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5 Career Lessons I’ve Learned From Running

The power of small steps towards achieving a big goal.

The author's 2014 NYC Marathon medal and running sneakers. 

I started running a few months before my thirtieth birthday. On a lark, I’d decided to train for the Brooklyn Half Marathon thinking it would be a fun birthday coup to complete the race.

Since then, running has become an integral part of my identity. I’ve now run dozens of races, including 10 additional half-marathons, and the ultimate bucket list item – The NYC Marathon. I read running blogs regularly and am part of a friendly running group in my Brooklyn community. Perhaps most telling: when I started dating my boyfriend, one of the first questions people asked upon learning about my new relationship was: “Does he run?”

Running has given me more than toned legs and new friends. Running has taught me many lessons that I now apply regularly to my career in marketing. With the NYC Marathon this weekend, I thought it was an especially appropriate time to share these musings.

The power of small steps

When a big assignment falls in my lap, I’m excited, but also somewhat terrified. Thoughts like “How will this all get done in time?” and “Where do I even begin?” will further raise my anxiety level. But…if I take a moment to remind myself that I didn’t run a marathon in one clip, but rather, broke it into small, manageable training runs, I am put at ease.

When training for a race, you add a mile to your long run each week, gradually working yourself up to a lengthy distance. It’s a principle that can be applied to intimidating projects like rebranding a company, building a website, or creating a deck for an important meeting. Figure out how you can break up the project into small, more digestible pieces. Then tackle one step today, the next step tomorrow, and so forth. Pulling together an entire deck is intimidating, but focusing solely on an outline before moving on to anything else? You’ve got this.

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable

Let’s be real. No one feels fabulous at mile 21 of a marathon – you’re tired, hungry, maybe in a bit of pain. But if you want to reach that finish line, you need to push through and keep running. You need to be comfortable with experiencing discomfort if you’re ultimately seeking the big reward.

The same goes for work. Looking for a new job? Get comfortable with the anxiety that comes with interviewing and awaiting HR phone calls. Seeking a promotion? You need to be okay taking on tasks that are probably new and scary to you. Providing negative feedback to a subordinate? Could be awkward…but if you don’t speak up, they may never realize their missteps and work to address them.

As an Account Director, I’m often required to have tense conversations with Clients where I push back on their requests. It runs completely against my people-pleasing, compromising nature, but it’s often for the good of the company and the creative. I need to channel that discomfort I felt running, and realize that if I want the ultimate reward of an effective ad campaign, I need to lean into the discomfort and push through.

Friends and Colleague support is HUGE

I cannot overestimate how critical it was to have friends and family supporting me along the marathon course. Every few miles, I had a friend waving a sign, cheering me on and pushing me to keep going. Seeing my loved ones kept my energy from flagging; I felt supported and knew I just had to make it to the finish line so as not to let them down!

Think about how you can support your colleagues and Clients. Did someone you manage do a great job? Tell them and tell them regularly. As my mom says, “It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing something, everyone likes to receive praise and recognition.” Recognition makes people feel confident, and inspires them to do their best work for the team. I know I’ve been especially motivated to go the extra mile for bosses who have supported and praised my work. Plus, recognition breeds contentment; hopefully leading to less turnover and dollars lost in having to retrain staff.

The hardest work yields the biggest rewards

Marathon training took over my summer of 2014. Because I struggle to run in hot weather, I started setting my alarm for 6am on Saturdays in order to beat the heat. That meant Friday night was pretty much shot, and Saturday afternoons were spent on the couch recovering. Beyond these social life sacrifices, running 20+ miles weekly was exhausting and wasn’t always all that enjoyable.

And yet, finishing the NYC Marathon was one of the highlights of my adult life. I cried crossing the finish line, and rode an endorphin-fueled wave of satisfaction for weeks afterwards. It had been a struggle, but it was absolutely worth it – both for the day-of experience, and the pride I have in looking back at my accomplishment.

In the moments when I’m working late or in the weeds on a project, feeling cranky and overwhelmed, I remind myself that my biggest, proudest accomplishments always required the most amount of work and investment. Running the marathon wouldn’t have been as sweet of a reward if I just waltzed out of bed and did it. And I probably wouldn’t have learned much about myself, or gained valuable life lessons, if it had been something I hadn’t had to work for.

What scares you now will eventually become routine

When I signed up for my first half-marathon, the idea of 13.1 miles was incredibly daunting. My goal was simply to finish the race, regardless of how long it took. And sure enough, with months of training under my belt, I did. The feeling of accomplishment was overwhelming. I could not believe I’d run such a great distance.

But after several more half-marathons, 13.1 miles no longer felt scary or intimidating. I was ready for the next challenge…thus beginning the cycle all over again with the NYC Marathon.

My takeaway: the task that terrifies me today will eventually become comfortable. These are words to remind myself when I’m trying to understand a new social media platform, or diving into a new account role and struggling to remember all of the abbreviations and lingo associated with this Client. It will get easier. And then it will become second-nature. And then…it’s probably time to look for the next challenge.

There are countless other running lessons to share…and ones that I’ve still yet to learn!

It’s humbling to realize that the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other can offer up so many rich, universally-applicable lessons. Here’s hoping I will always be able to keep running and reflecting. 

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