Escaping the rat race

The coach’s advice was simple—it may not have been any good—but some of us are still following it, years later, at work. You may be too.

“Run as fast as you can,” he told us.

At the time, we were a herd of 8th grade boys, about to run a stomach-churning mile on an outdoor track. The gym coach, stop watch in hand, would yell out our times as we finished.

The coach never gave a reason to run fast, such as, “People are watching—some of them are girls.”

He could have threatened, “If you don’t run fast, you’ll flunk gym, you’ll never finish high school, and one day, when you least expect it, you’ll be eaten by wild animals.”


Maybe he didn’t need to give reasons. We were competitive. And no one wanted to look bad.

That’s similar to work. The clock is always ticking, there’s never enough time, and no one wants to screw up, or be eaten by wild animals. Run as fast as you can.

Back in 8th grade, I’d never heard of Roger Bannister, a runner with a different approach. In 1954, Bannister broke the 4-minute mile (his time: 3:59.4).

Before 1954, people assumed it was physically impossible to break the 4-minute mile, and therefore, if anyone ever did break it, that person would immediately have to die.


Bannister was a talented 25-year-old runner (and medical student), motivated by a public defeat two years earlier at the 1952 Olympics.

But he had something else, a specific target—it wasn’t “run as fast as you can.” He was smarter than that.

And he set specific milestones: 10 straight quarter miles, averaging 58.9 seconds; 7 straight half miles, averaging 2:03; a half mile in 1:54 (St. Petersburg Times online sports, 12/17/99).

And he worked on his target every day.

After he broke the record, a strange thing happened. Within 3 years, 16 other runners broke the 4-minute mile. Suddenly, the impossible had become possible.

What’s possible for you this year? You may be too busy running to even think about that.


Still, it’s worth thinking about.

Tip: Set a specific target. Make it compelling. Then start moving.

Best wishes for the new year!

© Copyright 2013 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.

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