Life Lessons Learned on the Iconic Tour de France Climb

life lessons learned on the iconic Tour de France climb

Life can throw amazing lessons at you, especially when you aren’t looking. The life lessons I learned on the iconic Tour de France climb might help you conquer the challenges of searching for a new job.

Our trip included cycling up Mont Ventoux, a bucket list item for many avid cyclists. Nicknamed “The Beast of Provence,” the climb boasts:

  • winds that blow an average of 90kph (56 mph) most of the year
  • a mountain summit of 1,912 meters (6,269 feet)
  • 21 km (13 miles) of continuous climbing at grades averaging 9 percent.

“The Ventoux is a god of Evil, to which sacrifices must be made. It never forgives weakness and extracts an unfair tribute of suffering.”

Roland Barthes, French philosopher and bicycle racing fan

In 1967, the mountain climb claimed the life of English cyclist, Tom Simpson, the first Brit to ever wear the famed yellow jersey. I questioned, “why would I willingly sign up for this?” – and as part of a vacation, no less.

Note: I am not an avid cyclist. Keen perhaps, but definitely not avid. Nor am I a natural athlete. As group planning commenced, I seriously questioned if I could actually do this ride.

Feeling timid about facing a formidable challenge. Doubting my own capabilities. Wondering if staying home, free from fear and failure, is a better idea.

Perhaps that sounds like the voice in your head as you consider the seemingly formidable task of searching for a job.

Did I already mention all the ways I disqualified myself before I even turned a single pedal rotation: not an avid cyclist, not an athlete, probably – likely – will fail.

Now, let me tell you how I woke up to “Life’s classroom being in session” and what I learned on a bike that can help you in your job search.

  1. Don’t let your perceptions about the enormity of the challenge detour you from trying. After all, perceptions often are exaggerated and can make us feel unnecessarily overwhelmed.
  2. Avoid letting fear paralyze you. It’s far better to channel your fear into productive action that will move you closer to your goal. Nothing was ever accomplished by worry.
  3. Reframe your question from “can I?” to “how do I?” “Can I?” is self-defeating and emotionally draining – avoid! Undertaking a big, thorny challenge requires a change in your mind set. By moving from “can” to “how,” you will make a plan to achieve your goal.
  4. It helps to have a support team. Tackling tough challenges alone is crazy. Having a network of trusted advisors with expertise you need just makes sense. Most colleges have career offices staffed with advisors ready to assist you. The best part? It’s included in your tuition. If you need more help, add additional resources.
  5. Do your research so you know what lies ahead. I started by reading blogs on cycling the famed Mont Ventoux; read detailed reviews of the different routes to the base of the final climb; and researched cycling training plans. I spoke to people who had done the climb and got their sage advice. Options you can leverage for your job search are visiting your college’s career office, attending career fairs, speaking with friends and family about their professions. Information is power; use it to your advantage.
  6. Create a plan. Assemble all the intelligence you’ve collected. Next, focus on breaking your challenge into manageable parts. I visited my local bike shop to get tips on hilly rides nearby so I could amp up my cycling training. I made all my rides longer, and more frequent. My one big learning? I should have started earlier. Much earlier. The same holds true for your career search. Create your plan, then start working it. The sooner you do, the better it will go.
  7. Have a Plan B lined up, just in case. Maybe even a Plan C. (My Plan C was lounging at the pool.) Having options frees you. Sometimes, it’s not your original plan that turns out to be your best option. Explore a wide variety of career choices early in your search. The information you gain may change your thoughts about what path is the right one for you.
  8. Don’t be afraid to change your plan. Which is exactly what I did. The route up Mont Ventoux from Bedoin is the classic Tour de France route, and a gnarly one. It was never my Plan A. I thought our group planned to take the more gradual route from Sault. Turns out, a few of my gang were keen to do the classic route. After gnashing it over, the morning of our ride, I changed my plan. And, I’m glad I did. If you find in your search that your plan’s not working for you, change it up.
  9. Set realistic expectations. If you’re job searching for the first time, it is not going to be quick, nor will it be easy. The same was true for my adventure. I knew I was never going to cycle up an epic Tour de France climb like the pros do. My goal was just to make it to the top. Alive.
  10. Go at your own pace. Be comfortable with your own goals and aspirations, versus chasing those of your peers. It will make the challenge not only more manageable, but it will be “your challenge”. Sometimes, being in the middle (or back) of the pack might be what you need to get across the finish line. Be sure to keep listening and learning from those who have gone before you.
  11. Focus on short-term goals. During my very long climb, my short-term goal often was making it a hundred meters to the next tribute marked in the pavement. Your short-term goals might include completing your resume, reaching out to potential mentor, or crafting a killer LinkedIn profile. Your long-term goal is getting a great job; short-term progress is what will get you there.
  12. Make sure you have the right “gear”. For me, it was an extra ten gears, a carbon bike, plenty of water and energy bars. In your job search, your “gear” might include a stellar resume, a well-crafted cover letter, mock interviews and lots of networking connections.
  13. Always keep peddling, especially when you don’t want to. It’s less painful than falling off your bike. Stopping your search isn’t going to help you find a job. When times get tough, lean into your support network – and keep going.
  14. Inevitably, some things always will be outside your control. Instead of worrying about things over which you have no control, focus instead on what’s within your control.
  15. Give it your best shot. Whether it is pacing yourself to an unreasonable summit or going through the rigors of a job search, put in the effort that makes you proud.

The hardest challenges in our lives are often the most rewarding. The confidence you’ll gain by exceeding your own expectations is worth every ounce of effort you’ll expend. Be flexible in your planning and adaptable in your execution.

A great career is a long and thrilling journey – inevitably, with mountain highs and valley lows. You might as well face the wind and enjoy the ride.

cycling up Mont Ventoux

About Lisa

Chief Career Catalyst @C2C, former Fortune 500 businesswoman, dog lover, avid skier, mediocre tennis player, golfer, new SUPer, aspiring surfer, cyclist, yoga & exercise enthusiast, happy wife & home chef. I am a regular contributor to the Bangor Daily News, and have appeared on WCSH6 where I offer career advice for college students, recent graduates and young professionals.
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