What if I told you I know of a guaranteed, foolproof way to get in the best physical shape of your life without strenuous workouts? How would you like to achieve success at work, without grueling hours at the office? It sounds too good to be true and of course, there is a catch, but my claims are real. I’ve learned that athletic and business successes rely on similar principles. There is a reason why jocks become Fortune 500 CEOs. But you don’t need a varsity jacket to apply these lessons to your own life. In fact, I’m a born nerd who until recently hated athleticism.
I’ve always been better at business than sports and am fortunate to have sold two companies over the past eight years. But recently, I’ve found a love for exercise and in my early thirties, I became an avid barefoot runner. I run barefoot for a number of reasons, but most importantly, I run unshod because I like it. It just feels good. I once exercised to keep my weight under control, to get healthy, or because that’s what we’re all “supposed to do”. But that’s no longer why I run. It is precisely because I run for pure pleasure that I plan on running for a long, long time.
This blog series is about what I’ve learned running my own companies, as well as my work advising start-ups. Barefoot running happens to be a fantastic analogy to illustrate several truths I’ve picked up over the years.
Run for the Love of It
Here in Silicon Valley, many entrepreneurs seek to emulate the success stories of those who have done great things. Building world-changing products that impact and improve the lives of millions, while creating multi-billion dollar companies, is inspiring. We rightfully laud the rare few who accomplish what we only dream of doing. Who wouldn’t want to claim the same list of accomplishments as Steve Jobs or Eric Schmidt? But foolishly, we admire and desire the end results without grasping what it took to do their amazing work.
If we step back and ask, “how does someone accomplish great things?” The answer is obvious, they made the right choices in life. But, “how does one make the right choices?” The answer is great judgment. But “how does one attain great judgment?” The answer is by attaining skill. But how “how does one attain skill?” The answer is sustained practice. But “how does one sustain practice?” The answer is love. I know, I’m getting into touchy-feely territory here, but stick with me, this works.
If we agree that to accomplish great things we must acquire great judgment and the right skills, then we must start with the actions that help us acquire those skills. We must start with a “love of doing.” We must find a way to love the hours of diligent practice required to succeed. The path is the same in business and sports.
Of course, some people force themselves to work, even when they hate what they’re doing. They suffer, day in and day out, relentlessly pushing to attain their end goal, and ignoring the journey. Like Sisyphus endlessly pushing his bolder, these people are to be admired in their tenacity, but ultimately, they fail. Sure, they appear to be working hard and often let it be known how many hours they’re putting in and the degree to which they suffer for the cause, but this is largely theatrics. Without passion for the work, these people are burnouts at best and at worst, they toil in conflict with their own values. They work at something they hate, purely to achieve the end goals.
What about working for the pursuit of great wealth, prestige, or power? These aims can’t be your sole motivation because they leave too much outside of your control. When the likelihood of achieving these ephemeral goals becomes uncertain, most people quit. From what I’ve seen, money, prestige and power are the rewards of working with passion over a long period of time; they cannot be the solitary aim of your work.
Love of what you practice is critical to enjoying the journey and ultimately achieving your ambitions. But what if you don’t enjoy the practice but still want to accomplish great things? What if working at your company or exercising is a pain and you don’t enjoy it, but you still want the results?
To get what you want, you must restate your goal. Train yourself to love what you are doing. Practice should not be the goal; love of practice should be the goal. Move your goal from “I want to run every day so I can lose 20 pounds” to “I want to love running so I can run until the day I die.” Instead of saying, “I want to build a business that makes tons of money,” say, “I want to love the work I do so I can build a career aligned with my values.” Not only will you achieve your goals this way, but you’ll find that what once felt like work will now feel like play. You will live a more enjoyable life because you have one more thing you love about being alive.
The important thing is to hold yourself accountable to running for the right reason. That reason, whether in business or on the track, must be for the love of doing the work, not the potential end results.