Project242: Being Visible vs. Being Invisible

Project242 (P242) is my journey to bike 242 miles in 24 hours, across the state of Minnesota on gravel roads, in August, 2021 (the Day Across MN, or the DAMN). I’ve found many lessons experienced riding a bike can be applied to our careers. In these posts, I will share the correlations.

I knew I was in a bad situation. I couldn’t see 75 yards in front of me pedaling my bike at 17 MPH. How the hell would a vehicle traveling at 60 MPH see me? The fog had rolled in from nowhere and was so thick, it felt like it was 9:00 at night, not 9:00 in the morning. Couple the fog with the fact this “bike friendly” road had no shoulder and a steep ditch, it was a perfect storm for getting hit. Even with my bright flashing red light on my bike and flashing, multi-colored vest I was wearing, cars would NOT see me.

I strained my ears, listening to any approaching vehicles. In the distance I could hear one. I moved all the way onto the shoulder, stopped and stood as close to the edge as I could before going into the ditch. A pickup truck whizzed past, slowing as I’m sure they were surprised to suddenly see a biker go by. I listened some more, heard nothing, and continued. This was the process used a few more times until I got to a safer road. What I would’ve given to be visible from a longs way off!

Picture from that morning

Contrast that to 24 hours before, when the early morning was clear and cool. I was biking on another country road as I approached a farm where two large dogs resting on steps under a light. Great, big dogs. If I tried to turn, I’d have to slow way down and risk waking them up while I accelerated the other way. Instead, I shut off my headlight and flashing rear light off, pedaled hard for a second, then silently coasted past. No sound except for wheels on the road. I was as invisible as possible. As I got passed the slumbering pooches, I heard one growl as I turned lights back on, but was probably too far away to justify a chase. Being invisible helped avoid a potential difficult situation.

When it comes to biking, I’m an early morning rider. I usually get out around 5 AM and home by 6:15/6:45. So, it’s somewhat light out (ND in the summer gets light really early). However, I do my best to be annoyingly visible. I want drivers to see me, whether I’m on a city street or a gravel road. I have things that flash and reflect. I’m a rolling light show! I’d say 99% of the time I WANT to be seen. The 1% comes when an attack is possible, mostly by a dog and once an angry Canadian goose (you may laugh, but wait until one chances you with its wings out hissing!).

In our daily jobs and careers, just working hard and being good at what we do isn’t the only prerequisite to getting ahead. If leadership doesn’t know or are even aware of you, chances are you’ll miss out on opportunities. So how can you be more visible at work without looking like you’re trying to grab the spotlight or brag? Here are some tips!

Show Up and Speak Up! Many of us are guilty of going to a meeting, either in-person or virtually, and within 37 seconds our minds are drifting off to somewhere else. Hey, I’m guilty of it too! But what if you showed up, turned your camera on for those virtual meetings, listened intently and actively engaged in the discussion? Ask thoughtful questions. Actively participate in the meeting!

Toot Someone Else’s Horn. If you’re a leader, you do this already. Those on your team quietly do fantastic work, continually delivering great results. Since you’re already showing up and speaking up, drop someone’s name who is doing a great job. Not only will they appreciate it, others will note your willingness to give credit.

Ask to be Involved in High Priority Projects/Efforts. Is there a project that’s big, cross-functional, and to many, scary? Or, an ongoing issue that needs someone to step up, take charge and get it resolved? Yep, that could be you! Remember, Katniss Everdeen said “I volunteer as tribute” in the Hunger Games and it worked out OK for her. It can you too!

Attend any Learning Opportunities. I had a boss tell me “lunch-n-learns” were optional. But, he noted who was there, wanted to learn, and ready to advance. Attend learning opportunities whenever possible and be active in them. You’ll get noticed.

Ask Someone to Coffee/Lunch/Virtual Informal Meeting. Heck, ask multiple people! When COVID hit, I put a post on LinkedIn asking if anyone wanted to have virtual coffee. I did one a day for 2.5 weeks and had great conversations, one direct job offer and helped a couple others solve problems. If you’re in the office, ask someone out to lunch you don’t work with and find out what they do.

Build Relationships Up, Out, and Down. Relationships are evergreen, meaning they are established and continue to grow. Build relationships in all directions, including:

  • Up, with your boss and your boss’ boss. Don’t come across as a suck-up kiss-ass, though.
  • Out with your peers. If you’re a project manager, build relationships with the other PM’s on your team or in the company. They’re a great support network/therapy group!
  • Down to those who report to you or team members. I know it sounds harsh to stay down, but you know what I mean.

Do you ever need to stay invisible? Maybe. As I mentioned, I try to go invisible to avoid attack. But in the office, if I see an attack or battle may be coming, I don’t shy away from it. In fact, I’ve learned to go into attack mode myself and seek the person out to have a discussion (professionally of course!). Some may want to go invisible, but leave that for those very few, extraordinary occasions. Instead, be seen as the person who stands strong! Invisible may help in the short term, but long term, probably not.

Being visible. It can save your life when biking on the road. It can also help you advance in your career. Be visible for all the right reasons. If you have to be invisible, make sure it’s only for a very short time, but also know it’s not a long-term solution to your everyday problems!

Homemade Tron inspired LED super bright bicycle lights - YouTube

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