5 lessons I learned about entrepreneurship while running

… and what can you take from them

Sunny afternoon, here I am on my knees, fists on the ground, looking at a 60-year-old that just strolled by the 23-year-old me while I was gasping for air. It would be one of the many lessons I would get in the past year about how big the gap is between wanting something and achieving it.

Let’s zoom out a bit so I can put you into context. One year ago I moved into a new country to lead a national NGO alongside other young minds in an attempt to bring a positive impact in society. We did this by providing leadership development opportunities to the youth.

At the start of my experience, moving in Madrid, Spain, noticing a lot of people here exercising and running daily, I decided to start building a healthy work-life balance. Now have in mind that I never did any sports in my life, although I have a normal body type.

So I thought, “how hard could it be? just push …”, but oh boy was I in for a ride.

In the second week of arriving here, after we finished our planning I decided to go for a run. I did a little bit of stretching and started running. I was bad, very bad. Three minutes in and I start gasping for air. I didn’t know how to properly breathe, but I didn’t want to give up so I started sprinting just to make sure that I reach my goal.

“You are not allowed to fail”, I said to myself.

I reached one kilometer and just stopped. My heart was racing, I was nauseous and dizzy, looking into the ground.

I was saying to myself “this is not for me, never again”.

Then looking up, I see a senior citizen running almost the same pace as me, all covered in sweat (proof that he was running for more than just a couple of minutes). He was just going at it, with no intention of stopping, until finally he vanished from my sight. I decided to go home and forget about it.

I went on with my day to day work. We had a rough start with bad financial sustainability. The pressure was on, either finish like glorious veterans or die on the battlefield. At the same time, the sight of that old man running like there was no tomorrow was still stuck in the back of my head.

“Am I that out of shape? I am healthy so why can’t I see my results NOW?”

Let me ask you this.

How many times have you started something but just because you didn’t see results right away and couldn’t master it properly, you abandoned?

That app that you started coding but never got around it and lost all sense of why you even started it. Or that great project that you wanted to do but you never felt that you were worth listening to. Those online tutorials about *insert your interest here* you started but never put into practice because you thought you were way behind anyways compared to those that are performing now. That’s how I felt about running at that time.

I decided to keep going at it at least weekly, as much as I could. After 4 weeks it became a habit already, I couldn’t imagine going to bed without a short run in the park, just as much as I could.

My big win came 7 weeks into it when I first completed my 10 K in 51 minutes.

The funny thing about it is that I didn’t even plan for it. My goal was just to repeat as much as I can and try to squeeze a little bit more each day. Now, almost one year has passed since I first started this whole experience and I can see the similarities between how we ran our organization and the running habit itself.

The similarities between running an organization and running for fitness can observed in the drawing bellow.

levels of engagement

“1. It’s always good to start strong, but it’s better to start smart.”

I failed in running in my first day because I wasn’t ready, I didn’t have all the resources necessary nor the right training to support me. My first thought?

“This is a bad idea, this is not for me”.

How many start-ups have failed just because they focused on creating a product but failed because they didn’t build a community around it, didn’t create enough buzz around it, focused on the wrong target or didn’t even check to see if the world truly needs what they had to offer. Entrepreneurship is not just about creating a product or a service, it’s creating something that is useful and fills a need that we have today. Sometimes the things you are good at are not the things the world needs and here is where you need to be flexible. The key is preparation, preparation, preparation and let’s not forget… to prioritize. Fate plays a part also, but the more cards you hold in your hands the better.

“2. Once you start, with everything prepared, there is still going to be this one time when nothing seems to work and you are going to doubt yourself.”

I have two essential points to mention here:

  • First, some of us in one way or the other want to leave this world a little bit better than we found it: create a product, write a book, commit to a family or start a business. But it’s safer to say “I want” than starting it because you know there’s the chance you might get knee-high in mud and get stuck. At this point, you might realize that you are not as bright as you thought.
  • And here’s where the second point comes in. This is the time where you will grow the most. When you are totally challenged and doubting yourself, this is where you will change without actually being that aware of it. Your motivation will drop, but your skill set will grow a little bit each day. Inch by inch, you will run a little bit faster, a little bit further. Inch by inch, you will develop your critical thinking more. Inch by inch, you will improve your leadership and discipline more.
It’s not about you against the world, it’s about you against you. That’s the only comparison you need to take into account at this point.

“3. That huge fence that was in front of you starts getting smaller and smaller until you finally jump over it.”

At some moment, experience will kick in. You start to think, maybe just maybe, you can actually achieve something. Halfway through you realize the key to success is not an overnight explosion, luck or that strong sprint down the road. What matters are small increments, you might not even see them on the short term, but if you kept going until this point, they are there, doing their magic. Halfway through my experience in leading the NGO, we in the team faced a lot of problems, a lot of uncertainties. But we just kept going at it, tackling the issues from as many points as possible. Although we didn’t see the bigger picture then, now at the end of our experience, looking back all the dots connect.

“4. And this part leads me to an important point in this lesson: the team.“

Almost all your success in life is going to be guided by the kind of people you surround yourself with. Everything is easier if you have the right people by your side. I started running at one point with one of my teammates. He was so much more fit than me and had experience in marathons. I remember running one-night side by side together and I did not feel good and wasn’t performing at my best. He got some distance between us and had a good pace.

I was looking at him from the back thinking “I am not going to even make the next corner, things are not going well today”.

I was out of it.

Then something interesting happened. He saw that I was struggling and adjusted his pace to mine, slowing down until we found a common rhythm and made sure that I would finish. The fact that again we were running together and I wasn’t left behind totally changed my mindset and eventually I crossed the finish line.

I learned how important is that inside a team everyone works in a rhythm.

There is no point going all the way if you go alone. Yes, sure, he would have finished maybe with a faster time, but for him the point was to grow me, to make sure that I finish also. This on the long term had an incredible impact on myself and how I tackled growth. In any business this is key: building the people around you. You might be the best at something, but you will not go far alone. Everyone is somewhere because of someone who gave them the right support at the right time.

“5. Once you start getting a hand of things, innovate.”

You finished your 5K? Good. Plan for you 10K. Finished that? Good. Semi marathon is waiting for you. Finished that? Great! Go for the marathon. Don’t get comfortable. The same goes for business. The key at the beginning of a journey might be to launch your MVP (minimum viable product). You want to increment step by step, to get some security, to get a balance with your return of investment. But the error here is to get too comfortable and not fulfill your true potential all the way through. Did you create a business with a small community around it? Great. How do you keep them engaged in the future? How can you upgrade your business to help them more and reach even a bigger target audience? These are the questions you should ask yourself. Just because you have something at one moment doesn’t mean you will have it forever if you don’t work to keep it. Today, in the 21st century, the only constant thing is change. You either lead the change or you get stuck behind it.

“6. Finishing is the key.”

This is maybe one of the most important lessons you need to know. People will not remember you for the things you started and abandoned along the way. They will not remember the amazing brainstorming sessions you had with a massive output about how to achieve this and that. The books you started to write but never finished. The speeches you planned but never held. The projects you created but never followed through. Every time I was almost finishing my first 5K, my first 10K, my first 15K a psychological battle started inside my mind.

A little voice saying in my head “ you ran enough today, it’s fine, you don’t need to reach your goal now, you have 400 meters to go but no one would judge you if you stopped here, it’s more than you ever hoped for”.

The struggle was not physical but inside my head. It doesn’t matter if you finish a marathon in 3 hours or 6 hours. What matters is that you finished. That’s why marathoners have medals that say finishers. Because no one gives a medal to the ones that could have finished.

It’s when you are closest that you feel giving up the most because you are too involved and you miss the bigger picture.

An important fact to remember here is that it’s OK to not finish something or to abandon it. As long as it’s something that truly does not define you anymore, you don’t believe it will make a difference for yourself or those around you. This means that you became more self-aware of where your actual value lies. Sticking to something you hate or don’t identify with just to finish it might be poisonous.

Whatever you do in your life, your first draft might not be the best version nor the biggest success.

But what matters is that you were persistent and stuck to what you believed in, bringing an added value for the world. You can always improve once you have something to improve in the first place.

Remember this.

In the end, the biggest entrepreneurship project you will ever run will be the one of managing your life. Make sure you learn self-discipline, never stop learning, how to plan and prioritieze, how to create a “rich personal life” surrounded by smart, caring people who contribute to your well-being and you to theirs. That is value.

Although I have met amazing people that I learned a lot from, I never got around actually writing a post because I never thought it was going to be worth the while.

“I will do it when I’m at least 30 because then I will know more than now”, I told myself.

Sure, maybe I will, but the increments start way before that point.

Looking back now at that 60-year-old running despite all you might think about him and everything makes sense how he got there.

Now here I am, my trusted running shoes on, getting ready for a marathon and for what other great adventures life has planned ahead.

What are your increments?

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