For 2010, one of my new year’s resolutions is to run a marathon. Since buying my first pair of ‘proper’ running shoes last year, I’ve managed to make it through a 10k (much to my team mates’ surprise) and aiming for a half marathon in April, with a full marathon (in Loch Ness) at the start of Oct.
While I’ve been learning to master the art of running long distances, I’ve accidentally found a treasure trove of inspirational and insightful stories about the unlikeliest of runners becoming runners. First, there was “What I talk about when I talk about running” by Haruki Murakami (of Kafka on the Shore), then “The Courage to Start“, by fellow trombonist, John Bingham, and recently, I’ve been following “The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer“.
This week, one trainee-runner’s account seemed particularly poignant:
It took me a couple of weeks to realize that I was not going to be 31 years old and out of shape and go out there and train for a marathon and be competitive. That was hard for me because I have always been competitive; liked challenge. The first two Saturday morning runs I ran too fast and was in bad shape by the end. I couldn’t figure it out; the runs weren’t even that long and I felt like I was going to die. After listenting to Dave and Forrest [the course instructors] I realized I was probably going at a pace that was too fast for me. So I slowed down, forced myself to stop seeing it as a competition, and just tried to focus on enjoying myself … Once I made these changes I started to really enjoy the whole process.
It struck me that this statement could be akin to starting your own business – especially in reference to the work-life balance.
Entrepreneurs tend to be competitive and each business is a challenge. Ultimately, everyone wants to get ahead. This is understandable since we’re constantly told that few startups survive. The statistics are against us. We need to move quickly, react and keep moving. Driven by the sense of urgency, we want to go fast, often working long hours and little time for R&R.
However, at the same time, doing too much too fast can risk burnout. The long hours, weekends, and the constant merry-go-round of networking events can be extremely draining. At some point, you will just stop enjoying working in a startup, stop wanting to get out of bed in the mornings, and find excuses not to be doing the hard stuff.
It’s a hard balance. How do you find the right pace between moving the venture forward, at a pace where you can enjoy the ride?
Drawing from my (limited) running knowledge and the above quote, I guess the answer could come in two parts.
The first is experience. Looking back, when I started running I simply ran as fast as I could. There was no other pace. There was simply on and off. Over time, I began to relax and found that I could go slightly faster and sometimes, slightly slower. The gap between the two was little at first, but then, it grew and it grew. Now I find that I can vary the pace fairly easily. I’m guessing that working out the right work-life balance in startup life will be similar. I just hope it would come quicker, easier and with less growing pains.
The second is attitude. For me, the aim for the first marathon is simply to finish rather than beating the world record. Maybe that can be translated across to entrepreneurship, where the focus is on building a company, rather than building the next Google in the first go. Dreaming big is good, but just don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get it the first time. So, part of the process is to figure out what you want out of this experience, what sort of company you want to build, and what will result in a situation where you will “enjoy” yourself or your successes? The focus isn’t to say that you shouldn’t aim to build a big company, but rather, it’s ok if it takes you 2 or 3 attempts to get there.
It’s certainly food for thought …
Finally, I can’t leave without pointing you to other people in the startup community that are running too. You should check out Jennie Lees’ post on running; Hilary Singer’s running counter on her blog (I’m still waiting for the kayaking counter to go up), and finally, Rachel Lane is running lots to raise money for breast cancer charities. In fact, if you’re feeling generous, feel free to sponsor her for her efforts.