The Great Wall and Your Career

Those of you who are friends on Facebook will know that last week I came back from completing the 10km event of the Conquer the Great Wall of China Marathon. It all came about over dinner much earlier in the year, I think February, with two other couples. One of the women runs and was planning to do this event. My ears pricked up and I wanted to know more. What was the event? Who was doing it? Could I come too? (Apparently I have no shame in muscling my way into other peoples events.)

The next day while nursing a hangover from too many cocktails and red wine I checked out the website and starting hassling the other woman at dinner about also doing it. Both women are in a walking group with Mums from their kids school and I wanted in.  I wore her down and we entered, booked flights and a hotel.

Why did I want to do such an event? I have always wanted to go to Beijing and see The Great Wall of China. I also wanted to get fit and wanted to have a goal. This seemed like a great one.

Over the ensuing months there was training. I enrolled myself in the Michelle Bridges Learn to Run program (I can now run 5km without stopping when I never thought I would be able to do that), started watching what I ate and starting using the Yoga gym membership I have had since, oh about October last year. I also did a few Saturday mornings at MacRitchie Reservoir Park doing 10-11kms with a few others (and most of Singapore) and then a couple of Saturdays doing stairs. Lots of stairs. Note to self: Should have done more stairs.

In addition to the actual event on the wall, now that I had muscled my way into this group "walk babe walk" there was going to be lots of other nice things to do in Beijing over the weekend of the event. Nice dinners and touristy stuff.

The 10km was structured so that you went 5km in one direction and then turned around and came back. Most of the first 5km was fantastic, well the views and the excitement of being on the wall were. Our heads were up, we were happy and ready for the challenge.

Optimistic at the start

There were 21 Towers we had to climb up to and at each one during the first 5km we were pretty excited and taking lots of photos.

At about the 4km point we headed off the wall to descend down to the turnaround point. It was at this point after going down, oh about 10,000 steps I was wondering how I was going to get back up to get back on the wall. There was literally 1km of steps that just. went. down.

The things that got me through the first 5km were:

  1. I had trained enough and I could definitely walk 10km
  2. I had also done a number of stair sessions and felt like I was fit enough
  3. The realisation that even though I don't have a svelte fit looking body it's pretty amazing anyway. All I have to do is put my foot in front of the other and keep going.
  4. It would be my mind that does me in, not my body so I focused on keeping any negative chatter out.
The second 5km was something completely different. It started with 1 km of stairs straight up. I had to stop every 50m or so to well, breathe. I was walking with a friend and we kept repeating to each other that as long as we could get back up on the wall, we could do it.

Once back on the wall it was a hard slog. We had been walking for over 2 hours and our bodies were tired, particularly our quad muscles from climbing very deep stairs. There is basically no flat on the wall, well the sections we were on anyway. You are either walking up a slope, walking or climbing stairs or walking down a slope or stairs. Also sections of the wall had fallen away and while I don't consider myself scared of heights there were times where I felt very insecure.

The trip back we had a heads down watching every step closely so as not to trip and fall. We concentrated on breathing and putting one foot in front of the other. We didn't take any photos on the way back and the only time we looked up was to try and work out if the next tower we had to scale up into, would be the last.

What has this got to do with your career? Well I got thinking while I was slogging it way on that wall. There are times when your career is exciting, like when you start a new job or earn a promotion or achieve more responsibility. At these times you are happy and have your head up enjoying the view. At these times it seems easier to do your job and get things done. Your confidence is high. That was my first 5km on the wall.

And then there are times when its just hard and the only thing to do is put one foot in front of the other and keep moving. I bet you can think of times in your career that you had to do that too.

What else? Sometimes we need encouragement and help. My walking mate Belinda towards the end was very keen to get finished and pushed me along when I was feeling discouraged. At other times we helped each other. There was also recognition from all the participants of the event that we were in it together. Everyone was encouraging and supportive, well except for the one marathon running who tried to climb over me down some steep stairs but I guess you get people trying to do that in your career too!

The feeling at the end of the 10km was amazing. I had never done anything like this event before, and to be honest I won't be rushing back to do it, even though it was a fantastic experience. This relates to my career too. There are jobs I have worked in and companies I have worked for which were not great and generally bad for my health. I will never repeat these experiences in my career and am wise when I chose my roles now, but when I look back at the experience and what I learnt, I'm grateful for doing them.

Does my experience on the wall relate to your career? Do tell