Hopefully we find ourselves working in a role or at a skill that plays to our strengths; this is where we feel good. But what if you want to be great? That requires pushing beyond your comfort zone; if you want to achieve more you must push through the pain sometimes.
This realization came to me from the last marathon I ran.
I was in my best shape ever and gunning not just to beat my personal best of 3 hours, 46 minutes, but further than that, to beat 3 hours, 40 minutes. I had a solid strategy to do it – I broke the race down into six parts, figuring out what my time would have to be at each, and wrote the times on my arm with a sharpie.
Things started out fine. I was right on pace for the first way point, the second, the third, the fourth, and was just a bit off pace on fifth heading towards the sixth, but still feeling pretty good. I thought all the training, the solid strategy, the nutrition was paying dividends and I could just run it out to the end. Then it hit. Some call it the wall – an overwhelming feeling that the next step is going to be the last before you collapse. The brain is sending every signal it can to try to get you to stop. I knew there would be some form of it, but I was overconfident from how well the first 22 miles went that the last four were going to be easier than usual. My mind was not ready for what was to come.
I ignored my brain for a while, but things got worse and I decided I better walk for a bit. Once walking, I felt so much better. Then the pacer for 3:45 (an expert runner who runs a certain pace for others less advanced to follow) ran by me. I could never keep up to or catch him I thought; not the way I felt, so I kind of gave up. My mind said things like, “I was going to get a decent time anyway even if I walked fast to the end,” and other things to justify my current situation.
After about a mile of that, a runner I had been friendly with earlier tapped me on the back as she cruised on by and said, “Alright enough of that. You paced me for half the race, you were running great, now get your butt in gear!”
I started to run again and to my amazement I could, and I felt okay. With my butt thankfully kicked, I ran out the last mile and a half and had a very sweaty hug with my supportive friend at the end.
My time – 3:46:42. My previous personal best – 3:46:39. I missed my personal best by three seconds! I was in much better shape this time, the day was cooler, and I did better hydration and nutrition. I don’t think 3:40 was in me that day, but I could have beaten my personal best by at least a few minutes had I not been such a wimp. Had I planned for the pain and had my mental songs ready (Yes, “Eye of the Tiger” from Rocky is one of them) I know I could have pushed through that rough spot.
I have seen this pattern over and over since then in my work life. It’s late in the day; I should plan for tomorrow, so I start the day ready to go. In the past I would have left the work for the next morning, now I just suck it up and do it. This allows me to perform my best the next day.
Want to do a great presentation to a group? Put in the time and practice, even once you know you are going to do a good job, just keep going, and take it to the next level – greatness. Want to cement the things agreed on at a team meeting? Write it down and hold people accountable instead of just hoping things will happen. Do the extra work, whatever it is.
The realization that you have to push yourself a bit to get that last 20% is now playing into everything I do, and I’m seeing results. I’m running that same marathon again in the fall, and this time I’m going to leave it all on the course.