Lessons from a pro racer: How to shift gears and drive your career

Pippa Mann is currently the fastest female driver in history at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with her record lap of 230.1mph. Mann shares five career lessons on how to compete in the fast lane and win at work.

What would you do if there were no limits?

That's less a hypothetical question and more a reality for IndyCar driver Pippa Mann, who could have taken the easy road and chosen a career much "safer" than the male-dominated sport of professional racing. Mann's professional passion pulses through the phone as she brings me up to speed on how she knew she was destined for life in the fast lane.

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Pippa Mann is a British professional race car driver who competes in the IndyCar Series. 

Jamey Price (Twitter: @jameypricephoto)

Mann was born in London and knew from an early age she wanted to race.  She started competing in karting as a teen, which fueled, rather than fanned, the flames of her career passion. While her peers were planning for secondary school, she was mapping a path to the wide-open road of realizing her dreams. Whether you feel like your career is on track right now or not, Mann offers three questions to help you shift gears and get back in the driver's seat:

  • What did you "always want to be when you grew up?" Childhood interests reveal your passion and can guide your strategy to change lanes.
  • What limits you from pursuing your dream? Whether it's a lack of role models or predecessors who look like you or self-limiting beliefs, explore what's keeping you idle.
  • How could you run a time trial? Take your aspirational idea or career intention out for a test spin. Just like a time trial, your only competition is the clock. Mark time on your calendar -- even 15 or 30 minutes a week -- to connect with resources that can help you move your career forward.

"Just because you have a career dream or goal in mind doesn't mean it's going to be easy," Mann empathizes. "You still have to hustle. To stay hungry. To navigate the obstacles and setbacks that you will inevitably encounter."

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Pippa Mann, professional racer driver, IndyCar series.

Jamey Price (Twitter: @jameypricephoto)

Mann's journey from kart racer to become the first British woman to qualify for the world-famous Indy 500 car race wasn't easy. Through triumphs and tragedies, she discovered that talent and training are not enough. You also have to tap your inner drive and tune up your differentiators regardless of your win-loss record.

Whether you're feeling career sidelined or ready to accelerate, Mann offers five savvy strategies to win at work.

  1. Go where the road takes you. "Doing the work is more important than where you do the work," Mann coaches. "I moved to Italy when I was 17 to concentrate on karting full-time, and two years later I was competing in the World Karting Championship races. By the time I was 26 years old, I was living and competing here, in the United States." Whether your career horizon includes a temporary pit stop to work from home or a permanent change of venue, follow the path of opportunity. Be flexible in where your career -- or your next job -- may take you. And make the best of each stop along the way. 

  2. Strive like a rookie. Although Mann has expertise and experience, she's maintained the same level of the drive she had as a rookie. And she's willing to do whatever it takes to stay in the race. "Through every step of the journey 'being a racing driver' has not been enough to pay my bills. While you may think of me as an Indianapolis 500 racer, the reality is I will race almost any car, at any level that I am paid to race. I earn most of my living as a performance driving coach for brands, and as a private coach, helping individual clients hone their skills and get faster on the race track. This often means I'm on the road for weeks at a time, traveling to wherever the work is, helmet in hand for whatever race car is waiting for me next." How can you put the same level of energy into the search for your next job as you did for your rookie job? Passion is the fuel of opportunity.

  3. Set the pace. Mann is currently the fastest female driver in history at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with her record lap of 230.1mph, set on Fast Friday of 2017. "Leaders always set the pace," she emphasizes, "Always. And going fast means focusing on fundamentals first. Driving a race car at a high speed is a game of precision and flawless execution." So is searching for a job in a down economy. How flawlessly can you execute a conversation about your strengths? Your ask for help? Or examples of how you can make an impact? Tune your story and your skills. Practice makes perfect. Champions know it's critical to go slow to go fast, especially when the field is full of competitors.

  4. Keep your eyes on the road ahead. "One of the worst things you can do as a race car driver is to drive in your mirrors, literally and metaphorically," says Mann. "If you're watching cars behind you, instead of keeping your focus forward, you're more likely to make mistakes, which opens the opportunity for those cars to pass you. If you focus too much energy on what did not go according to plan, that mindset permeates and affects the whole team going forward. Instead, learn from history, then move forward. And learn how to keep track of the competition chasing you on the racetrack without allowing it to interfere with your game plan for the race." The same is true in life. There's a difference between briefly glancing back at the circumstances that lead to where you are now versus permanently gazing in your rear-view mirror. Regardless of how you arrived at this point in your career, look through the windshield at what's on the horizon. Anticipate the next curve, and make your move.

  5. Steer clear of distractions. "There's a magical moment when you're sitting in a race car just before they wave the green flag to start the race," Mann describes. "The engine noise drowns out the fan noise. Adrenaline pulses through your veins. All the hard work fades away. Nothing else matters other than how fast you can move forward." What's distracting you from making your job search or career change a priority? How can you drown out the noise and move forward? 
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May 16 to 19, 2019: IndyCar qualifying for the 103rd Indianapolis 500. 39 Pippa Mann, Driven2SaveLives, Chevrolet, Clauson-Marshall Racing.

Jamey Price (Twitter: @jameypricephoto)

What are the strategies that you use to drive your career success? We welcome your insights here or by joining us on Twitter at @karenmangia and @ValaAfshar.


This article was co-authored by Karen Mangia, vice president, customer and market insights, at Salesforce

Karen engages customers globally to discover new ways of creating success and growth together. From Executive Advisory Boards to strategic consulting engagements, her insights are central to Go-to-Market strategy, product development, marketing, and branding. In addition, Karen influences industry thought leadership in her role as Chair of the Customer Experience Council for The Conference Board. Formerly responsible for Insight Innovation at Cisco Systems, she led a global team with oversight into Customer Satisfaction and Experience, Diversity Business Practices, and Global Offset and Countertrade. Karen is also the author of Success With Less and a TEDx speaker.