Short Sprinting The Marathon (LTW5033)

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Craving Encouragement: A Project Update

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“Life is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Yeah, who says?

Just another thing that sounds smart, but maybe it’s not. Okay, forget about smart. Is it accurate? Not likely.

I watched yet another documentary on Janis Joplin the other night during another bout of insomnia. She died at 27. Along with a host of other rock and rollers like Jimi Hendrix. 27 seems to be a popular age to check out if you’re given to excess. There’s even a 27 Club.

I guess 27 years is a marathon compared to 2 years. Life is relative. But lifespan isn’t usually what we’re referring to when we say, “Life is a marathon, not a sprint.” Mostly, I think people mean things take time. So the saying is really an exhortation toward endurance, patience and staying with it.

But it implies something more.

That slow and steady is the path to success. And that fast is the enemy.

Is that right?

Well, it can be. But not necessarily.

Truth is likely far more complicated. And difficult.

Human endeavor largely depends on our beliefs. That’s why these are important subjects to discuss. Even more important to think about. And yet even more important to figure out so we can implement positive changes in our actions.

Does it take a long time to make a positive change?

Is growth always a marathon?

Can we not change our minds and our lives quickly?

We’re human beings with greater capacity for achievement and adaptation than any creatures on the planet. Other creatures require more time to adapt because they have to experience changes before they adapt. Or before they begin to learn how to adapt.

Not us.

We can think about it in our minds before we ever experience it. That gives us the opportunity and ability to make changes quickly. Humans have the innate ability to figure things out. And quickly.

This may be on more of a micro or short-term level, but it has a macro or longer-term ramifications. We can figure out what to do next rather quickly about most things. People do things, say things and we face new circumstances or situations. If life were really a marathon we’d be stuck trying to navigate our way through all the new people and situations we face. But that’s not the case.

Sure, some folks can do it more quickly than others, but every human being blessed with sufficient cognitive ability and mental health has the capacity to figure out rather quickly what to do. There’s just one little catch. Okay, it’s not so little.

We don’t always implement wisdom in figuring it out. Long-time listeners know how I define wisdom. It’s not very complicated the way I think of it because I’m pretty simple.

Wisdom is getting it right in real time.

We can all get it right in hindsight. Some of us need a few times maybe. But the real catch is to figure it out in real-time. To get it right as it’s happening.

It’s really hard. The time pressure is real.

Many psychiatrists and psychologists have written and given talks about ways we can improve our brains. Which should translate into how we can think better. There’s quite a lot written and said about reality. I bring this up because we don’t always see the reality of time. Is this a sprint or a marathon? How can I tell the difference?

Sometimes you can’t. But we seem to almost always be under the pressure of time. Most decisions feel like sprinting is needed. Do we really have time to ponder this some more? Deadlines don’t help. And our lives are filled with them.

“What is taking us OUT of reality?” That’s a question one mental health professional asks. I thought it sounded quite smart at first, but after about 15 seconds I began to question, “How do I know I’m being taken out of reality?”

Contextually the doctor seemed to mean, “What is taking you out of what you know to be true?” He illustrated it like this. Suppose you’re telling yourself, “I can’t do this. I’ll never be able to do it.” Why are you saying that to yourself? Because you’ve not mastered it yet. Did you get everything you ever tried right on the first try? Well, how many things were you able to get right eventually? When a person answers those questions they may rightly conclude they don’t know why they’re telling themselves this negative thing. Truth is, they’ve rarely mastered something right off the bat, but they conclude they’ve mostly been able to succeed eventually. THAT’S the reality but that’s not what they’re now telling themselves.

The question – What is taking you out of reality? – wants the answer to why you’re telling yourself you can’t do THIS thing when reality has proven to you that you likely can. By stopping long enough to ask the question – and by walking through those reality checks – we can quickly figure out if our self-talk is based on any evidence or if it’s just the emotional frustrations of the moment.

Patience is a funny thing.

Like most kids I didn’t have much of it. Older people in my life would urge me not to “wish my life away.” Before I got my driver’s license I couldn’t wait. Or so I thought. Stuff like that. “Don’t wish your life away.” It didn’t feel like that’s what I was doing. From my perspective, I was just anxious for what was next.

Some of that has never left me. Some of it I’ve given up on knowing such a day may never come. Hope and dreams die along the way. When you’re a kid you feel like you’ve got a lot of time left, but you just can’t wait for it to get here. When you’re old you know you’ve got limited time left, but you rather hope the wait is long.

Being patient and being anxious – I suppose it happens within each of us simultaneously. I’m patiently anxious a lot these days! 😀

Hurry up and wait. 

Life is like that. A lot.

In the tortoise and the hare, the hare is sprinting ahead, then resting. Waiting. Then sprinting some more. And resting some more. He’s overtaken by the tortoise during that last rest.

Of course, life isn’t necessarily a race. If it is, I don’t know what we’re racing. Or how we’d win. We live our lives. We live however long we live. If I could figure out what I was racing then I might better know how to run.

Racers win by arriving there first. Whatever defines the finish line – that’s where there is. If death is the finish line for this life (and it is), then I need there first…why? If something else gets there before me, what have I lost? See my point.

But we’re part of the human race. Does that mean we’re all racing each other? If so, then is the measurement time, money, stuff, experiences, accomplishments…or all of the above? Or none of the above? I haven’t a clue.

Except for one thing.

What’s our capacity? For anything and everything?

People focus on potential. Maybe it’s worthwhile, I’m not sure. I’m not able to quite get a handle on my own potential so I’m in no position to judge yours. And if one believes he’s able to “change the world” (a common goal I hear people actually say out loud), then is he responsible to change the world else not live up to his potential? Is it wrong of me to believe – even know with the highest degree of certainty – that I lack the capacity to change the world?

What’s taking me out of reality? Hey, I’m not the one claiming I can change the world. Ask that fella what’s taking HIM out of reality? He’s the deluded one I think. 😉

Critics would tell me I’m negative, but I don’t think so. I just wonder what’s possible. And I’m always going to think it can be better. It doesn’t mean I’m dissatisfied necessarily, but it doesn’t mean I never think we’ve arrived. “Yep, that’s it. Nailed it!” I’ll never feel that way. About anything. Which brings me to the truth of potential. It’s fictional. Nobody will ever achieve it. Doesn’t mean it’s not worth chasing. Just means you’ll never arrive.

I dropped out of college with something less than 18 hours needed to graduate. Did I live up to my potential? Hardly. I left a boatload of potential on State Street near the front gates to LSU. Did I think of how that decision would play out? Not really. I just did it because I was making plenty of money selling stereo gear and my wife and I wanted to get closer to Dallas/Ft. Worth where she was from. Some of you won’t understand this, but a big driver was spiritual. Church-wise we determined it was time to leave. So we did.

Do I wish I’d finished those last hours? Kinda. Sorta. But it would have required another year (mostly) and my patience was done. I was more anxious than patient. Besides, I left thinking I’d finish my degree elsewhere. That was the plan. At least in my head. It just never happened.

Careers happen. Maybe most people architect theirs. I didn’t. Mine absolutely just happened. One thing led to another. And before you knew it I had a family. Along the way, I learned the sprints toward greatness were really short. The marathons of failure seemed to never end.

In the beginning, it was especially arduous. We struggled. I struggled. But we made it. Thanks to God’s blessings, hard work, lots of suffering and our collective inability to do anything different than fight every day.

Today it feels like I sprinted to something that may not have been worthwhile. But how am I to know?

I would have been a cartoonist. A writer. A college professor. They all crossed my mind. Dropping out of college sorta killed that last one. 😉

But I never pursued any of them. Well, writing is something that’s been a lifelong habit. Doesn’t mean I’m good at it, or that I even know how to do it. Properly.

I’ve been paid a total of $100 for being a writer. That was for a hockey magazine back when I was coaching. It’s $100 more than I ever earned teaching college or drawing cartoons. So there’s that.

My life has been spent in business. And there are parts of it I love. And parts I hate. But I wasn’t sprinting toward or away from it. I was plodding tortoise-like through it. Mostly interested in human behavior. Interested in employees and customers alike. Watching how they acted and reacted. Fascinated by shopper behavior since I was a kid. Fascinated by people, but not too much so. Not enough to want to get too close to too many. Rather preferring to get close to a select few – of my own choosing – and steering a comfortable distance away from the rest.

Time goes fast. Then it picks up speed.

Life goes slow until it goes fast.

Today I’ve got perspective. I know more than I once did. A lot more. And not just the stuff I know I don’t know. The stuff I honestly do know. For sure!

What’s Next?

Life is mostly a sprint to what’s next.

When the kids were little it was the family battle cry. “Now what?” Or, “What’ll we do now?”

It was an incessant question asked as we pulled out of the parking lot of Six Flags after an 8-hour exhaustive prowling through the park.

It was asked as we got in the car after a 4-day stay somewhere.

It was asked after leaving a ball game, hockey game or some other such night out.

“What are we gonna do now?”

“Now we’re going to go home and sleep!” That seemed my always unpopular reply. Like the hare, I was sprinted out and ready to rest.

Tortoise life isn’t real. For anybody, I know.

Slow and steady may win the race, but nobody I know is poised to break the tape at the finish line. We don’t call it a RAT RACE for nothing. All the rats I know are running like crazy toward who knows what? Many of them haven’t a clue. I’ve rarely had a clue myself. It just seemed like running faster was required.

Some years later, as the kids grew older, I realized we’re not running toward anything. We’re running away from. Now we’re getting somewhere, I remember thinking.

Sprinters like Usain Bolt are masterful. Artful. Remarkable.

Crooks running from the cops are anything but. Clumsy. Awkward. Stupid. Yes, I can relate to them. These are my people. Not in their criminal endeavors, but in their ability to flee or sprint.

Some are. Some aren’t.

Some do. Some don’t.

Taking a line from a Steve Martin bit that came out while I was in college I had a t-shirt made that said on the front, “Some people have a way with words…” The back said, “Others…not have way.” Remember, I was in journalism school. It was especially topical at the time.

Well, in this race of life I certainly have spent WAY MORE TIME feeling like the person who “not have way.” It has long seemed like others had the way. But not me.

Businesses love to project hockey stick growth. That is, it starts off with a slight upward trajectory, but then it goes up sharply…taking off…going almost straight up. Such sales growth is ideal. We think. Not terribly realistic for most businesses though.

Instead, many businesses have growth that looks more like a snake run over by cars on the highway. And that’s if things are going well. FLAT.

The worst-case scenario is the snake gets pounded into a gravel road. Dead as Ned.

Life is like that, too.

All these high achievers and their hockey stick growth. Careers that go straight up. And keep going higher and higher. People who go from one great thing to something even greater. No slumps. No downturns. Just upward trajectory with no end in sight. As we stand there gazing upward in amazement at their prowess. Sprinting from one remarkable achievement to another and another. Experiencing orbits that just seem to higher than we can imagine.

On rare occasions, I take off my rose-colored glasses – okay, they’re not so rose-colored as they are green – and I look a bit more closely at one of these high orbit rotating achievers. And something weird appears. A dent in the armor of their superiority.

A psychiatrist with tons to say about living a good life, improving your brain and most anything else to do with reaching your ideal self…I see a picture of him with his wife. Wait a minute! She’s easily half his age. I dig a bit into his life. She’s wife #3. Well, there you have it. His hockey stick life has involved a few hockey fights that have knocked out a few teeth. That’s a bridge in his mouth. Those aren’t his real teeth. But you never know if you don’t look too close. Most don’t. Or care.

I suddenly feel a bit better. About myself. Him, too. He’s human. Okay, good for him that he went younger at the wife position. I’m assuming #1 and #2 got some money out the deal, but what do I know. Or care.

We all pick our nose. Sometimes.

So much for you or me being our ideal self. Or reaching our full potential. Any more I’m happy to reach the next rest area.

And there it is. The lead I always bury.

Life is a sprint and a marathon. We’re all short sprinting the same marathon. The race is to the next rest area. We’re not racing each other. We’re just trying like crazy to sprint to the next rest stop so we can stop sprinting. For awhile.

Life is about sprinting so we can stop sprinting. String enough sprints together and eventually we’ll find ourselves at the last rest stop. And then, finally, at long last. The sprinting will end!

Come on, comet!

Randy

About the author: Randy Cantrell is the founder and CEO of Bula Network, LLC, a boutique training and coaching company. Go to GrowGreat.com