I recently reconnected with an old college teammate to recall a running route which punished us each Sunday morning during cross-country season. I ran throughout college as a distance runner in an intensive program in upstate New York. I can remember running over 45 miles in three days and wondering if I was going to simply break like a toothpick.
On Sunday mornings after grueling races the day before, we would faithfully head out at 7 AM on our 17 mile Ellison Park runs. We sounded like a graceful stampede in rhythm running along waterways and into small towns. Some mornings, I relied heavily on my teammates just to pull me through the workouts. Showers and brunch at 9:30 AM started our days. The majority of the campus was still in bed. We were just trying to recover enough to do our 4:40 mile repeats the next day.
I could not have performed at such a high level without my teammates, and for that I am grateful. They helped make me who I am today. I can see in hindsight that those days were teaching me much more about how to win at life than just running races. I used to ask myself if it was worth it. I always suspected that there would be payoff in many unseen ways.
Not only did I get faster, stronger and mentally tough at racing, but it did much more for me. I learned about paying a price and having endurance in the race of life. As we are all racing towards our common destination – our mortality – a focus on staying in the race and pushing towards our best becomes harder as we go along. The distractions, hardship and choice of an easier life are always there to tempt us to stop pushing or seeking to win.
I miss those days of pushing my body and mind to the limits. However, these are the lessons I apply every day in business and life which were working in me. I see these continually play out in people of passionate pursuits:
1. Create Your Own Luck: There were thousands of college programs to join. I happened to choose one that won the national championships my freshman year. The accolades and celebration were a true memory. However, the results came from a coach who built a program and had the horses to win. We like to think what we achieve is from solely our efforts. I got lucky. But, I would not have been lucky if I did not pay the price everyone else was paying as well. Paying the price and enduring hardship allows you to be around when luck hits.
2. Avoid The Norm: Who you are around heavily influences your standards. Usually, being with people in the norm breeds mediocre thinking. We can easily justify and gain permission to pursue less. My teammates had a different standard for being in shape or what being tough really meant. We took it for granted in relating to each other, but it became apparent once we stepped out of the locker room how the norm thinks. Your relationships will influence your standards. Relate to who you want to become. Otherwise, you will get permission to become less.
3. Embrace Adversity: I had a gauntlet to go through every season. It would not last forever, but it was something I could not avoid because I committed. We live in a society where few people commit. However, it is the one powerful force in your life which enables you to face adversity well rather than just endure hardship. If you know you are going to do something, then it liberates you to execute with your best. If you are allowing yourself the fantasy and option of exiting based on how hard things get, then winning becomes much harder. You are focused on surviving. Look ahead and choose to commit to your adversity so you can get clear on how to win. Paying a price separates you from those who are unwilling to do so.
4. Do Things That Make You Become: The most important thing in your life is who you are becoming. There are many decisions you are incapable of making if you have not trained your heart and mind to pay the price. It is simply too hard to grab hold of. I love watching the skateboarders on the X Games. They are daring and thinking about pulling tricks far beyond the average person. They paid a price which we have not seen. We just enjoy the fruits on our television. Most people will be watchers of those who put the hours in and pushed to become what they passionately wanted. The guys on television are not struggling with simple maneuvers. They are invested in things that will help them become greater. So must we all if we want the ability to fly high.
One thing I have discovered about life is that while it may be hard, it is fair. The people who are willing to pay a price for themselves are not standing around with hope as their only strategy. They are making their own way. I also realize that people are creatures of inertia – they tend to stay in the state they are in, whether action or apathy. My hope for you is that it will not take a crisis to help you step onto a road worth traveling. Examine yourself and make a choice to pay the price, whatever it may be, to be the person you want to become.