Life Lessons From a Day in the Mud

October 16th, 2013

Life and work lessons from the Tough Mudder challengeby Denise Mazzella*

Last weekend I participated in a Tough Mudder with my amazing team, the Tripping Billies. The Tough Mudder is a 10- to 12-mile obstacle course known for challenging participants mentally and physically. I had no idea what to expect aside from what I’d seen in photos from past events. I knew I was going to be covered in mud from head to toe, but I had no clue how much of an impact this experience would have on me.

Of all the obstacles I went through that day – Electroshock Therapy, Arctic Enema and  Everest to name a few – what has stuck in my mind is the teamwork aspect of the event. You need a helping hand, a boost, or a shout of encouragement to get through the day. Teammates and complete strangers pull you over mud hills, help you up if you slip, and watch to make sure your head pops out of the muddy water after a 15-foot jump (hello Walk the Plank).

The brains behind Tough Mudder emphasize this is not a race, but I didn’t believe that until I witnessed it for myself. I thought I would be overrun by cocky twenty-somethings who would rather leave you in the dust than lend a hand. I was wrong. I felt a strong sense of camaraderie and that everyone wanted you to succeed. In turn, I wanted to help people because if I was going to cross the finish line, I wanted them to be there too. I wanted everyone to get the coveted bright orange Tough Mudder headband placed on their head that day.

Now that I’m back to work and wearing my bruises with honor, I can’t stop thinking about all I learned and wishing I could incorporate a bit of that Tough Mudder magic into my workday. With all the marketing Tough Mudder does to make the event look cool, challenging, and fun (which it is), I think there are other takeaways from the event.

First is  teamwork. I’m not just talking about lending a hand on a project every now and then. I’m talking about legitimately caring about your coworkers and wanting to see them succeed. Make time for people you rely on and for those who rely on you. Approach their concerns with the same level of detail you would your own. If a team member is struggling, help out. This may consist of coming up with a plan to tackle a problem or figuring out a new way to explain something. Putting more effort into teamwork will help you in the long run because eventually we will all need a helping hand.

Second, be an encouraging force in the office. Stay clear of negative conversations whenever possible. Instead of dwelling on a problem, brainstorm ways to fix or get around the issue. By being approachable and positive you will establish stronger bonds with your coworkers. When times get rough it’s important to have a strong, trusting team on your side.

Finally, practice the Tough Mudder way with effective communication. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Re-read emails before sending them. Watch out for condescending tones or messages that can be misconstrued. Communication is an important tool that can make all the difference.

During the Tough Mudder one of my teammates talked me through an obstacle called the Cage Crawl. I am claustrophobic and this obstacle consists of a chain-link fence over the top of a pool of muddy water. There is six inches of space between the water and the fence so you have to float on your back as you crawl across the pool.

My teammate knew I was afraid and he kept me calm by talking to me and communicating how far I was from the end of the pool. His words kept me from freaking out, which would have caused me to pull down on the fence and ultimately end up with my head under water. Using effective communication in the work environment will promote meaningful conversations with coworkers and ultimately lead to better end results.

I intend to apply the concepts from my Tough Mudder experience to my workday because these principles make me feel good! The preparation paid off and by working together my team was able to enjoy the accomplishment. Our orange headbands are the reward for not giving up.

In a work environment the reward can be acquiring a new client, pulling off a successful PR campaign, or receiving a thank you note from a customer. There are numerous ways to approach your workday the Tough Mudder way. What’s your company’s “orange headband”?


*Bio: Prior to joining the BurrellesLuce Client Service team in 2008, Denise worked in the marketing industry for three years. She holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Connecticut, where she gained experience interning in PR and working for student organizations. By engaging readers on the Fresh Ideas blog Denise hopes to further her understanding of client services. In her spare time, she is passionate kickboxing, traveling with her husband, charity work, and curling up with a good book. Her claim to fame: being adventurous has always paid off. LinkedIn: dmazzella Twitter: @denise10283 Facebook: BurrellesLuce

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