Five Things Triathlon Has Taught Me About My Day Job

By Matthew Vuolo | Nov. 27, 2017, 7:06 p.m. (ET)

Matt Vuolo

I'm an in-house attorney for a large multi-national corporation and also an avid age-grouper triathlete. Balancing the professional demands of the former with the rigorous training of the latter can be challenging, but triathlon has taught me a number of lessons over the years that I now consider fundamental to both my day job and my personal life. Here are a few examples:

1. Lifestyle matters. At home, and while training for a race, I'm a husband, father and triathlete, in that order. But my clients, around the country and the world, don't always fit neatly into my workday, and so I make myself accessible outside of the office so long as my personal well-being and time with family remain intact. However, just like in triathlon, not everything can be a priority. The sooner we get comfortable with that fact, the better we’re able to assign value to what is important now. Push back against the multiple-alarm culture that is predominate at many companies. Think about the swim during the swim. Think about the bike during the bike. And think about the run during the run.

2. M.I.R. – Motivation, Initiative, Responsibility. Triathlon is a daily commitment, both physically and mentally. Race day, typically long and technical, requires what can feel like an impossible Mt. Everest of motivation and initiative. Add to that the responsibility of managing your body and resources during 13+ hours of constant motion and the whole idea of a triathlon can feel absurd. In many ways, though, the skills necessary for race-day readiness are not so different from those that are vital to a fulfilling professional life. Life, work, fatherhood — it's all overwhelming. It can help to create a string of comforting catchwords that are elemental to your success. Motivation. Initiative. Responsibility.

3. Do it with a smile. I have three goals during every race: (i) cross the finish line; (ii) uninjured; (iii) with a smile. After a full day at IRONMAN Arizona 2016 and IRONMAN Louisville 2017, I did just that. At work, I’m routinely under pressure to negotiate deals that satisfy the expectations of several, often competing, parties. Getting them to close, with everyone happy and egos unbruised, is a Herculean task at times. But so is 140.6 miles. Of course, a triathlon is only a fraction of the time I devote to clients and work each week, so loving what I do, in defiance of the inevitable frustrations and failures, is critical to my happiness.

4. Find a solution that is proportionate to the problem. A 140.6-mile endurance race is a problem in need of solution. Like with many obstacles in life, we frequently overcompensate. But doing so in training invariably ends with injury. Settling on a routine that was right for me — commensurate with my goals as a triathlete — took time and patience, but hitting on the precise mix has paid dividends on race day. In my practice, I avoid over-engineering problems. Offering balanced and proportionate advice not only shows a willingness to seek creative solutions, but displays a level of "intellectual endurance" that clients recognize and appreciate. Finesse, not force.

5. Pick a team. The mindset of bringing people together is evident in triathlon, despite it being an individual sport. We train alone for months, each of us with a similar goal of achieving a personal record or simply crossing the finish line, but rooting for others' success has always been the triathlete’s credo. I’ve seen the team spirit firsthand in every race in which I’ve competed and it’s always inspiring. In-house corporate attorneys are team players, too, and our goal is not to win but rather to craft an agreement or find a solution that pleases everyone. The belief is that individuals can, in the end, be partners — crossing the finish line together, uninjured, with smiles on their faces.

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