What Running Has Taught Me About Work

Pain. Sweat. Exhaustion.

I feel all three of these when I go running – and by running I mean anything between a slow jog to a sprint and everything in between. The three words above are what I like to call the headlines of the story of running, the topics written in capital letters that grab the attention of those who don’t run and don’t wish to try. Someone like my former self, before I committed to a couch-to-5k program.

run statue

The ‘headlines’, of course, are real. Running triggers pain in joints that aren’t 100% healthy; running makes you secrete more sweat than you thought you had in your body; and running leaves you exhausted (at least for a little while). But isn’t there more to this story?

Until you learn to run, you may not know that the pain, sweat, and exhaustion is worth it. Take last week for example, when my smartphone’s running app glitched. After informing me that I had reached the second-last milestone of the run, 500 m from the end, the app failed to notify me when the run was actually completed. I kept running.

In my head ran a monologue something like this: “Is it over? It’s gotta be over. Why isn’t it over? When will it be over? Please, let it be over.”

No such luck, not when the app was glitching. I continued on, assuming the run wasn’t over yet. I used energy I didn’t realize I had. I used willpower I didn’t realize I had. I used mental focus I didn’t realize I had. This reminded me of a martial arts sensei I know who likes to push his students through drills, telling them to go “one more time” no fewer than three more times! He’s making them stronger while teaching them that they can do a lot more than they think.

It’s interesting to compare this to work life. Admittedly, I don’t often encounter tasks that require physical endurance. What if we tweak the analogy a little to consider the mental strength required to push through the desire to say “no” and move bravely forward with a committed “yes”? What are the rewards when we take on a project situated outside of our comfort zone?

For one thing, we gain a sense of accomplishment and achievement. We don’t need external validation to realize we’ve attained something great just by attempting something new. And in my experience, we earn more than just the proverbial participation badge; we actually do well. No, my current running pace is not spectacular, but one month ago I would have sworn I was incapable of jogging for 45 minutes with no breaks.

Next time you’re faced with a task that is foreign to you, requiring skills you more easily associate with your colleagues than with yourself, challenge yourself to question whether the instant “no, I’d rather not” reaction is justified. You might just surprise yourself with your success.

Meanwhile, I’ll attempt to find the work equivalent to the endorphin rush I feel after a good run.

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