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What becoming a try-athlete taught me about work and life

I love a good finish line. I love them when I’m feeling strong, charging through the gate with that ridiculous arms-above-head power pose. I love them when I’m spent, when the race has humbled me and it’s all I can do not to collapse in a heap. I love them when they’re the culmination of a great experience that I feel lucky to have had. I love them when I’m really just mailing the whole thing in and I can finally put an end to my boredom and go get something to eat.

But I love them most of all when they’re portals to a new identity.

If you’ve ever run a marathon you probably know what I mean. The first time you cross that finish line it’s not the end of the marathon. It’s the start of your new life as a marathoner. It’s a cliché because it’s true: it changes you. The minute you cross that finish line you’re a different person. You’re a badass who can crush inconceivably difficult things. In reality, that one moment is the culmination of many months of thankless pavement-pounding, margarita-shunning, social-life-assassinating commitment. It’s the cumulative fatigue and training effect of taking approximately 1.3 million steps (Literally: I did the math). But in that moment, all the pain and boredom and sacrifice is subsumed by the pure joy of accomplishment and the promise of a better future.

I wasn’t always like this. I remember very clearly saying I would never run a marathon, never do a triathlon, never go blonde (I should have stuck to my guns on that one). I remember gym teachers and swim coaches and well-meaning loved ones who told me I’d never amount to anything athletically, who put me in the too-hard basket with all the other artsy weirdos, who didn’t know how to show an anxious child with an overactive imagination how to move her body as a form of self-expression, self-love, and power.

Hundreds of finish lines later, I am the kind of person who calls herself an athlete without cringing a bit on the inside. I’m the kind of person who looks to push her body in new and sometimes intimidating ways. I’m the kind of person who somehow convinces her sexagenarian parents to fly 10,000 miles to compete in the NYC Triathlon, who somehow convinces her mother it’s a good idea to swim in the Hudson. For me, each finish line is a portal to more adventure, more boundary pushing.

It’s taken me many years and many finish lines, but I’ve successfully reframed a little chunk of my self-perception.

Why is this important? Because reframing is helpful everywhere in life, and is going to get even more helpful as the pace of change accelerates, as we get used to the idea of living our lives alongside robots, as we deal with uncertainty of all kinds from all angles every day. Reframing a problem reveals pathways to the solution. It inspires creativity and imagination, which as we all know can change the world. And it all starts with you. If you reframe yourself, you can positively influence those around you. What if you were the kind of person who runs marathons / has breakthrough ideas / transforms your business / gives your community purpose?

Just like your legs and lungs, reframing is a muscle that develops with practice, and just like the marathon, you might need to take many, many steps and cross many finish lines to get there.

But it’s worth it. Trust me. I’m a marathoner.


Ana Mackay-Sim, ORC