Outrageous. That's how I would've characterized the suggestion of running a half-marathon several years ago. I would've laughed it off, made excuses for why it was impossible, and maybe even thought unkind thoughts about the person encouraging me to pursue such a challenging and time-consuming hobby.
Fast-forward to the future and on February 26, 2017, I crossed the finish line of my first half-marathon. In addition to figuring out I could tackle what once seemed out of reach, I learned (or in some cases re-learned) several other compelling lessons along the way that I found applicable in other areas of my life.
In fact, I used those principles to overcome several challenges at work recently.
These won't be entirely new to everyone reading this, but they are good reminders of important principles that can get lost when we're feeling overwhelmed or scared.
1. Good Relationships Will Push You to New Heights
For many years I was a solitary runner, but when I discovered that a new friend was also a runner, we began logging miles together. She was the first to suggest we sign up for a half-marathon. I'd never run more than seven miles, but she knew I could do it, even if I doubted my own ability. Her encouragement and unwavering belief played a huge role in my success.
We all struggle with internal doubts, and there are plenty of people who will readily reinforce your doubts lest you outshine them. Those aren't your people. Surrounding yourself with strong role models, mentors, and true friends will help you blast through your own limits.
How do you tease the two apart? Pick people who will challenge you and who are genuinely thrilled when you excel. When you identify your workplace champions, make the effort to build and maintain those important relationships while managing your less supportive colleagues in a way that doesn't sabotage your time or energy.
2. Quality Guidance Is Worth the Investment
My friend and I didn't "just start running" long distances. We selected and followed a tried-and-true training guide developed by experienced and deeply knowledgeable runners. We invested in quality shoes and researched tactics specific to distance races, resulting in weekly gains in our abilities.
Similarly, in your career, if you don't make the right investments, you're going to struggle to get ahead. If you want to advance, you have to look at the ways you can invest in your career. Maybe that means taking a class or even going back to school.
Maybe you need to focus on building an online presence. Regardless of where you are in your career, there's always something you can learn or improve, and there are plenty of qualified people and quality tools that can help.
3. Preparation's Important
I didn't decide to run the longest distance I've ever run on race day. I started a year in advance by talking with several runners about the preparation process, looking into training options, and researching different races before I took the leap and signed up for one.
Similarly, in your career, it's foolhardy to apply for a new position or dive into a project with little to no preparation. You might not have the luxury of preparing for a year, or even a couple of months, but any preparation is better than none.
If it's a job you're after, take the time to garner support from your network and put together top-notch application materials. If you're tackling a new project, at a minimum, start with a list of what you need to acquire and a list of what you need to do.
4. Perfection Should Never Be the Goal
On the other hand, I also didn't wait until I knew I would win the race to participate. During the training process, my running partner and I both dealt with illness, injury, work and family obligations, and other unexpected disruptions that are simply part of life. We forged ahead anyway, determined to see our commitment through.
On race day, my friend ran despite an ongoing battle with a wicked cough. I had to stop twice in the last two miles to stretch. It wasn't a perfect race, but we crossed the finish line.
If you attempt to wait until your circumstances are just so before presenting an initiative to your boss, you'll only sabotage your success. I've been in many planning meetings where someone was willing to share a half-formed idea that, through the collaborative process, developed into a great program or product.
Had they kept their lips zipped until they had a fully-developed presenation, it would've been too late. If you're going to make a mistake, you certainly want to err on the side of being a creative, contributing team member who sometimes pitches a bad idea instead of the person who never speaks up.
Sometimes a great idea can seem too far-fetched initially. An amazing job may seem out of your reach. A project may seem riddled with insurmountable challenges. Here's the truth: You can do the scary things, just like thousands of people before you. It won't always be easy or go smoothly, but you can work your way through the most daunting obstacles.
Whether in your career or in your personal life, if you want to function at your very best, connect with supportive people, invest in your own development, do what you do as well as you can, and reject the mythology of perfectionism. You just might surprise yourself and do something outrageous.