Have you ever participated in a distance race? Whether it was a 5K or a full marathon, it’s common to pick someone else around you to either keep up with or pass during the race. This is called a “paceman”. You could choose the same person the entire race, or you can change people as the race progresses. The intent of doing this is to motivate yourself to simply run faster than if you were to run at your own pace. By doing this you’re accomplishing more than just completing the race; you’re now doing it at a rate that is comparable and competitive to others.
Though I’m no Mohamed Farah, I have participated in several distance races. And, sadly, it was long after I stopped running, that I learned a valuable lesson, one that was right in front of me during all of those races.
A person’s career is very commonly compared to a marathon. “Slow progression with honest work ethic and undoubtable consistency” is a pretty common mantra we all hear when it comes to career progression. The idea is pace yourself to keep from getting overworked. While at the same time not getting too comfortable.
This is where finding a career “Paceman” can really come in handy. In an actual race, there are a few things that start to subconsciously happen. These same criteria can actually be translated into your own career; let’s look at a few ways:
You don’t want to pick someone to pace that is further back than you. I know this seems obvious, but you’ll be surprised how often this happens. This usually happens when a friend that can obviously run faster than the other, but doesn’t because they don’t want to leave their friend behind. Even though they both finish together, the faster runner doesn’t truly challenge himself and his finish time is much less desirable. In your career, this is like tying an anchor to your ankle and dragging it up the corporate ladder; you’re probably not going to get very far, very fast.
You also don’t want to pick someone too far in front of you, but try to target far enough to be a challenge. In this case, you might want to chill out if the first choices are people like Mark Cuban or Elon Musk. That’s the career equivalent of choosing Usain Bolt as your paceman, which is a guaranteed way to burn out before going very far in any career. Though they have obtained an extremely desirable status, they may not be someone that is realistic at the moment.
The ideal candidate is choosing someone that is in front of me, I should be able to catch that person in a fairly short period of time by increasing my pace to a reasonable level. Ideally, I look to someone that has a desirable position or an admirable level of work ethic that is realistic to obtain in at least one year. This allows me to reflect on how that person obtained the position they are in and mirror some of those traits. In the past, this has helped me identify some of my own character flaws that were keeping me from progressing even faster.
Now, something I do differently as a runner is share the motivation they gave me. Imagine if we did this at work. I would challenge them with either a side-by-side glare that said, “don’t let me beat you” or even a playful taunt from behind saying, “I’m coming for you! Don’t let me catch you!” This would force both of us to turn up the heat just a little bit more for the rest of the race. This newfound pace would have both of us burning by people that were originally too far ahead to even think about catching up to.
So, when you finally decide where you want to go with your career and who you want to pace off of, don’t be afraid to challenge them. Tell them directly, “I want what you have. What did you do to get to where you are?” Not only will this possibly increase the pace for your own career path, it may do the same for them. Because the only thing in a race that is more motivating than trying to pass someone, is hearing the footsteps of someone behind you saying, “Don’t let me pass you.”
Author: Patrick Skinner
Co-Author: Evan Steele