The Pen and the Sword: Managing the Demands of a Professional Career and Competitive Fencing
“I make a lot of sacrifices to accomplish the things I want to get done…When you have ambitious goals; there is always a little ‘give and take.’”
“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’”
On most days, the alarm clock rings at 4:45 a.m. I open my eyes to two quotes taped to my ceiling, reminders that it’s time to get up and work:
“Never a day did I let the sun catch me in bed.” –Thomas Jefferson
“When I am not training, someone else is, and when we meet, he will win every time.”
Many days, I’m tempted to disregard the messages on my ceiling and close my eyes just for a little longer, but the papers have a way of challenging me to rise and kick off what are usually long days.
Sometime roughly six months ago, I decided to change my fencing from a recreational activity to a competitive one in preparation for the Maccabi Games. Meeting this challenge (combined with blogging) would require a radical change to my schedule in order to maximize the outcomes of both my professional career and desire to be competitive in fencing (and to downsize my body so I didn’t look like Chris Christie in a fencing uniform).
If you want a fruitful fencing and work career, it is very possible to manage to good results in both—so long as you’re willing to sacrifice a little sleep and you maintain a constant awareness of your work performance and exceeding your boss’s expectations.
I have thrown together advice on simultaneously managing the fencing side of your life, as well as the professional side of your life. I hope these suggestions will prove helpful for professionals hoping to maintain a competitive fencing regimen.
Managing the Professional Side of Things
More often than not, a company will embrace its employees for trying to do cool and unusual things outside of normal business hours. Fencing is a unique activity that always serves as a good conversation starter between you and your manager. Most importantly—an activity as distinct as fencing can be molded into your personal brand in the most positive way possible. If you’re trying to be competitive on the strip and/or perhaps going for a promotion at work, I suggest the following professional rules to balance your worlds:
- Work pays the bills, fencing does not. Your work career is your top priority. In the field in which I work (consulting), you are often required to work longer than usual hours to hammer out proposals, meet a tight deadline, or perhaps attend an important networking event. Unless you’re in that .001% of fencers destined for an Olympic or national team, remember which activity puts food on the table. Sometimes that fencing practice will have to wait if you have a heavy workload.
- Set tangible, measurable expectations with your manager/s early on. This includes expressing your competitive goals to your manager (e.g. “I hope to attend three national tournaments this year. It will require some flexibility with my working hours but I do not anticipate it affecting the delivery of my work”).
- Hold biweekly or monthly status checks with your manager to ensure you are exceeding your expectations. It can be easy to switch into autopilot and lose sight of your performance in the workplace when you are driving towards your fencing goals. Schedule recurring meetings with your manager to make sure that fencing isn’t getting in the way of work too much, and that you’re on track for a solid performance rating. Take notes, solicit feedback, and adjust your behavior as necessary depending on your manager’s critique. Holding recurring performance meetings does two things—it shows your boss you care and are proactive in addressing personal performance, and when your rating comes at the end of the day, it won’t come as a surprise to you.
Managing the Fencing Side of Things
Your fulltime job will occupy the majority of the “middle” portion of your day. Thus, in those “free” moments, it is of the utmost importance to devote them to fencing, and to have a plan of attack for doing so.
- “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” Ben Franklin (aka America’s first pimp) was onto something. If you want a productive day of fencing and a productive work day, the first step is to set that alarm early and block out some time before work to workout. Let’s assume you only have two and a half hours or less to fence in an evening and you have ambitious tournament goals. Fencing itself won’t be enough to meet those goals. The best time to cram in a workout is in the morning if you intend to devote your evenings solely to fencing. Morning exercise has also been proven to improve your sleep cycle, boost your metabolism, and least to weight loss. As tough as it is to get in the routine of a morning gym routine, once you do, the benefits are immense.
- Create a plan for fencing. Know what you want to focus on in a given practice. Don’t simply show up and roll with the punches. Devote time to footwork, stretching, and perhaps work on the target. Block some bouts out for five touch bouts, for fifteen touch bouts (and for chrissakes never go to ten touches unless you’re a veteran). Try to get no less than two personal lessons in a week and no more than three (if you can afford). To maximize your practice time, make sure you provide some structure to them.
- The weekend is not a time to rest. It is more time to train. Sleep in. Rest. But once your eyes are open, it’s time to get to work. A typical Sunday for me involves an hour lesson in the morning to start the day, two hours of rock climbing to add in some muscle confusion and a unique workout, and usually two or more hours of bouting to cap the day off. Take advantage of days where you don’t have a full day of work and maximize that time to have fun and change up your training.
Getting the best of both worlds (fencing and work) will require intense dedication and focus to both the pen and the sword, but if you manage your time and schedule correctly, then that promotion could come right alongside a shiny rating you’re striving for, or some national points.
Making fencing part of your personal brand at work will project the image of a well-rounded employee with ambitious goals and will only help you on your path to upward mobility, so long as you manage both aspects of your life with equal concern and dedication. There are 24 hours in a day. Make the most of them.
Damien is a competitive fencer and volunteer assistant coach at DC Fencers Club in Silver Spring, Md. Damien was the coach of a London 2012 Olympic Athlete in Modern Pentathlon. He is an A-rated epeeist and was a member of the 2012 North American Cup Gold Medal Men’s Epee Team, and a Silver Medalist in the 2013 World Maccabiah Games.