Cyclists and the Art of the Life/Work Balance

By: Molly Hurford Jun 17

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We learn in basic high school physics that two objects cannot exist in the same space at the same time. So what happens when life and work start to occupy the same space? The universe hasn’t imploded yet, but I’m starting to think more and more about it, though not in such quantum mechanic-style terms.

Lately, it’s been becoming more and more difficult for me to decide at what point I’m relaxing, and at what point I’m working. Case in point: I was at the Tour of Somerville on Memorial Day. I was there first and foremost to race, but also to watch the races, to come up with some good column material, to potentially do some interviews, and to definitely set up some interviews. Also, to hang out with some good friends, though some of them were included in that list of interviewees. Among topics discussed after the race once we’d settled down at dinner were my work, the state of cyclocross, and my book. So is that a workday? It didn’t feel like it, exactly, but nor did it feel like being “off.”

There was a moment after the race when someone was bemoaning the lack of coverage of the crit. Someone else suggested that I could have covered it, if I hadn’t been preoccupied. He was entirely right, of course, and it made me wonder: should I have covered it? For whom? Was I on the clock? Then, it occurred to me: I’m never punched out, really.

The problem, then, is this: do I ever get a day off at a cycling event? I’m not a pro cyclist, but when I race, it’s usually fodder for writing, and occasionally a teensy bit of extra cash in my pocket. So racing is work. But it’s also fun. I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t. The point, though, is that even when I’m at a race with no real work goals (read: I’m not actually tasked with writing a race report), it still is work. And it’s inescapable.

Pro cyclists have it just as bad, if not worse. Amateurs around them are there for a day of fun and friendly (OK, sometimes not-so-friendly) competition. They laugh, joke, goof off, and generally have a good time. The pros are there to work, the asphalt is their office space, and the boss isn’t going to come through with that end of the year bonus if their performance is lacking. That said, pro cyclists are racers because they love racing, not because they are forced to be. Unlike working in middle management (sorry, middle managers!) you don’t just fall into bike racing. You give everything to be a pro, and if you’re lucky, you get a little something in return. This isn’t a job you do for the big paycheck. So for pro cyclists, they’re in the same boat as I am: their life/work balance is all out of whack, because there’s no separation of the two.

Things get even more out of joint when doing the balancing act of an elite amateur racer, or a pro without a good contract. Not only are you working a “regular job,” but you leave the office (or coffeeshop, bar, grocery store, whatever) for the second job, that of a bike racer. That’s an even harder balancing act, because with two jobs, one of which is more passion-oriented than the other, it leaves little time for anything else, which means that the cycling job then becomes the “regular life” part as well.

This goes for mechanics or any bike-oriented job as well: if you’re a mechanic and out riding on a new bike, you aren’t just riding for fun, you’re constantly aware of what’s happening with the bike, and you’re constantly thinking about how to sell it to people. Same for reps, dealers and any number of bike-related jobs. When your passion is your business, it’s both the greatest and hardest thing in the world.

It seems like a lot of people I talk to, especially those who work in the bike industry at any level, have the same problem: we don’t know where the workday stops and the “regular life” begins, because for us, there isn’t much of a difference. Since I work from home, my schedule is weird. I write a lot, edit a lot, and ride a lot. Generally, the writing and editing outweigh the riding, but then again, so do the paychecks from said writing and riding.

As a freelance worker, like so many in the cycling world (pro racers included), time is money. Or, more correctly, work is money. Maybe this is just because after last tax season I’m being way more careful about recording expenses, but I’m noticing that things I used to count as being simply fun, I’m starting to realize that they count as work expenses. It’s a bit crude, but it is a good way of telling when I’m on the job and when I’m not: if it can be counted as a business expense, I’m at work. If it can’t, I’m not. Of course, does it count as non-work if I’m out with friends for a drink and end up recording a few quick interview questions?

So how do you cope when your relaxation and your job are one and the same? Do we ever officially turn off from work? I postulate that for cyclists, we’re never truly off the job. But for someone who’s probably grossly out of balance as far and life and work goes, I feel pretty darn good about it.

 

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