How A Run Changed The Way I Sprint Forward As An Entrepreneur
Exactly a year ago I put my life at risk through what I thought would be a harmless 10-kilometre run. It was the 2015 Sun Run in Vancouver and after pushing myself to the absolute maximum I collapsed just under 100 meters before the finish line.
This run was symbolic of how I had been pushing myself the last four years since embarking on the full-time entrepreneurial journey after graduation. As an entrepreneur, I would always go too hard while underestimating training, I would do things my way, and I would constantly compare myself to anyone that was a few strides ahead of me. Although I have never experienced an infamous entrepreneurial burnout, I was experiencing a very gradual one - even worst. This was affecting my performance as a leader, creator, and as a thinker without me even knowing it.
Preparing for this year’s Sun Run, there were three main lessons stemming from last years disaster, which I successfully internalized to come out on top. Each of these three lessons has also been applied to the way I approach life as an entrepreneur.
1. Protect the asset with self-care and respect for its limits
In the book Essentialism, by Greg McKeown, there is an incredibly powerful section on the concept of protecting the asset (i.e yourself).
“The best asset we have for making a contribution to the world is ourselves. If we underinvest in ourselves, and by that, I mean our minds, our bodies, and our spirits, we damage the very tool we need to make our highest contribution.”
Leading up to last year’s Sun Run, I took self-care too lightly and it silently caught up with me. I was sleeping six to seven hours a night, going on light runs, and eating a decent diet. Although I wasn't doing anything particularly irresponsible, the bigger problem was that I wasn’t doing anything significantly powerful enough to endure the tremendous stress I put on my body for those 10 kilometres.
When you are in the startup trenches, things that are seemingly harmless start to also add up. Lack of sleep, proper exercise, and diet will also take their toll. While you won’t see any immediate performance impacts with these seemingly harmless hiccups, neither will your teammates or customers – this is exactly the problem. You will be just OK that isn’t enough to win. You need to be on top of your game as a leader and innovator for people to follow you especially when your competitors can pay double the salary you can – your only leverage is empowering other with leadership and creativity.
On the actual race day where I collapsed, I failed to respect my body’s limits by completely burning through my 500 or so grams of glucose and glycogen that I had stored as my fuel for the race. I failed to slow down even when my body was pleading for me to do it and my body won that argument by shutting down.
Going too fast in your business execution without slowing down to reflect can also cause your business to collapse. Without taking time to reflect on whether you are consistently delivering true value to current customers, you will lose cash flow oxygen. Your urgency to sprint for new customers falls flat on its face if your current customers churn and you run out of money.
2. Grow your network of coaches
This year, I was able to place in the top 300 and beat last year’s time by two minutes as I crossed the finish line with power and no signs of collapsing. The difference was training smart through the coaching of people who already train at this level instead of trying to do it all myself.
The startup parallel here is that there will be many counterintuitive tactics you will need to apply as a founder to make your startup go and the best way to learn is from people who have been there before you. These coaches can range from your family members, friends, acquaintances, mentors, or even resources online. Too many founders try to play hero by doing things their way and avoiding outside help. Many do it to avoid looking weak and uncertain although the truth is that every founder faces uncertainties that will only be resolved when they speak up about them. Being resourceful and adaptable are some of the biggest qualities founders need to have in order to thrive in the startup race.
3. Be careful with self-comparisons and do not live tomorrow’s dream
As I was training for the Sun Run this year, I was constantly chasing the time of people who were much stronger runners than me. This was both a good and bad thing. Good because it pushed me to reach new heights but bad because I was too hard on myself and thus was never happy. I eventually realized that too much self-comparison was an unsustainable way to be motivated and decided to focus on a goal that was fulfilling for my needs. This pattern of living tomorrow’s dream and letting others overshadow my wins was something that carried into my startup.
In startups, many founders will simply be too hard on themselves when they don’t reach lofty goals fast enough. I would punish myself with little sleep, isolating myself from friends, and not taking time off – I was quietly miserable. As a result, I would not think clearly or perform at peak levels so of course, I missed more milestones and the vicious cycle of living tomorrow’s dream would continue.
Founders need to make it a non-negotiable to celebrate the small wins and to reward oneself with exercise, travel, and being around people who care about you.
There is a beautiful confluence between sport and business. It’s an exhilarating journey being a high-performance athlete or an entrepreneur but without proper care and the right support system, your career can end in a flash.