It’s a Marathon, even if you think it’s a Sprint.
While High Achievers love sprinting to the the finish line, in the complex and uncertain world in which we live and work, the important things have ever longer finish lines. Building mental fitness is now critical to keep momentum going for a finish line that keeps moving. These 4 P’s will help foster the resilience, motivation and mindset to realize how.
When the Chicago Marathon fell on 10/10 this year, I was thankful that running a real marathon was not on my bucket list, and not just because it was my birthday…but because it sounds really hard, really long and not very enjoyable.
However, I will put really hard, really long, not very enjoyable things on my big audacious goal list with no clear finish line – Publishing my book, speaking in front of thousands of people, doing a TED talk! Everyone chooses their own marathons or they are chosen for us. So how do we sustain our motivation through those we choose (career, family, passion pursuits) and those we don’t (i.e. the global pandemic, health crisis)?
What’s more, the marathons of our lives are MUCH LONGER than the 26 mile Chicago marathon! They can be weeks, months, even decades! I’ve exceeded 26 years in my corporate career, my marriage, and I’m nearly there in parenting too, although there is no finish line on that one. Even endeavors that start as a sprint may move to marathons, like my book. And while we may sprint a bit along the way, it can feel like a marathon getting to what’s next…next promotion, the next level, the C-suite, the next big audacious goal. Also, high achievers are notorious for constantly raising the bar, which makes that ‘finish line feeling’ even more elusive. So, clearly, we need abundant resilience and motivation to stay in the race.
High achieving professionals have needed to build their resilience muscles even more during the global pandemic – whether it’s leading teams to adapt through ongoing crisis and uncertainty, pivoting in their business or career, or moving to a new place or new company and starting again. There is no clear training manual for these grueling “off the road” marathons, and the markers for each mile are rarely posted to clearly show our progress. So what do we do?
These 4 P’s – Perspective, People, Purpose and Pacing – will help you to go beyond enduring your marathons, but help make them more enjoyable too.
Changing your Perspective changes outcomes
I asked my friend, Mike Chu, a marathon runner who’s completed 19 marathons so far, how he keeps his motivation going until the 26 mile finish line. He said, “I keep telling myself how far I’ve come already.”
Perspective is really helpful to keep motivation momentum in the marathon of life, especially when there aren’t clear interim milestones to celebrate. We celebrate the big promotion, but do we celebrate where we are now and how far we’ve come? Or how about the important milestone of voicing to your boss that you are ready for the big promotion, even if you haven’t gotten it yet? Do we celebrate when you say “no” to a new client or project because you know you and/or your team are too overworked and overstressed to take on more projects right now? One of my clients is the head of a consulting firm who has learned to say ‘no’ to clients who aren’t ideal, which gives her more time to spend on the clients and work that lights her up. This is cause for celebration! When we learn to say ‘no’ to what isn’t good for us, we can say ‘yes’ to what is.
So celebrate the interim milestones. Applaud yourself for how far you’ve come. You’ll add significant deposits to your resilience and motivation banks.
Instead of “I can’t celebrate until I reach the finish line”, I now tell myself “I celebrate what I’m learning along the way.” Since learning is a big value of mine, this feels like an achievement for me. Tying your celebration to what you value is key to feeling a true sense of accomplishment and pride, inside and out. As an entrepreneur and a coach, I have less tangible achievements than I did as a CMO, since the value I bring is often through others. Now I find ways to celebrate my growth, such as facing my fear or embracing failure as learning what NOT to do next time (lots of opportunity to do this, just like Edison!] – and sharing it with vulnerability. Looked at it this way, I can hold failure more lightly, because everything is fodder for learning.
Pro-Tip #1 to Fire up your Mind: Ask yourself: What do I value – and how do those values show up in my life?
Power Through with People
Preparing for a marathon takes a proven process, showing up day in and day out and maintaining momentum and mindset through the race. These are all things where people can make a huge difference to our success. Marathon runners who train often rely on trainers and running buddies, and that’s because we do better when we’re inspired by and accountable to others. My friend Mike even said that the other runners and supporters give him energy to keep going. While many of us haven’t run 19 marathons, I can relate to the energy I get in a workout class, where I push myself harder than if I were to work out alone.
It’s the same way in our professional lives and development. Research shows that people working in PODS (accountability groups) leads to 500% more likelihood of success. The combination of energy, support and accountability (not wanting to fail the tribe) all help support us successfully getting to the finish line.
And when you’re celebrating, amplify your celebration with people too. Early on, after I beat cancer in 2011, I celebrated annually on the date of my surgery when the malignant cancer was gone. It was wonderful to express gratitude for my recovery and celebrate with my friends and family. Yet, after a few years, I didn’t plan anything and let it slip away. In 2018, I decided “no more”. I’d become a coach and knew how important celebrations were and I threw a party on my b-day to celebrate my life and my cancer free anniversary. This year, I celebrated by sharing “My 10 Gifts I got from Cancer” (tapping into my love of learning) and celebrating with colleagues, family and friends virtually (tapping into my value of meaningful connection). I was blown away by the support and compassion I received, just when I needed it,
Pro-Tip #2 to Fire up your Mind: If you are stuck and feeling the dip in motivation, talk to someone. Share your feelings with a friend or colleague, get advice from a mentor, find an accountability buddy, or hire a coach to support you moving forward productively.
Anchor to your Big Purpose
As Freidrich Nietzsche said, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” Whether it’s our career, partnerships, parenting, overcoming crisis, these big marathons of life take courage and perseverance, so it’s imperative we know our BIG WHY.
When I was getting poked and prodded with needles during my cancer recovery, I could handle it because I knew it was all part of my road to recovery. And while I wanted to be healthy again for me, I had an even bigger WHY: to be part of my daughter’s lives – and their children’s lives -for years to come.
As I’ve been reinventing my career as a coach and leadership trainer, I have been on such a steep learning curve that I feel like I’m climbing up the side of a mountain sometimes, without a rope. When I fall, and I’ve fallen many times, I keep coming back to my big WHY for what I do now: to inspire myself and others to live to our optimal potential. Growth only happens when we’re learning, and learning happens in those moments when we fail and begin again. We’re like Edison first learning the thousands of ways NOT to invent a light bulb. When I remind myself that everything is an opportunity to learn, it allows me to move forward past my fear. Fear is there to protect us, but it often serves to keep us from moving. Knowing our big WHY, we can stay afloat even when it gets really bumpy out there. So I lean into my big purpose and my values of learning, love and meaningful connection to foster my resilience and keep my motivation going.
Pro-tip #3 to Fire up your Mind: What are your top 3-5 values? How are you aligned with those values in the choices and challenges you face now?
Set a Sustainable Pace
When you’re in a sprint, like a new product launch, you don’t need to pace yourself to get to the finish line. But when you’re in a never ending “sprint”, like many felt as they reacted and pivoted during the pandemic, or when we dealt with the financial crisis of 2008, it can be difficult to see that you shifted to a marathon and need serious pacing!
When we don’t pace ourselves, and we work harder and longer, and skip that workout and cut back on sleep, and feel more and more stress, we wear ourselves out and burnout ensues. I’ve experienced burnout from crisis, but I’ve also gotten burned out from my passion too. Two years ago, I was working on my first book manuscript and I was under a ton of stress to meet the deadline. I felt like I was sprinting, and I told myself I could do anything for a short period of time (which is often true). In this case, I pushed myself to the limit, and it took me weeks to recover. Worse, I didn’t spend quality time with my daughters during the holidays. I also realized that even though I met the deadline and had more than enough word count, I wasn’t writing the book I wanted to publish. I woke up to being on an even longer marathon which is still going on today, after 2+ years. I keep my motivation going by realizing I’m writing the book I’m meant to write now, which is aligned with my big why and my values. Pacing involved setting SMART goals and blocking off time and honoring that time (easier said than done).
When I completed my cancer recovery, I vowed to make time to take care of my body every day of my life, with workouts at least 3 days per week. Even during my busiest periods, I would walk at least 30 minutes/day, as I knew research showed how valuable walking is for health and wellbeing. Over time, I realized that taking a walk or bike ride actually makes me even more productive, especially when I ‘m stressed. That’s because I shift into flow, which allows my mind to find solutions that I can’t see when I’m anxious and tired. Try it! Pace yourself by nourishing yourself, finding flow with something you enjoy – like a walk in nature – and see what magic happens. Chances are that you’ll be more productive and creative when you do.
Pro-Tip #4 to Fire up your Mind: When you are overwhelmed, reframe your mindset from “This is a sprint” to “This is part of my marathon.” Put yourself in the shoes of your wiser, elder self who is looking back on this situation at the end of your life, and ask: “what is most important in this situation?”
High achievers often use accomplishments, like finishing the marathon, as the key measure of success. In reality, showing up for the marathon each day, and responding well to the obstacles that get in your way, may be an even more important success metric. I have been on many metaphoric marathons and realized that getting to the finish line can often be overrated, if we are too depleted or burned out to enjoy it. Whether you are in the beginning, middle or end of your marathon, keep your perspective, ask for support from people you value, anchor to your big purpose and keep pacing yourself in sustainable ways. When you do, you’ll find more happiness, resilience and motivation to win every time, no matter the outcome.
If I can support you to ramp up resilience and motivations as you navigate uncertainty and change, whether planned or expected, let me know at email@example.com. If you want to join a group specifically for professional women leaders seeking to balance their passion for work and family while still accelerating their careers (talk about a long marathon!), this is the last chance to join Burnout to Balance & Beyond coaching program – which begins on Saturday, October 16th (and includes the Positive Intelligence (PQ) Program). Registration will be accepted through Friday, October 15th, COB.
Mind your Fire!
Stephanie Klein is a keynote speaker, cerfied executive coach, and a teacher of the Search Inside Yourself (SIY) mindful emotional intelligence program and Positive Intelligence (PQ) mental fitness program.
She founded Mindfire Mastery to help leaders and organizations build the mental resilience to shift from burnout to balance, and the momentum to ignite and sustain optimal performance, relationships and wellbeing. She is the author of “Waking Up on the Right Side of Wrong”, to be published in 2022 about how challenging, disruptive experiences can positively change our trajectories.
She is now passionate about igniting leaders’ untapped potential to propel beyond functional to optimal in a complex, changing world. Stephanie applies her three decades of building purposeful leadership brands at Fortune 500 organizations [including Hallmark, United Airlines, Kraft, Alberto-Culver, Coca-Cola, Cboe Global Markets and Northern Trust] to helping leaders design their ideal careers and lives.