CNN — (CNN) -- The last several months have been anything but normal. My selection to the CNN Fit Nation team has changed my health, which has always had its ups and downs.
This journey reminds me of my first year of teaching. Fresh out of college, I constantly had to remind myself that the tough times were temporary and to keep moving forward. As I've learned, teaching and training for a triathlon have a lot in common.
Here are three things I've learned about the sport of triathlon so far:
1. Everyone has an opinion
Once people hear the magic word "triathlon" they always have a piece of advice for you. As the sport of triathlon spreads, more people have a brother or a friend who is a triathlete, or they participate themselves. Their advice usually begins with, "What you need to do is..." or "Have you tried...?"
Don't get me wrong, I appreciate their interest, but it makes me even more confused in regard to the best approach.
Triathletes are like students. Each one is individually wired and may follow a different path in order to be successful. We have different backgrounds and talents and, just like when we were in fourth grade, what works for one may not work for another.
Teachers have to recognize this and adapt their teaching style to best fit the student's needs. The coaches we have for Fit Nation have done this by providing me and my teammates with customized training plans.
As a beginner in the sport of triathlon, I've learned you have to choose the path that works best for you.
2. There is no replacement for hard work
Recently, I read an awesome book called "Finding Ultra" by author Rich Roll. This is a man who left his couch and fast-food diet to start racing ultra-triathlons. This was the kind of book I could not put down. I was captivated by Rich's unique story and quickly realized that he and I had a lot in common.
You should have seen me -- I was mentioning the book to anyone who would listen and I was ready to follow his strategy right away. However, I quickly realized that just reading a book or listening to a podcast does not bring success. I was motivated by his book to do more within my own life, but I know that alone will not help me reach my goals.
As a teacher, this has also proven to be true in my classroom. I can provide my students with all the information in the world. I can present it to them in several different ways, and I can repeat it as many times as necessary. However, if they are not willing to work hard and put in the effort, they won't succeed.
Bottom line, there is no replacement for hard work. We have to put the time and effort in. We have to mentally and physically prepare for our next race, our next challenge.
Most of us come to learn to love the work that is necessary in order to achieve a goal, big or small. It helps bring a sense of accomplishment that is not possible when something is given to us. The hard part for most people tends to be the beginning.
As Fit Nation alum Jeff Dauler says, "Keep moving forward." He's right. No matter how big the step, moving forward in the direction we want to go is most important. Have you started yet? Have you made a step in the direction you want to go?
3. Having a mentor (or two) is key!
As the oldest child in my family, I sometimes feel like I was at a disadvantage growing up. Don't get me wrong, I have no doubt that I was spoiled more than necessary. However, I lacked an older brother or sister who could help teach me the ways of the world -- a mentor.
I was able to eventually learn things on my own, but having someone older and wiser would have hastened the process.
The same can be said for triathlon. We all enter the sport with a certain confidence that we already know how to swim, bike, and run from our days in grade school.
I was wrong. I quickly found out that I had no clue how to perform the sports correctly. Luckily, I've had help. In my training thus far, I've been able to lean on five people when it comes to the different sports. They encourage me, they educate me, and most importantly, they support me. These teachers/coaches/mentors show me the way so I don't have to learn everything on my own. They can't do the hard work for me, but they teach me how to be efficient and effective in a way that produces results.
Thankfully, I've also had the opportunity to play the role of mentor. As a teacher and coach, I've been the one trying to educate, encourage and support those around me. Like in triathlon, I've learned that those who struggle the most are still capable of success. A mentor is able to show that their mentee is cared for individually and that his or her hard work has a purpose.
I highly recommend finding a mentor to help you down the path you've chosen. Regardless of your challenge, find someone who has been there/done that and follow them. You'll be glad you did.
Follow Doug's journey on Twitter @triharddouglas