until around 8 PM. How could I somehow get in my workout close to work and wait out traffic? As luck would have it, a new CompuTrainer studio — ProBike FC — had just opened in Falls Church. Unlike a spin studio, CompuTrainer studios have you ride your own bike (road, tri, fixie, etc.) and the resistance will change automatically based on the course you ride. There are hundreds of courses to choose from, including many triathlons with matching video — so you can get a sense of both the terrain and scenery (minus potholes, traffic lights, or crazy drivers).
Coach Liz and I booked a free class and met Nick, the studio’s owner. Here’s another key difference between this studio and, say, SoulCycle — rather than a techno-infused dance party, Nick is a former Tour de France pro and UCI bronze medalist, and gives advice on gearing and cycling technique. Yes, please! I signed up for a weekly package, guaranteeing a great workout and respite from the gridlock. A week or two later, Nick asked if I’d be interested in joining the ProBike FC women’s cycling team. I thanked him for the compliment but explained that I’m a triathlete and haven’t done any road cycling. He said I should still consider it, since it would make me a better cyclist for triathlon. I was still skeptical, but talked to Liz. “Let’s do it!” was her reply. Oh, hmm ok. But what about my triathlon sponsor, Coeur? I wouldn’t want to jeopardize that relationship. Amazingly, they were also supportive, as I would still race in their team kit for triathlon races. (Seriously, thank you!) Also, the bike team would likely just be two or three races for a small, first-year local shop team — no big deal. “OK,” I told Nick, “I’m in.” “Great,” he said, See you at the team photo tomorrow.”
The “team photo” turned out to be a full-fledged photo shoot. In our new team kits. In front of the team van. With the team coach, manager, mechanic, and personal trainer. (These are all different people.) Yes, really. Here’s that video. We also learned about the late-winter team training camp, opportunities for fun and challenging races across the mid-Atlantic, and other sponsors. Starting, for example, with Colnago, which would provide each of us with matching bikes. I should have been wearing a helmet at this point, because my head just about exploded.
Fast forward to three months later. Our first race is three weeks away. I’m able to ride in a paceline without a panic attack. I’ve learned the difference between a domestique, GC, rouler, puncheur, climber, and sprinter. (Care to guess which one I am? Hint: I specialize in endurance triathlon races. Answer below.) My teammates are amazing and I’ve learned more about cycling in the past quarter than in the previous six years as a triathlete. Am I still nervous about road racing? Most definitely! But as Liz reminds me, if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.
Speaking of challenges, let’s move now to the professional front. I’ve been a civil servant in the federal government for over seven years now, nearly 14 if you include my time as a government contractor. I’ve learned a lot, work with amazing people, and am proud to serve my country, even in these…ahem…tumultuous times. However, I am wary of letting myself drift into auto-pilot mode. Before becoming a triathlete, my primary after-work activity was Young Professionals in Foreign Policy (YPFP), where I served in senior roles in the (then) all-volunteer staff. It was a fantastic way to practice leading meetings, standing up programs (including the Refugee Assistance Program, now in its 11th year), and building a network of peers inside and outside of government. But as my sportz life had ramped up (oh yeah and I bought a house and got married and stuff), I transitioned out of my roles with YPFP and focused primarily on the immediate priorities of my day job and training 15-20 hours per week.
But this summer, I finally admitted how much I missed that aspect of my life — of nerding out about the UN General Assembly annual meeting, or chatting with an NSC staffer over beers, or knowing in the back of my mind that if I needed to talk to someone about [any topic] at [pretty much any agency], I probably could. Isn’t that what DC life is all about? I am still friends with some YPFP members, and many of them have since joined the Truman National Security Project, a nationwide community of frontline civilians, veterans, and policy professionals. They encouraged me to apply. Apply? I can’t just join, like with most professional organizations? Apparently not. Applications are accepted once a year, and require a resume, essays, letters of recommendation, and — if we’re lucky — an interview panel. Oy. More work…to…talk about work…more? But I forged ahead. And–to my surprise and excitement–was accepted!
As you have probably guessed by the theme of this blog post, joining Truman was not a matter of getting added to some mailing lists. Oh no. (But there are also mailing lists.) There was also a three-day orientation in DC last weekend, which involved training in strategic communications (e.g. how to not do this on TV), writing a personal mission statement, and spotting the warning signs of authoritarianism (summary here). There were no trust falls, but there was plenty of trust building with thirty other new members. My college didn’t have a Greek system, but I can imagine that this is a similar experience: a nationwide network of
students and alumni professionals who gather regularly to host toga parties foreign policy expert roundtables, while the national headquarters assists by selling logo gear teaching us how to write op-eds. I am quite sure that at least one Trumanite will become President one day, and that several dozen more will be in his or her cabinet. And I’ll be their triathlon coach! No, but really, I’m still not sure what the future holds for me career (or sportz)-wise, but I am confident that joining this organization will help me get there.
In the meantime, I can take my inspiration from this guy:
Quiz answer: The sprinter, of course!