January 31, 2018

Running Away from Outcomes

I never thought of myself as a runner. I don’t particularly like running; it’s hard, and I am slow, and I never figured out how to get to a “zen place” while running (you know, that place where you forget how hard the running is and are able to clear your mind and really think). Yet, when my husband and I first moved to Illinois, I decided I would run a half marathon. Lots of people doubted my ability to finish, given my known lack of running experience. But finish I did. That was in 2009.

I didn’t run again until 2012. I started by joining a ‘Couch to 5k’ group, then ran several 5ks. I joined a ‘Run the Year’ team with two friends from law school, and together the three of us ran 2015 miles. The next year we ran 2016. The next year we…you get the idea. In 2016, I decided to run the 2017 Chicago marathon. It was an anniversary year, and I figured the medal would be a thing to behold. It would be my crowning achievement. My goal was simply to finish the marathon, since it was my first.

I started marathon training in January 2017, before I joined Kenway. I was running with ‘Team in Training,’ but those runs didn’t really kick off until May. In February, I joined Kenway and mentioned to my new colleagues that I was running the marathon. I spent hours in training. I gave up nights with friends, I missed fun company outings, and I even ran on my one weekend alone with my husband when our kids were out of town. I was so amped, I changed my goal – I wasn’t just going to finish, I was going to crush it. After all, in May of 2017 I set a personal record in the half marathon.

When the marathon came, I knew I was prepared. I had read countless articles about running a successful marathon (and implemented the advice), I had put in the hours, and I had sacrificed. I knew what it was going to take. On marathon day, I was excited. Nervous, but excited. It was my first marathon, and people were cheering for me. One of my running friends flew out from Phoenix just to cheer me on, and she and another friend brought my two kids downtown just so my husband and I could have a little cheering section at different points.

The race started off great. But then it got hot. And the miles got long. I started thinking about how slow I was, and how I was letting everyone down. I wasn’t going to post a great time. I started to feel embarrassed. Would I even finish? When I finally finished, I vowed never to do another marathon. I didn’t even hang up my medal when I got home.

As we were preparing for houseguests over the holidays, my husband found my marathon bib. I told him he could throw it out, but he told me that he was going to save it as a reminder of all the work I had done, and how proud he was of what I accomplished. His reaction made me think about Kenway, and how we are a means-based organization.

You see, for the marathon, I was only focused on the outcome. I was so focused on race day and on surprising people with how well I could run my first marathon, that I forgot about the means. I forgot that I should be having fun while I was training. I forgot that I should be having fun on race day. I forgot that if I had the right means, the outcome would come.

About a month after the marathon, I had a pain in my toe. After several tests (CT scans, ultrasounds) and doctor visits (urgent care, vascular surgeons, an orthopedist), the diagnosis was that I had developed a small blood clot during the marathon or shortly thereafter that, luckily, lodged in my toe. As the blood clot dissolved, some tissue had been damaged, died, and needed to heal. The healing can take months and, you guessed it, no running until it is done. What happened next surprised even me. I cried. I cried in the doctor’s office, to the doctor, about my diagnosis. I cried because I realized I wasn’t going to be able to run, possibly for months.

Here are the things I like about running:

  1. I run with friends, and we talk. We develop strong bonds of friendship and support each other on and off the road.
  2. I get up early to meet these friends, as we are usually hitting the pavement by about 5 am. I start my day feeling invigorated, inspired, and accomplished. I am more productive when I am running.
  3. I am nicer when I run. It can be hard to stay positive all the time and remember not to ascribe motives to other people.
  4. When I run, I create a bank of endorphins for myself. If I start the day that way, it naturally carries through.

As I mentioned, at Kenway we focus on the means, not the outcomes. It sounds simple, but that is a very hard concept to put into practice, especially in the business world. I thought I did that in my personal life, but it turns out I didn’t. I ran my first marathon focused solely on the outcome, and ignored my means. I ignored the things that would allow me to enjoy running. Though I logged the most miles I have ever run in a calendar year, I didn’t call myself a runner because I made that title depend on the outcome of my marathon.

Being means-based is not equivalent to not caring about outcomes. Being means-based is to set a goal, and then be concerned about meeting the goal by the right means, and to not lose sight of those means. In both your work and your personal life, it is good (and often necessary) to set a goal or an outcome. You should then decide on the means you want to use. These should be your driving force. Goals (outcomes) are usually short term: hit $10M in sales in Q4, expand company workforce by 20% by 2020, or lose 10 pounds for that April wedding. Your means can last forever: engaging more with customers to make sure you have the products they want and need, hiring people that are a good fit for your organization to reduce turnover, or eating fewer processed foods. Focus on doing your means well, and the outcomes will come.

I cried in the doctor’s office not because I wouldn’t get my best time in a race I have scheduled for May, but because I wouldn’t be able to run with my friends. I finally realized races are just an outcome for me. My means—spending time with my friends, waking up early, feeling inspired—those are the things that truly matter. I plan to save my first marathon bib to remind myself of what I learned. I may run another marathon one day. But I’ll focus on the means before that. Because if I focus on the means, the outcomes will come.

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