Have you ever heard of the Olympic sport “Biathlon”? It’s an event that combines physically-demanding cross-country ski racing with marksmanship. The athletes ski a loop of several kilometers, and then shoot at five targets before continuing to the next loop. Marksmanship is very important, because there is a penalty lap assessed for each target missed. It’s a fascinating sport to consider how challenging it is, because there is an intensely physical component along with an intensely mental component. It’d be like combining cross-country running with golf—imagine running as fast as you can between your golf strokes, and if you don’t make par on the hole, you have to run all the way back to that hole’s tee box before going on. Talk about pressure!
To be successful in Biathlon, the athlete has to learn how to pace her or himself on the loop such that they can keep ahead of the competition, but have enough air and strength to shoot at the end of the loop. To shoot accurately, a person must keep their heartrate low and breathing slow—that’s the opposite of what the heart and lungs are doing when ski racing! They also have to be very steady in their muscles. The athlete must mentally control their breathing, heartrate, and fatigued muscles to take the shot. To add to the complexity, the athlete has to maintain laser focus on the target. The targets are in the middle of a stadium, where there are fans cheering (or jeering), coaches shouting, family and friends waiting, TV cameras staring, and other competitors flying in from behind and taking off from in front. Oh, and just to kick it up a notch, there’s also natural elements like light, wind, snow and temperature that have to be accounted for. Get distracted or shoot too fast and the athlete could miss the target, being assessed penalty laps; shoot too slow and the athlete could get left in the snow dust. (If you’d like to better visualize the Biathlon, here is a short video clip that describes the event and shows some racing: https://www.olympic.org/videos/men-s-biathlon-10km-sprint-bjoerndalen-wins-gold )
If we think about it, a lot of the pressures found in Biathlon can be found in our jobs. “Races” can occur every day, because there are many time pressures in business (real or imagined): competition to beat to market, shipments that need to make deadline, customers that have to be serviced in time—the list can go on and on. There is also a component that requires excellent precision and marksmanship in our work. It’s not enough to just be the fastest to market, you also have to have a really good product. You have to make sure that shipment that needs to get out the door is the right order to the right address. You have to make sure that the customer needing service is well taken care of, not just processed. And all of this in the context of environmental components vying for our attention—lots of other tasks; other people like bosses, coworkers, family, and competitors; varying personal physical conditions; weather etc. Go too fast and you’ll miss the mark; go too slow and you’ll get left behind.
How do we balance these pressures and keep on the podium of success? The Biathlon athletes offer some instruction. Prepare yourself physically and mentally between “races”—you can’t “race pace” all the time or without practice; pace yourself when in the race—figure out that ultimate tempo that keeps you both in the game and accurate; develop a good coaching and support structure; and key-in on each target—identify the most important tasks and focus on knocking out one at a time. Not every race will be your best race, but consistency and a good average can make for a long and rewarding career.
What parts of the work “Biathlon” are you doing well? What parts are getting the better of you? What might you start practicing to help achieve a better balance?