It’s Patriots Day here in Massachusetts, a state holiday that marks the anniversary of the Revolutionary War battles of Lexington and Concord, as well as this year’s 121st running of the Boston Marathon. As a kid growing up in the Boston area, I’ve enjoyed watching this marathon spectacle, taking my place among throngs of fans along the route. If you haven’t seen it in person, it’s truly awe-inspiring to observe the physical prowess and mental toughness of the tens of thousands of athletes who lace up for this incredibly grueling test of endurance and strength. Today’s forecast is sunny and a bit warm, sure to bring out even more crowds than usual, but possibly creating some challenges for the athletes who prefer their marathon weather cool and damp.
I’ve never run a marathon, but I’m no stranger to long-distance athletic events. The closest comparison I can make would be my participation in numerous 3-day cancer fundraising walks, the first one back in May 2000. Walking has always come easily to me. The tougher part is sleeping in tents, showering in the back of a tractor-trailer truck and suffering through three days of port-a-potties. Suffice it to say, I’ve never been much of a camper.
Over the past few years, I’ve added another endurance feat to my portfolio: I’ve launched a small business. Among the many obvious connections between owning and operating a small firm and long-distance running (or walking) there are a few qualities that winning athletes and entrepreneurial types share. Achieving success over the long-term in business, sports, (or life for that matter) requires certain characteristics.
- Be willing to make sacrifices. In sports, athletes sacrifice their physical comfort, enduring exhaustion and even pain while training for a competition. It’s the same in business. Entrepreneurs must be willing to substitute security and peace of mind for a certain degree of stress and uncertainty as they build their companies.
- Find your self-discipline. Any athlete who’s forced herself to workout when it’s 30 degrees and sleeting outside knows about self-discipline. You get out there and do it because you know you’ll feel better and be stronger for it later. The same applies to reaching deep inside for strength when things aren’t going smoothly in your business. I’ve found the key is to keep up my regular routine even when I feel like skipping a day. Sometimes it’s sheer momentum that gets me through the tough times.
- Know when to seek out support. Marathoners rely on spaghetti dinners, water stations and cheering fans to keep their spirits high and their bodies going strong. A lot of good comes from surrounding yourself with positive influences, along with a little wisdom and encouragement. Successful businesses require all types of external resources to stay afloat. I may be the sole proprietor but I’m not ashamed to say I lean heavily on a reliable network of friends, colleagues and mentors to keep me sustained and in the game every day.
- Make progress through measurable goals. The first year I did a 3-day walk, I was determined to finish all 60 miles on my own two feet. Above all else, I didn’t want to end up in the sweep van that picked up walkers who couldn’t finish the route. So I focused on walking 20 miles a day, the distance I already knew I could achieve. Three 20-mile days seemed more manageable to me than the whole 60-mile trek. In my business, I counter daily uncertainties by setting my sights on achievable goals, and going after them, one at a time. Not all of these goals need to be big, life-changing ones. They can be smaller, manageable achievements that simply bring me from point A to point B. It still feels good to make progress even if it’s through a smaller victory.
Not everyone is well suited for running a business, much less running a marathon. I have people tell me all the time that they don’t know how I do this on my own. I respond by saying I don’t feel alone. A strong competitive instinct, sense of curiosity, perseverance, tolerance for risk and plain old luck sit across the desk from me every day. These inner attributes and a solid network of industry associates have led me to where I am today, somewhere along my own marathon route to success, the finish line still nowhere in sight.