This time last year I achieved one of my long standing goals in life of completing a marathon – all 42.195 kilometers of it. Here are 13 lessons in entrepreneurship from completing the Dubai Marathon.
1. It Is Never the Right Time
I wasn’t going to run the marathon last year as I wasn’t prepared. I hadn’t done any training besides going to a regular gym class three to four times a week. The furthest I had run was 5 km on a treadmill a few weeks before. I didn’t think I was ready.
The year before I had completed the Abu Dhabi Half Marathon (21 km) a month before the Dubai Marathon was taking place and was in much better shape. When it came time for the actual marathon though I made excuses to myself on how I didn’t have time to train and I was not ready and so I chickened out.
For this marathon, I only signed up 12 hours before the race. It wasn’t at all in my mind that I could do it. It was not the right time.
As I help people start their own businesses and venture into the world of entrepreneurship, I get excuses the whole time of why people don’t want to pursue their dreams and their businesses ideas. “I would but I got my cousin’s wedding to attend to.”, “I would but I need to take a vacation first.” “I would, but we just had a baby.”, “I would, but I don’t have the money.”
If you have a goal or a dream, right now is the perfect time to start pursuing it. Not when the stars are aligned, the sun is shining, the bank account is full and relatives are not visiting your home. Get started now – with your unhealthy bank account, lack of skills, lack of connections or your lack of knowledge.
Take the first steps, it does not mean that you will open your restaurant over night but at least start doing the research of what exactly it would take (skills, finances, team, menu, location etc) or the courses you need to take that will help you make your dream a reality.
You will realize that many of the reasons are simple excuses that you give yourself. If it was easy, everyone would have already done it.
The time is now.
Next year simply delays your dream one more year.
2. Winners Have It Easier. Losers Have it Harder.
As you may have seen on television there are many water stations along the way as well as a cheering crowd who encourage the runners along the route of a marathon.
What you may not have seen is when the really slow runners come through, the water stations have cleared up, the crowd has gone home and the closed off roads are again open to the normal traffic. The slow runners have to do without the water. Do without the encouraging crowd. Do without a smooth road and use the bumpy pedestrian sidewalks instead.
The leading pack had a car in front of them with the time display. The water stations and the roads were clear for them. The encouraging crowds were there for them.
Life also becomes easier for winners and harder for those not leading. Its easier to get a bank loan when you don’t need one. And when you don’t have money in your account, you start getting additional penalties from your bank. It is easier to get a job, when you already have one.
Apple while its doing well will get even more good publicity from the media, while Blackberry starts having troubles it will get even more bad publicity which hurts sales even more.
When you start your business, you will be one of the slower runners. You will have to setup your offices for the first time, hire and train new people, make calls that won’t get answered. Beg journalists to write about you when they are not interested.
When you are a Richard Branson or a Bill Gates, than the media will chase you, talented people will want to work with you. Investors will want to invest in you. When you are a nobody, you will have to work that much harder.
Realize though that Bill, Richard, Steve and Mark didn’t always lead the pack and put in many years of effort before you or I ever heard of them.
3 The World Needs Apple and Wikipedia
The Dubai marathon was amazingly well organized. From collecting the pre-registration kit to the water stations along the route. It was a mix of sponsors (Standard Chartered, TNT, Adidas…) as well as hundreds of volunteers from various schools. To make it as effective as it was, it needed both the volunteers and the money from the businesses.
For the world to work, we also need the non-profit sector and corporations to advance society. We need the donation funded Wikipedias as well as the purely capitalistic Apple’s and the Google’s of the world to advance society.
Societies progress when people are not purely capitalist and not purely socialist. The world benefits from profit making companies such as Apple, Google and Standard Chartered. If you want to “make the world better”, it does not mean you have to join the non-profit sector – as many profit making companies do a lot of good for the world while still making a profit.
And if we didn’t have the volunteers from the schools than the experience would also not have been as good. We do need some websites and organizations such as wikipedia, librivox (free audio books), guttenberg (free ebooks), edx (free education) and KhanAcademy (free education) to be non-commercial so that the society can benefit.
As I started off Webpreneur Academy I had my own debates of whether to go “profit” or “non-profit” and soon realized for us, profit making was the way to go. There were already a great number of charities that work in emerging world economies to help in education, if we went down the non-profit route we would only be fighting for donations which would take away from them.
Profit making ventures do bring great amount of good value to the world.
4 Run Your Own Race
I was the very last guy to finish the marathon and completed in 8:33 minutes (the winners finnish in under 2.5 hours). I can tell you I am extremely happy to have completed one of my what I thought was harder goals in life which was simply completing a marathon. There were many people that finished a few hours ahead of me and are disappointed with their day. They planned to run in under 4 hours and finished in 4.01. Or they planned to win the race and came in third.
They could look at me and say “at least I wasn’t as slow as that guy” or I could look at them and be disappointed with myself for being so slow.
But the fact is life is about running your own race. My goal was simply to complete the marathon. Some people wanted to win it. And some people wanted to finish in under 5 hours. You also have to live life in your own race. Do not constantly compare salaries, cars, houses, grades, weight with those around you. Figure out your own standards – those around you might be setting the standards too low for what you can truly achieve, or they might be “winning” in races you don’t actually want to compete in.
Your friends, media, parents, marketers, teachers, spouses, colleagues will all convince you to join their races – think for yourself in which race you want to compete in and what are your own goals, not theirs.
5 The World of Work Has Shifted
I remember working for a consulting organization a decade ago. I was lost deep in space thinking about something. My manager interrupted my chain of thought and said why “aren’t you doing any work?”. I apologized and went back to creating PowerPoint slides so I could “show progress”.
While I was running the marathon many thoughts came through my mind (an aside – an interesting book I read recently for the runner within you: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami). I thought about my personal and business strategy for the year. What else I wanted to do. How should I hire. How should I structure an agreement I was working on and how should I improve the way I teach and how to scale my business. During the run, I even came up for the idea for this blog post and the main points I wanted to include in it.
When I got home, I was simply able to write the points I had thought about during the run (the blog post sat in my draft folder for a year and now I finally polished it and sent it).
The world of work has shifted from doing to thinking. Doing is keeping you busy as you can show progress, but the real big work also happens when you think. And that thinking can happen while you are driving, shopping or running a marathon. The boundaries of “checking in and checking out” have shifted. I spend many hours sometimes randomly going for a walk or doing something weird like drive around in circles. This is simply to help me think through an idea. As the economy shifts from administration to creativity you too will be doing more “work” while doing something outside your cubicle.
The real genius in Google was the simple idea they had for the business model of using advertising to monetize the search.
As the entrepreneur you will need to create. And creation happens in the mind first – and the mind will go with you wherever you are – in an office cubicle or running a marathon.
6 It’s Mindset
I knew this was just about mindset. I am an average health guy and I figure if other humans could do it and as I am also human than I should also be able to complete the distance as well. Most of us are within 20 % plus or minus in intelligence of each other. For many years I have been a personal development junkie going to mindset seminars listening to the likes of Brian Tracy, Tony Robbins, Les Brown, Zig Zigglar, Jim Rohn and anyone else I can get my hands on.
You listen to these enough and you realize the power of mindset. If I had the mind of a typical person I would have spent the marathon saying to myself “no way can you do it”, “you are way out of shape”, “you should have practiced more”, “quit before you hurt yourself”, “don’t trip” and a dozen other negative things that society teaches us to think.
Focus on creating a positive mindset which encourages you to complete your goals as it makes the journey much more fun.
7 When the Universe Sends You A Sign, Go For it
As I went to signup for the 10 km run the evening before the run, I found out it was sold out. The only available race I could register was the full marathon. Initially I thought that I would signup for the marathon, run the first 10 k and then quit. After I had signed up and was leaving the registration desk though, that spark of hope came. Could this be the year that I finally do it?
My mind initially started giving me all these excuses. It will be midnight before you go to bed and you have to get up at 4 am so you will be tired. You haven’t gone to the gym in over a week. You wore these uncomfortable suit shoes today and have a blister on your toe.
All of a sudden though I realized that these were all excuses. How fast does an average human walk? 4 km per hour. So if I walked the whole thing it would take me 10.5 hours. So worst case I could do that. I knew I could at least walk for that long if I had to.
The sign I got was that the only race I could enter for the full marathon as the 10 k was full. You are also continuously getting signs on what you can go for. Once you determine to do something – whatever the goal – you will see that there are plenty of signs that encourage you to go and make your dreams happen.
8 Achieving Goals Means Going through the Uncomfortable
As I was running the race, a Mohammed Ali quote that kept going through my mind was:
“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’ “
and thats what I said to myself. When the discomfort and the tiredness of the marathon came, I said I could wait another year to achieve this goal or I could just take the pain. Get this goal out of my way. And for the rest of my life be happy that I had achieved it.
No one is going to do goal setting for you. You have to set your own goals and achieve what you want. You too will have to think through how and what you want to do to achieve your success. No one really cared if I achieved this goal or not. I didn’t win any cash. No photographers were there to take a photo (this one is of me with my own iPhone).
But for myself it was worth the sacrifice (I lost both my large toe-nails out and it took 6 months to regrow- yummy!). The pain was temporary, the achievement is something that I will have forever.
9 Build Confidence
You build your confidence over your lifetime. Getting a gold star from your third grade teacher might not seem like much now, but it meant a lot to you back then. It built up your confidence. You go through life building a series of steps to build your confidence.
Completing the half marathon the year before boosted my confidence. Completing this marathon has made me even more confident. To some people running a marathon is no big deal, to me it was something that I had feared. The first time I gave a public presentation, the first time I got mentioned in a newspaper, the first time I saw myself on television, the first time I became an entrepreneur, the first time I asked for a sale were all were small achievements that built up my confidence over the years.
Lack of confidence is what keeps you from trying things. Want to ask out that hot date? Gain confidence and you will. Want to run the marathon? Got confidence and you will.
We are taught to be humble. But building confidence is something you have to do for yourself – not others. You have to take tiny steps along your journey of life to build up your own self-belief and confidence which will allow you to try more things and hence achieve more things in life.
10 Delayed Dreams
Ever since I graduated from University and moved to London (1998), I set myself a goal of “someday” running the London marathon. I just didn’t think it was actually possible and it remained a thing in the back of my mind. A few years later I started goal setting and this was on my goals list.
Early in 2010 I had set myself the goal that I would finally definitely run the 2011 Dubai marathon. For many years I had wanted to run a marathon but never did any training or taken any action towards achieving it. 2011 was definitely going to be it. I took some action for the 2011 marathon but had chickened out. Was disappointed in myself for not doing it and wondered if I ever would. A month before the 2012 marathon and due to my lack of training I was again thinking that my goal wouldn’t happen and so was also thinking “will I ever do it?”.
Well it happened. Many years ago it was simply a dream. Then since I started taking action, it became closer to reality. And finally it happened.
I also had a dream that “someday” I would move to Pakistan and do something to help people out of poverty and bring better education to this part of the world. And now as I move here after spending many years developing curriculum and help entrepreneurs start their businesses, help schools improve their curriculums, I see that at the age of 35 another one of my big “dream” goals is closer to happening.
You too will have your dreams and your goals. And it won’t happen in a week, or maybe a year, or maybe a decade – but if you keep going and keep the faith in yourself you will get there.
I can say this as I’m about to hit 36 and begin to have more perspective on life where things hadn’t worked as planned in the timeframes that I had set myself – but overtime, I’ve realized that there is a reason they don’t happen as quickly as I thought they would happen. And many times if I had thought about the pain and the actual length of the journey, I might not have started many of the journeys I’ve been on.
Dreams happen. Just don’t lose hope if there are a few delays.
11 Get the right peer group
One of the biggest factors to your success is your peer group. They will push you into doing the right things, providing you pick the right peer group. In this case it was a good friend of mine, Mohammed Mustafa. On many occasions we used to go and smoke shisha to “hang out and relax”. But we realized this wasn’t a good long term strategy and we both pushed each other to get back into more healthy sports.
He told me he was going to run the 10 k a few weeks before the race and it was then that the seeds to the race was planted in my head. If he wasn’t doing it than I might not even have known about it.
You can find peer groups that get you into smoking, into whinging about how the world is going terribly wrong or gossiping about who is dating who. Or you can get a peer group that constantly encourage you to achieve your goals. To pursue your own dreams and to set them even higher.
I can not stress how important it is to get the right peer group in life. I can guess your waist size: It will be the 7 people you hang out with most, and plus or minus two inches of their waist line will be your own waist line. I can guess your income – it will be the 7 people you hang out with most and plus or minus 20 % of their income.
Set yourself up with success – limit negativity in your life, and move towards positive people. We live in a time where we have more choices of “friends” than at anytime in history – get the right friends and you will achieve more of your goals.
12 Making Strategic Mistakes is a Part of Doing Something New.
Early into the race, there were water stations where people were handing out water and gatorade. I wasn’t especially thirsty but I drank quite a lot of water. I soon realized that this was a big mistake. Now I needed to use the restroom badly and it was only 10 k into the race. I didn’t want to stop though. I knew that once I stopped running, I would end up walking the rest and had set myself a target of running the first 21 k. For the next 8 k I had to run in much discomfort as I had needed the restroom but was forcing myself not to stop running. I made a strategic mistake by drinking too much water, too early in the race.
I read a study somewhere that said 30 % of decisions that executives at the top global companies make are wrong. This is a part of doing business, you simply have to correct when you can and move on.
When you start your business or do anything new, you will make a ton of mistakes along the way. You will undercharge a customer. You will hire the wrong person. Enter into the wrong partnership. You will choose the wrong target segment to focus on.
This is all a part of entrepreneurship – so learn not to be too hard on yourself but realize as you setup your business you may make mistakes.
The cost of doing anything new is stupidity.
13 Don’t Let People Talk You Out of Doing Something
If I had thought about it too long and called up too many people, I would probably never have run the marathon. I knew what they would say “you haven’t even trained, are you crazy”, “do it next year, you will be more ready then”, “I am not being a pessimist but you could really injure yourself.”.
When I had lived in London many years ago and wanted to run the marathon (my naive “how hard could it be”) and asked someone they said “its impossible. You have to train for at least 6 months…..”. That stuck in my mind and kept me from even trying all these years.
Having been through the entrepreneurship journey for over a decade, I have learned to NOT ask too many people their opinions on what I can and can not achieve in life. People limit your thinking. They limit your goals. And they limit what you can achieve. If you truly have a goal you want to achieve, don’t ask a hundred people if you should do it. In the words of a famous shoe company: Just do it. You can ask people to refine your idea – but only you should decide whether your dream is worth pursuing or not.
There you have a write up on some lessons on the journey to achieving one of my own goals.
What goal could you set yourself this year that you would really amaze yourself if you achieved it?