9 Lessons Learned From 25 Years of Consulting and 100 Long Distances Races
After 25-plus years of consulting and 100 endurance races of half marathon, marathon and ultra-marathon distances, I’ve noticed lots of parallels. I’ve learned many lessons during my races that apply to my work as a consultant. Here are a few.
Lesson 1: Be thankful you’re able to lace up and go. Not everyone is capable of going for a long run. Some can’t make it due to their age. Some have health problems. If you can lace up and toe the line, you’re lucky.
Try to think that way about work. Sometimes it’s hard to jump out of bed and sprint to work with a smile on your face. But recognize that there are people who would give anything to have your job. Understand that you are blessed. Be thankful for the opportunity and make the most of it.
Lesson 2: You have to show up in order to finish. Lots of people talk about doing marathons and ultra-marathons. Not a lot of people show up on race day. In order to cross the finish line you have to first cross the start line.
It’s just as true in business. It’s critical to “show up” each day. You can’t succeed if you only bring your A Game occasionally. You have to bring it every day, for the duration of the engagement. You have to show up in order to get your project over the finish line.
Lesson 3: Drink before you’re thirsty. One of the keys to finishing long distance runs is hydration. Drink early and often. Your body will appreciate it and you’ll be able to go the distance.
As a consultant, it is important to stay abreast of the latest trends, research, methods, and technologies. Continuous learning is vital to serving your clients or supporting your business. Read. Attend lectures. Participate in professional conferences. Take online courses. Seek certifications. Don’t wait until you need to know something to begin your search—stay on top of the latest information in your field. In other words, “drink before you’re thirsty.
Lesson 4: Never pass an aid station without refueling. Sometimes, on the trail, runners feel like they are falling behind so they bypass an aid station to make up time. Inevitably, this comes back to bite them. In your race prep, you develop a plan. In that plan, you’ve outlined all the things you MUST do in order to be successful. If it is a good plan, stick with it. That includes refueling at the aid stations.
On your project, spend enough time planning the work. Understand where all the “aid stations” are. We often refer to them as milestones. Be smart about how and when you’ll get there. Be prepared to pause, take stock, and celebrate this small victory. Let your team know how well they’ve done to get to this point. Remind them where the next milestone is and what it will take to get there. You and your team will benefit from taking these pauses to refuel.
Lesson 5: On the tough parts, keep your eyes on the trail. When it’s safe, look up and enjoy the view. There are lots of obstacles along the trail. It’s easy to lose your concentration. It’s easy to stumble and fall. You have to maintain your focus to do well.
The same is true at work. Things come up. Obstacles appear. Keep your eyes on the “trail” as you move toward your milestones. Some parts of the project will be trickier than others. Use extreme focus on those parts. But, when you can, look up and take in the big picture. Celebrate how far you’ve come. Try to enjoy the journey.
Lesson 6: When you’re feeling good, encourage other racers. You’ll need for them to return the favor when you’re not. As you run past your fellow racers, offer them a word of encouragement. It’s amazing how your quick gesture helps push them along.
The same holds true with your work colleagues. Look for opportunities to stop and offer them a pat on the back, a kind word, or a listening ear. There will be days when you’ll need for them to return the favor.
Lesson 7: If someone goes down, stop and help them. On the trail, things happen—pulled muscles…twisted ankles…heat exhaustion…cramps…slips, trips, and falls. When you come across someone in trouble, you help them. You get them on their feet or you offer them water or you go for help. You don’t run past them.
In business, people go down as well. It is often obvious when someone is struggling. You can see that they’re not going to make a deadline or won’t deliver the best deliverable. Help them. Can you act as a sounding board? Stay after work to lend a hand? Give up your lunch hour to listen to your colleague practice a presentation? Figure out a way to help. Your colleagues will appreciate it and the team will benefit.
Lesson 8: Run when you can. Walk when you have to. Just get to the finish line. Finishing is what matters—not how fast. Many runners get stuck focusing on their time. They want to go fast. They want to set a personal record. And some push so hard they end up dropping from the race (because of injury, exhaustion, mental fatigue, etc.). Sometimes it’s better to slow down. Slowing down can help a runner get to the finish line.
In business, you’ve probably heard the saying, “Go slow to go fast.” This is the same concept. Sometimes there is benefit to taking a step back—revisiting the work plan and focusing attention in another area for a moment in order to ensure you get to the finish line. Keep your overall goal in mind. What is it you’re trying to accomplish? What problem are you trying to solve? I’ll bet it has nothing to do with how fast you finish. So, slow down. Get it right. Deliver a great solution. If your company or client tries to push you to finish faster, remind them why you’re there. Remind them of the benefits of success and the cost of failure. Let them know you want to get it right. Tell them, “sometimes you have to go slow to go fast.” Changing those behaviors, implementing that new technology, or whatever your project has been tasked with will eventually help your client go faster.
Just keep running.
Lesson 9: An endurance run isn’t the most difficult thing you’ll ever experience. When you feel like quitting, keep that in mind. Don’t get me wrong, some runs are very difficult. Running 31 miles through the mountains, in the rain, can be a challenge. Climbing thousands of feet in the heat, or running hills over and over again along a 26.2 mile course can be debilitating. You’ll want to quit. When these thoughts enter your mind, remember, this isn’t as hard as life gets. There are many things harder than running in the mountains. I won’t list them here; I’m sure you know what they are. I’m sure you’ve experienced some of them. When you think about those trials, you realize you have it pretty easy to be spending the day in the mountains, breathing good air, getting some exercise, and enjoying the companionship of like-minded people.
We all have tough days at work. Tough months… Tough clients… Think back to all those “tough” experiences. You survived them all. Keep plugging away. Recognize those bad days aren’t so bad; you can handle them. Just keep running.
Endurance running and consulting: same thing, different wardrobe. Who knew?