In 1999, I graduated college and was just getting my feet wet in the working world. That October, I watched the Chicago Marathon and was completely inspired. Being young and feeling invincible, I thought, “I could do that”; even though the most I ran was less than an hour on the treadmill. So in April 2000, I participated in my first race, the “Tax Time Trot,” which would be the precursor to the Chicago marathon. Always preaching that every stratagem must have a Plan B, I put cab money in my running shorts, just in case I couldn’t finish the 6.2-mile course.
Needless to say, I was able to save my cab money. I not only finished the “Tax Time Trot,” but also the October 2000 marathon; I was hooked. I became an avid runner—no matter the season or weather conditions, I was out there, pounding the pavement. In my mid-30s, I decided to make a pact with myself: I would complete 100 races on or before I turned 40. Constantly driven to meet deadlines, however, at 39, I have already reached that goal; and, as I survey the race bibs that hang at the agency I started more than 10 years ago, I actually pause—slow down—and reflect, realizing how running a race is similar to operating a successful business.
Here’s what I would like to share to encourage others who may be in my “shoes”—whether running or entrepreneurial:
Know Starting is the Hardest Part: People always say the first mile of a race is the hardest, and anyone who has started a business can agree that the first couple of years aren’t a walk in the park. While waiting at the starting gate, the eager runner and the burgeoning business owner, experience a similar set of emotions—anxiety, fatigue and frustration. In fact, I often get butterflies at the start of a race, but then I think about how I’m up and out at the crack of dawn, being productive and energized, while a lot of people are still asleep in their warm, comfy beds. It’s at that moment, I start to feel a sense of accomplishment—I got laced up and dressed and by doing so, I’m closer to that finish line. Similarly, I can recall being nervous before making several big decisions—hiring, investing, and expanding, but then I remember, you won’t be any closer to your goal, if you don’t participate and get ready to move.
Make it Mind over Matter: No matter how much you practice strict workouts or prepare business plans, it all can fall to the wayside if you lose your focus. Getting distracted by emotions—I’m too tired, I’m afraid, I’m behind the pack—can often happen in races as well as with a business, which is why you must stay clear headed and think about what you have done to prepare and be successful. Thoughts are powerful; you have to keep them in check and stay the course!
Accept Responsibility: When you run a business or a race, there’s people who support you—either on the race sidelines or in and outside of your office walls, but ultimately, it’s up to you to succeed. You need to be your biggest cheerleader and toughest critic, as it’s your own two feet or bottom line that’s either moving you toward the finish line or closer to your business objectives, which is empowering as well as frightening.
Work through Obstacles: The optimism and ambition I experience when starting out is tested by obstacle, whether it’s a painful leg cramp or a promising business opportunity that fell through. It’s at these moments, though, that you must realign yourself and push through, putting the left foot in front of the right foot and doing it over and over again. If you give up once, it will be too easy to give up the next time, so you must be determined to move through an obstacle to get over
Lead by Inspiration: My dad, Paul Eberl has Multiple Sclerosis, but used to be a runner. He always makes me feel blessed to have two strong, working legs. Realizing I should never take my abilities for granted, I often find that I give high-fives to the onlookers who came out to watch the race, especially kids. I do the same in my business. I want those who show up to know they are appreciated through after-work socials and sport-league activities.
Have Fun: Further, when I run races, I make a point to give high fives to kids who come out to watch the experience. With work I look for fun and joy too, if it’s laughing with a colleague or client, or learning something I never thought I’d need to learn about. Stopping to laugh and have fun in mundane tasks and circumstances has helped my sanity along the way.
Set Realistic Goals: I always approach races and work looking for mini-“finish lines” to keep me motivated. With running, my dad would tell me to use traffic lights to monitor and measure my success, saying “First run to the traffic light at Diversey Ave. and Clark St., then to the light at Diversey Ave. and Pine Grove St.” Each day you’ll run farther and farther and have milestones of success, motivating you to run a longer. Similarly in the business world, I set realistic and achievable mini goals, as if they aren’t realistic, you’ll frustrate yourself, along the way. Once achieved, I celebrate my mini victory, knowing that I can keep inching up to reach the final goal.
Cross-Train for Success: When I first started jogging, I just ran to prepare for a race. I neither stretched nor strength trained. Over time, however, I learned how important it is to include a variety of workouts. The same can be said for said for business—you’ve got to shake it up at times. I learned the value of spreading my wings beyond my core specialty to follow the evolution of my industry and to increase profitability.