Hello Vox readers,
I just returned from the holidays with my family in the U.S. I spent most of my off-season training in Hawaii (Climbing up Mt. Haleakala volcano), Alaska (pushing through intervals on Zwift), and California (visiting friends & riding on familiar roads).
At this time last year, I was working a full-time job in Venture Capital, contemplating if, how, and when I should leave my finance job and become a full-time cyclist. In this post, I share insights into how I made my decision, with the hope that my story will help anyone who is in similar shoes looking to make a transition in their own life.
To feel comfortable leaving my full-time VC job, I needed to feel confident that 1) I had the physical ability to succeed as a professional cyclist 2) I would be happy as a professional cyclist, and 3) I had enough money saved so that if cycling didn’t work out, I could return home with enough savings until I found a new job. Below, I break down how I prepared for each of these three requirements I put on myself.
First, I wanted to know that I had the physical aptitude to succeed as a professional cyclist. Knowing that I had athletic potential made it easier to justify taking the risk of leaving my job. To test whether I was physically ready, I hired my coach Mike Sayers, who had decades of experience racing professionally in Europe and coaching U.S. national teams. He analyzed my numbers, built me a solid training plan, and gave me constant feedback on how I was developing as a rider.
I trained 2 hours every weekday morning, raced every summer weekend in regional amateur races, and I used all my vacation days to compete at more competitive races. To accommodate a larger training regimen, I moved closer to work to reduce my commute time, and I received permission from my boss to start and finish work later every Wednesday so I could fit in a 4-hour morning ride.
After winning local amateur races, I had the opportunity to join the professional UCI team, Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank, for the 2020 season. I signed a 1-year contract and planned to work full-time through 2020 and use all my vacation days from work to compete in domestic races. Because of COVID, I spent most of 2020 racing on Zwift and working from home, which admittedly made it easier to cycle professionally and work at the same time.
In September 2020, Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank offered me the opportunity to race in Europe. I could finally test if I was physically and mentally prepared for the life of European racing. I negotiated with the manager at my VC firm, who granted me permission to work half-time and remotely for two months so that I could race in Europe (admittedly, the existing work-from-home culture helped my negotiation). I flew to Europe to compete at Tour de l’Ardèche and a few Cobbled Classics from September through October. This was one of the most exhausting and emotionally taxing periods of my life, but it was also the most educational for my transition.
Most importantly, I learned that racing full-time in Europe was not sustainable with my full-time or even half-time finance job in the U.S. During the 7-day stage race at Ardèche, I woke up at 6am everyday to respond to work emails, and then analyzed financial and business documents while in the team car on my way to each stage. After each stage, I returned to the hotel around 7pm or 8pm, showered, and ate dinner while on Zoom meetings for work. I went to bed at midnight and woke up at 6am the next morning to repeat my routine. At times I did not have time to shower until 11pm or eat anything more than a baguette and protein shake for dinner. I share this story not to tout everything I squeezed in, but rather to let readers know that working a demanding job while racing full-time on another continent is extremely difficult. Unfortunately, many professional female cyclists do not earn a living wage from cycling and must work a full-time job while racing to make ends meet. If you have the opportunity to start racing professionally while you are unemployed, between two jobs, on a long vacation, on a sabbatical, working part-time, or in smaller race blocks, I recommend doing so. If you cannot take time off work, I suggest trying to work from home, create more flexibility around your hours, and complete as much work as possible to get ahead before race blocks. After my race block in the fall of 2020, I realized that I needed to decide between racing full-time or working full-time. I could be great at both, but not at the same time. My results that fall gave me confidence that – if I devoted myself fully to cycling – I had the physical potential to compete in Europe at a high level.
Next, I wanted to understand if I would enjoy the lifestyle of a professional cyclist. Racing professionally is very different from training and occasionally racing for fun. As a professional, I would need to move across the world, far away from my friends and family. I would spend most of my time traveling, staying in hotels with roommates, making less money, managing the stress of having to perform, and communicating across cultural and linguistic barriers. I would need to place a greater emphasis on my nutrition and physical health. Training would be much more intense, and I would have to eliminate vacations that did not accommodate my training schedule. I would have to leave my comfortable Silicon-Valley lifestyle for a few years of potential financial insecurity, physical strain, and a lot of emotional growth. Was I really ready? The two months in Europe in the fall of 2020 was an ideal opportunity for me to test whether I really loved the lifestyle and sacrifices that came with professional cycling. Despite its challenges, I fell in love with professional racing, and I was ready to pursue it.
Finally, I wanted to feel enough financial security so that if cycling didn’t work out, or I didn’t receive a contract with living wage after two years, I had enough savings to live off for six months until I found another full-time job. From the moment I graduated college, I supported myself financially, and I saved my money meticulously. I rarely spent money on vacations, dining out, or luxury items. Fortunately, I did not have the burden of providing for anyone else financially, so my taking on financial risk would not risk anyone else’s financial wellbeing. After four and a half years of working and saving, I finally had enough savings to feel comfortable leaving my job.
My journey to becoming a professional cyclist took years of preparation, planning, risk mitigation, negotiation, and patience. It was not a spontaneous decision, but a rather lengthy process and transition. If I had achieved my three requirements earlier (physical ability, enjoyment, and financial security), I may have become a professional athlete sooner. In the end, I had to take a leap of faith, but it was a calculated risk I felt comfortable making.
If you are considering a life transition yourself, what requirements need to be in place for you to feel ready, and how will you hold yourself accountable to achieving those? Feel free to send me your ideas or questions and I will do my best to respond.
For more of my thoughts on cycling, work, or life, feel free to follow and DM me on Instagram @arcticfaulks.