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The non-Glamorous Key to Success

Good leaders with good ideas and good character still fail on a regular basis. Sure, sometimes they fail because they lack resources, sometimes they fail because of flawed implementation plans, and sometimes failure is the result of unforeseen circumstances.

But as often as not, the reason a new project or initiative fails is nothing more complicated than a lack of endurance–they just didn't stick with it long enough. The going got tough and they stopped going.

Here's my insight. One of the biggest keys to success is simply this: DON'T STOP! Let me put it into the context of my story.

A while back my wife, Margaret, and I discovered that we love cycling together. Our favorite weekend ride was a 25 mile loop to Huntington Beach. We would ride to the beach, have coffee on the patio at the Main St. Starbucks, and then ride back home. At some point in our cycling journey we decided to go for the ambitious goal of a cycling "century." 100 miles in a day. It's the cycling cousin of a marathon.

On a Saturday in February about ten years ago, we accomplished our goal of completing a full “century” — 100 miles in one day. (It was our second attempt.) I remember the victorious moment crossing the finish line in downtown Palm Springs to the cheers of local well wishers. But, getting to that finish line was really tough.

Somewhere near mile 40 I developed a major cramp in my left leg. I stretched, and hydrated and did everything I could, but it hurt and fought me for the next 60 miles. I felt it on every pedal stroke.

Near the 60 mile mark--that point where the exhilaration of the start was overtaken by fatigue and pain--when we still had 40% of the journey to go, it dawned on my that the physiological-psychological journey of this long distance ride paralleled much about the challenges of leadership. Even though we were making great progress, even though we had trained for this, even though we were fully committed, in the heat of the moment quitting felt like a sensible, even desirable, idea. And, that's when I had the big "A-ha" of the day.

The key to successfully completing 100 miles is really simple: Just don’t stop! If you don’t stop pedaling, you will succeed.

I'm sure you've thought or even encouraged people with the idea that the key to success is to keep going. However, in many endeavors it actually makes more sense to tell yourself the simplest possible truth. Just don’t stop. Momentum is not some mysterious phantom, it is the result of taking the next obvious step. It happens when you keep going.

Because, in your entire life, the only day you actually control is today, then take whatever needs to be achieved and just don't stop today. If you make that decision every day at every step, the next thing you know you will be riding across the finish line, medal in hand, cramp and all. You will have succeeded.

Anyone who has tried to lead change or tried to launch some new enterprise knows that there are long seasons in the middle zone of that initiative when the hard work ahead is still as daunting as what you have already done. Those are discouraging, dark, non-glamorous days. Those are days when the return on your sacrifice is still far off. Those are the moments when fatigue is palpable, and when there are still enough variables in play that success can not be guaranteed.

Whether you are leading change, starting a business, planting a new church, trying to lose weight, or spearheading some big new initiative you will face days plagued by logical reasons you should quit. Don’t. Solicit help to evaluate your methodologies, but don’t stop. Trust yourself and all the preparation you have done.

On a daily basis, in the real trenches of life, endurance simply means that today I just won’t quit.

Somewhere about mile 85 or 90 on that day in Palm Springs, we could taste victory. Our speeds increased, our enthusiasm returned, and with a great deal of excitement we leaned into the final corners nearly sprinting to the finish line. 102 miles after we had started, the pain and fatigue of those difficult earlier miles evaporated. Success has that effect.

So, what are you working on these days that calls for extraordinary endurance?

And, what reasons are you giving yourself for quitting?

Whatever you are telling yourself in this moment, it’s time to do the most important thing. DON’T STOP.

What not add your story through the comment section below?


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