Popular as it is in personal development circles to equate life to a marathon (I’ve done so in the past), the comparison falls apart when you look more closely. Consider, where else in life do you have three to five months to prepare for an event that will last for five to eight hours after which you take one to four weeks off? In your work, marriage, raising children? Not even close.

Useless goals take you to places you don't want to go

A Marathon Isn't Real Life

I’ve been souring on the metaphor of life being a marathon for a while. During the lead up to the Los Angeles marathon, several people asked me if I would be running it. I jokingly said no, my wife won’t let me (well, I did promise her I wouldn’t take up ultra marathons as a result of reading Born to Run). But I watched a couple colleagues prepare for the race.

One had recently come through a life-threatening health challenge and used the goal of running a marathon to get back into shape and prove to herself she had completely recovered. The other confessed he had no idea why he was running it. Both trained for months, racking up tens of miles a week.

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They both finished the race with respectable times. Yet the race took such a heavy toll neither made it to work the following day. Pain from racing troubled them for days afterward. As you might guess, the first felt it was worth it since she had reached her goal. The second still wasn’t sure why he had bothered.

Plan and Train < 50%, Execute > 50%

In a corollary to Peter Drucker’s famous saying, “There is Nothing Quite So Useless as Doing with Great Efficiency Something that Should Not Be Done at All,” I would add:

If you’re going to spend four to six months attaining a goal, be sure it aligns with your life’s purpose. Otherwise, drop it and focus on one that does.

Recognize life is not a marathon. If you want a running metaphor, it’s like being a sprinter: Series of wind sprints for training interspersed with race days. Rarely do you have the luxury of months of preparation. Yet you can be called on virtually at a moment’s notice to give absolutely peak performance.

As well, taking so much time to plan and practice without using the skills in a real situation puts too much emphasis on those few race days. You’re better off consistently putting into practice what you are working to develop so you can pinpoint your training toward areas that most need improvement.

My advice. Forget running a marathon. Don’t practice living 70% to 80% of the time. Plan and prepare when you can. But place your focus firmly on living life now.

What goal should you jettison to pursue something more meaningful? 

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© , Kevin S. Bemel, All Rights Reserved

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