After seeing how some people had learned invaluable life / business / leadership / parenthood / relationship lessons from The Godfather / Wesley Snipes / dogs / cats / horses / rocks (yes, you read that right), I thought I would write about some career lessons that I had learned from riding motorbikes.
In any case, I thought I would test my powers of abstraction and relate my love of motorcycle riding to a few career management lessons. Here are five, in no particular order.
And yes. That’s me on my Gixxer in the picture above. Pausing to reflect in a moment of enlightenment.
1. Ride because you enjoy it
There aren’t too many things that compare to the feeling that you get when you ride a motorbike. The rumble of the engine directly underneath you. The immediate, unadulterated feedback from the environment around you. The thrill of leaning into a curve. If you pay close attention, you’ll see most riders knowingly nod at each other as they go by on opposite sides of the road. Behind the helmets they’re smiling, because they know what fun the car drivers are missing out on.
Ride because you want to. Because its fun. Because you love it.
This equally applies to your career. Pick something you enjoy, that you love doing, and you’ll look forward to waking up in the morning and to the challenges that lie ahead. If you don’t, you wake up every day dreading what lies ahead.
This love also keeps you going when it gets tough. Much like riding when it’s stinking hot or pouring down, you’ll hit patches when work’s not too much fun or the pressure’s suffocating. Remember why you do what you do, and that the bad patch is only temporary. It will pass, and you’ll get to crank it on a clear strip once again.
2. Never stop learning
You never get to a point when you stop and say to yourself “I’m a perfect rider. I don’t need to learn anything else.” That’s because that can never be true. There’s always room for improvement. Good riders – especially smart, experienced ones – are always practising and looking at ways to improve their roadcraft skills.
Hippocrates summed it up at the beginning of the Aphorismi:
“Vita brevis, ars longa”
Life is short, and art long
It is commonly understood that Hippocrates was talking about art in terms of craft (as in craftsmanship). Constantly strive to get better. There’s always more to learn. Even when you think you’re a master.
3. Work your way up to a big bike
One of the main reasons for motorcycle accidents is people riding beyond their abilities. It takes times to learn and understand the dynamics of riding safely, and many people overestimate their skills. Figuring out and building the confidence to do things like braking hard and cornering at speed takes time, and unless you understand how to do it properly, results in accidents. Sometimes even death.
Start on a small bike that you can control, and learn your roadcraft. Then move to a bigger bike and keep learning.
I’ve seen lots of people in a hurry to build their careers, and they do it at a pace beyond their ability. Sure, you might be able to talk or lie your way into a role, but the crash at that speed will hurt. A lot.
Slow down. Get excellent at what you do. When you step up to the next role, it will be based on a solid platform of skills and insights.
4. Plan your route, but be ready for detours
I’ve had GPS Sat Nav in all my cars for about the last decade, so I’m used to kind of just following the instructions the nice lady with the American accent gives me. On a bike, however, it’s a completely different story. Although sat nav systems are readily available for motorbikes and of course my smartphone has the functionality, it’s not very easy to just look down at your device and poke at it with your armoured gloved finger and re-adjust. (You could, but you’ll most probably be plastered against the back of a bus shortly after.)
On a bike, you have to first figure out where you’re going, memorise the directions, and then off you go. If you get lost or encounter a detour, the best thing to do is work out the general direction you were originally heading in, and get back on track. (Ahhh … life before GPS.)
It’s unlikely that your career will also take a smooth, linear path. If you’re incredibly lucky, you might get an amazing mentor who might give you directions to make the right turns with enough notice. More likely, however, you’ll have to deal with lots of obstructions and hazards along the way – office politics, horrible bosses, back-stabbing co-workers, redundancies and an ever-changing world. If you’ve got a general direction in mind, though, you find it a lot easier to get back on track and keep moving towards you goals.
5. You’re responsible for your own safety
The common understanding among motorcycle riders is that you should ride like everyone is out to get you (specially taxis and courier minivans). When you first learn how to ride, they teach you about the safety bubble, how to buffer, look out for hazards and deal with various other road safety issues.
There are lots of drivers out there who are careless, negligent, impatient, psychotic, and otherwise general idiots – so much so that the term SMIDSY has now entered common parlance among riders. At the end of the day, though, how safe you are on the road is largely a function of how safely you chose to ride.
You’re responsible for your career. You might get lucky and work for a small founder run organisation with loving, caring people who are passionate and excellent at what they do.
If not, recognise that many people in the corporate world will choose to take advantage of you. From your colleague who manoeuvres for your next promotion off the back of your efforts to your boss who steals your ideas and steps on you for his, it’s up to you to protect yourself.
I’m not saying that everyone is like this, but the world is full of people who operate like taxi drivers – they’ll cut you off and do whatever it takes (ethical or otherwise) to get ahead of you.
As you can see, riding motorbikes can provide deep career insights as well as a fun mode of transport. What are some of the career lessons you’ve picked up from travelling on two-wheeled vehicles?