Don't let what everyone knows impede you from winning the race.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me paint a picture for you. The year is 1983 and you are a super fit, well geared, and highly trained ultra-marathon runner. You are getting ready for a 544 mile race from Sydney to Melbourne, Australia. You are mulling about with your peers, rubbing elbows with everybody who you know is at least as prepared as you are. You see an array of high end athletic brands on display. It is a stereotypical marathon.
But then you start to hear some murmuring. “He’s how old?” Your interest is piqued. “He’s wearing what?” Okay, now you have to see what the commotion is about.
At the starters table you see an older man, 61 to be exact, who is entering the race wearing a ball cap, t-shirt, bibbed overalls, and galoshes. Now, I want you to stop right here a moment and ask yourself, “What is my first impression of these scene? What conclusions have I drawn about this man and how his performance will go?” Write these down if you need to.
You see a reporter, drawn by the spectacle, approach the man. He asks, “Sir, do you really plan to run this race?” The man calmly replies, “Well, yes. I’ve always wanted to run one and this one just happened to line up with my schedule.” The shocked reporter asks, “You’ve never ran a race before?” The man responds, “Nope. I have run distances before but never a race. They always looked fun.”
If you are like everybody else at this point you think the old man is bonkers. Running a 544 mile race as your very first event AND wearing the complete antithesis of what running gear should be are surely signs this man has lost his marbles. But, maybe for the publicity, the race organizers allow him to enter and you see him lined up in the pack to start.
The signal comes and off everyone goes, everyone, of course, but the old man. While the rest of the athletes are running the old man is doing an odd sort of shuffle step. You will never forget that image and it is the last time you will see him for the next six days.
You reach the line 5 hours ahead of the old record and confident you have won the event. You get to the finishing table and see that you are, in fact, second. Two things strike you. One is that you are second by almost 10 hours. Somebody broke the record by 15 hours? Second, the name is a Cliff Young, you didn’t recognize it.
You are taken to the rest and recovery tent and are eager to see who the winner is. You get a little light headed and stumble when you see the old man. You think to yourself, “No way it is him! Can’t be! He must have fell ill and been transported here for care.” You walk up to him to introduce yourself and he responds, “’ello mate, Cliff Young.” You full on faint and will later blame it on the heat and not the fact you got your can kicked by an old man in bibbed overalls and galoshes.
The above story is true, slightly paraphrased but true. You see, because Cliff had never ran a race before he approached the even with a completely fresh perspective. Therefore he was not impeded by a lot of ideas about what he should or should not do. He was free to run his race the way he saw fit. He was free to be him and be comfortable being him.
He didn’t know you were supposed to rest at night, so he ran the race straight through without stopping.
He didn’t know he was supposed to take long, loping, strides, so he shuffled along and expended less overall energy. By the way, this technique, “The Cliff Young Shuffle”, has been adopted as the technique of choice for most long distance runners and has been used to take several world titles and break world records.
Cliff’s fresh perspective changed the running world forever.
All he knew is what he could do and how he could do it and ported that into the race world. So, stop and think to yourself for a second about three things.
How badly did you misjudge Cliff and his performance at first?
What could you accomplish if you were comfortable being you and not beholden to arbitrary restrictions imposed by others?
How can you change your field by simply ignoring restrictions and looking at problems with a completely fresh perspective?
About the Author
Leading leaders and mentoring mentors through sound leadership fundamentals that are easy to apply daily. Earl Breon is an advocate for layman leadership and founder of Earl Breon Leadership Development.