On Setting Goals and Running
I’m a chubby dude. I’m not rotund by any means, but I’m a little more ‘Jolly Old St. Nick’ than I am ‘teen werewolf heartthrob.’ With my first kid on the way, I’ve decided to get in shape. From what I’ve heard, having a kid can really whipe you out, so it’s best I get this underway before he comes.
I’ve been here before. I actually enjoy a lot of physical activities, so having spurts of fitness coupled with periods of healthy eating isn’t unheard of for me. It’s always been pretty half assed though. The thing of it is, I see this same half assed approach in other people and it drives me bonkers. “I wanna launch a product, but…” “I wanna be a ballarina, but…” or “I wanna freelance full time, but…” It’s the dabbling that’s a problem. You have a dream, and you toy with the idea. You wiggle your little tootsies in the waters a little. You dabble.
I’ve been dabbling. No more. Time to cowboy up. I’m running a marathon.
Baby steps are fine. Baby steps are necessary if you’re on your way to big things, but if your goals are only baby step goals you’re not going to get anywhere. The marathon is about as ridiculous a personal fitness goal as I could set.
If When I cross the finish line, I’ll actually have achieved something of immense value. There isn’t much sense in setting and achieving goals that don’t have any real value to them. “I’m going to get an article published in my local free paper that publishes every wackjob letter they get” is not a goal. That might be a baby step, but it’s not a goal. “I’m going to get an article published in the New Yorker.” That’s a fuckin goal. That’s the real deal.
My oldest friend was a philosophy and theology major in college. He was interning at small indie publishing firm in town. One day, we’re sitting out on the porch drinking a few beers, and he looks over at me and says “I wanna work on motorcycles.” I’ve known this dude for 25 years at this point and never once has he mentioned, rode, or looked twice at a motorcycle as far as I know. At the time he drove a crappy Ford Taurus, and wore socks with his sandals – nothing remotely badass about him. Two weeks later he had signed up for tech school, got himself a nighttime coffeeshop job and his first set of tools. 5 years later he owns and operates the hippest, coolest, most badass vintage bike shop in the Twin Cities. Everyone thought he was crazy. He used it as fuel.
I’m what you’d generously call a ‘Clydesdale’. No one in their right mind would look at me and say “natural born runner right there.” Do I care? Not in the least.
You can’t keep it a secret
The first person I told about this zany marathon idea was my wife. It went like this “So… umm… I’m kinda thinking that maybe… I might try… to run a marathon.” She, as always, was supportive and interested if a little skeptical. Later that week we were at a bbq. My wife’s friends’ husband and I are making the kind of awkward small talk that you can only make with your wife’s friend’s husband. He says, “I hear you’re going to run a marathon.” I sheepishly say yes and change the subject. On the way home, I give my wife a stern talking to about telling people my wacky idea. “Honey, I wasn’t really going to share that with people. What if it doesn’t work out?” My wife, ever understanding and supportive gives me a gigantic eye roll and a dismissive, “whatever, you jackass.”
Ya gotta tell people for two simple reasons. Firstly, it holds you accountable. Telling people makes it tangible, makes it real. If you don’t want it bad enough to tell people, you don’t want it bad enough to achieve it. Secondly, if people know what you’re trying to do… they can help you. We’ve got a brilliant designer on our team who also happens to run like a gazelle and toss off a marathon like it’s a walk to the corner store. If I hadn’t told Brad what I was trying to do, he couldn’t share the wealth of knowledge he has on the subject.
Be ok looking like an idiot
After you tell a bunch of people what you’re up to, you’re going to need to be OK looking like a jackass for a bit. I look ridiculous when I run. I’m sweating, huffing, and heaving. While I see these perfectly toned, and tanned specimens of the human race floating down the road, I run like the Hulk. I am at war with gravity, and gravity is obviously winning. Last week I got passed by a toddler on a big wheel. I’m frequently lapped by geriatrics. It bothered me for the first few weeks. It wasn’t until the 4th week that I noticed that these beautiful people are giving me the ‘head nod’ as they run by. They don’t see a heavering mass of jello hobbling down the road, they see a dude working his ass off (or maybe they see both). There is certain kind of dignity in looking like an idiot. It might not be as cool as looking disinterested, or disaffected. *Gasp* People may laugh at you on twitter. Those are the people that can’t see the dignity of putting yourself out there. They are small minded. They’re also the people that I pass after mile 4.
Surround yourself with big thinkers
I spend most of everyday talking to Shane and Peter. It’s nearly impossible to spend 15 minutes with those two and not get inspired. At first it was all business related. “Maybe I can land bigger clients. Maybe I can pitch the VP of a Fortune 100 company. Maybe I can walk into MTV headquarters in Times Square past the old TRL set into a big ass boardroom with a bunch of people I’ve never actually met before and totally kick ass.” It starts with literal parallels – you think big in business = I can think big in business. The mindset that you can be bigger than you are is infectious and it bleeds into all aspects of your life. Pretty soon it becomes your default mindset. Last winter I was complaining about the weather and talking about taking a weeks vacation somewhere warm. Shane’s response? “You should rent a place in Hawaii for a month.” Hell yes I should. And I will (though I might need to wait for Falkor’s 1st birthday). Get to the point where your first response is the biggest craziest boldest move possible. You don’t have to follow through on every harebrained idea you have (nor should you) – but the act of having them is important and it takes practice.
Make sweet love to failure
Running a marathon is hard. It’s hard for those fleet-flooted little guys in their short shorts and headbands, I imagine it’s even harder for a old fat guy like me. Is it possible I might fail? Absolutely. Are there risks involved? Sure. I could get hurt. I could be laid up for a couple weeks. I could invest 100s of hours without finishing. People could laugh and say, “I knew that fat bastard would never make it.” To that I respond, “fuck it.” Failures are my little baby steps. I have one shitty run every single week. I may need to collapse after 16 miles in my first marathon before I can finish in my second one. I may need to twist my ankle in mile 5 of my second marathon before I can finish in my third. If you’re thwarted by one rejection letter, one lost job opportunity, one failed startup, one failed product pitch, one shitty run – you don’t deserve it in the first place.
I’m in week 16 of marathon training. My race is 6 days away. I broke 400 total miles last week, and have seen all of my toes turn funny colors. I may flame out on saturday. I may hit the proverbial wall, lay down on the side of the road and wait for my wife to come and scoop me into the car. Or… I just might make it.
What’s your wacky crazy secret dream?
My advice. Whatever it is. Run towards it.