Running is the Perfect Metaphor for Life

Before you mistaken me for a granola-chewing, gel-devouring, ran-13.1-miles-in-my-sleep athlete, know this: I’m not a natural born distance runner. In my youth, I was a sprinter (and an average one at that). But I know how to set big hairy audacious goals and, more importantly, follow through with my BHAG’s. I went from barely being able to run three miles without stopping to successfully finishing three half-marathons in a year by recognizing five things as applicable to running as to leadership …

1 – Consistency. It was a profound lesson for me to learn that small, constant efforts add up to big change.  (This fact is far too practical, by the way, and flies in the face of my Activator | driven | Type A | adrenaline junky tendencies.)  But, I digress.  My training regimen was filled with short to medium distance runs, and even a bit of walking and cross training.  At the time, I had my doubts that those training days of three miles, four miles and short interval speed workouts would actually add up and have me prepared for the race. But, the key is sticking to the program. In my last month of training for the 2010 Lincoln Half Marathon, I could run eight to 11 miles with (dare I say) ease. You can accomplish great things through consistent effort.  My habits laid a strong foundation upon which the big race easily rested.

2 – Bulk Up Your Winner’s Mentality. You can set a “BHAG.” But that’s not the same as achieving it. Finishing a race or earning an advanced degree or certification—whatever your BHAG may be—instills a “Can do” attitude that spills into every facet of your life. The sweet taste of victory begets powerful self confidence.  You’re hungry for the next plate. And seeing your discipline pay dividends reinforces the principle until those habits become hardwired and innate. 

3 – It’s not supposed to be easy. It’s true. The most coveted things in life are those that often require you to dig deep inside of yourself.  Most everything that is fabulous and meaningful and gratifying in life takes intense effort and an openness to failure and the pain that comes with growing and learning.  Career success.  Personal relationships.  Parenting.  Financial success.  Physical fitness.  To do any of them well requires hard work and the self discipline to go past average or comfortable.  For years I have wanted to develop this blog. But I was held back by the fear of “putting myself out there.” I harnessed the consistent effort required to run the half, and fully devoted myself to writing regularly.   Stay tuned.  And feel free to hold me accountable!

4 – Leave Self Doubt in the Dust. As I was training, there were days when it took all my power (and then some) to run three miles. And yet other days, six miles felt like a breeze! I doubted myself. I wondered if I had bitten off more than I could chew. Similarly, in leadership, there are some days when I have “rock star” moments and everything is clicking, and then others when I couldn’t string a cogent or influential sentence together to save my life, or I make bad judgment calls that are costly to me or a client.  The fact is that life, running, and leadership are full or obstacles and disappointment.  And the bigger your goals or the higher the stakes, the more likely you are to experience failure along the way.  But, the most disciplined and well-prepared leaders realize that failure does not define them; they just continue to prepare them for every future experience that will come their way.  

5 – It’s not everything—but setting goals is a good start. I often wonder: If I didn’t sign up for the half, what “excuses” would have emerged for me to forgo hitting the pavement? I’m too busy with work. I’m too busy with my family. But I had the Lincoln Half hovering over my shoulder. When you make the commitment, be it signing up for a race as part of a New Year’s resolution or fulfilling a strategic initiative, it serves as a powerful motivator. Though the hardest part—the fulfillment of your personal BHAG—is yet to come, it’s a very important ally on your road to achieving that goal.

Speaking of setting goals, I am now training for my fourth half this year. It’s true what the granola-eaters say. Running distance changed every aspect of my life. What’s your BHAG for 2011?

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