What does it take to go from clueless to successful? As a child, Meb Keflezighi came to the United States after escaping from Eritrea to Italy. Once he got to America, he saw people running and wondered what they were chasing. He had no idea that running was a sport.

Now, he is the only person to ever win the Boston and New York marathons AND a medal in the Olympics. Many know him for his record-breaking skills, but the story of how he came to be so successful is just as inspiring as his wins. I sat down with Meb and he spoke to me about his family's struggle in Eritrea and the challenge of adjusting to a country with no knowledge of the language or culture--and finally crossing the finish line after years of determination and hard work. Because of his hardships, Meb learned that there is more to success--in anything--than just winning and that perseverance can take you far. Here are my takeaways:

  1. Your frame of reference can propel you toward your goals. Put your goals in perspective. Meb's frame of reference was his father's fight to save their family during war time in Eritrea. Meb's father walked 225 miles from Eritrea to Sudan, leaving his six children and a wife behind. He left with just a bag of barley, a canteen of water, a stick for protection and matches, to ward off hyenas. "Pain is temporary, pride is forever." Meb said to me. "When I'm running a marathon, I know I have a fluid station waiting for me...but I know my dad didn't have that opportunity for 225 miles." Next time you doubt your abilities, step back, look at the bigger picture and think of what others have endured. In context, this can inspire you to work your absolute hardest.
  2. A goal bigger than yourself, that affects people positively, is an excellent motivator. No American had won the Boston Marathon since 1983. After the tragic Boston Marathon bombing of 2013, Meb "put the victims' names on my bib that I wrote the night before. I was drawing energy from them, and the crowd was just phenomenal." Meb's objective was not only to win the marathon, but, ultimately, to win the race for a greater, more meaningful reason. And he did. What can you do to incorporate helping others into your achievements?
  3. It's not about winning, but getting the best out of yourself. Meb always says: "Run to win." He told me that "It's not about getting first place, but getting the best out of yourself each and every time in everything that you do. Go out there; be the best human being you can be." At the end of the day, your biggest--and only real--competition is yourself.

Your life goals may seem impossible or too big. But, if you persevere, you can rise to just about any challenge. Think about others who have gone through greater hardships to put things into perspective. Find the superordinate goal and let that drive you.

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Published on: Oct 30, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.