When you start a race, it is useful to visualise the path ahead, but this is never a perfect science. There is always an element of unpredictability, and you have to live on your wits until the very last stride.
Many amateur athletes have a tendency to relax when the finish line comes into sight, but this is the moment when you should be pushing yourself the hardest. One of your competitors may have been conserving their energy for a sprint finish – the moment you relax is the moment that they breeze past you.
In life and business, you can observe similar “self-defeating” tendencies when you feel that the race is over.
Individuals strive for years to put themselves in the frame for a promotion, but in the weeks before it is made official, they do something stupid and waste all those years of hard work.
Entrepreneurs spend their lives chasing huge amounts of investment, many getting carried away with their own hype and forgetting that they have a business to run. Money in the bank, let’s kick back and relax. Nope, that isn’t the “line” – the finishing line for any entrepreneur is a profitable business!
Companies monopolise markets for years, only to grow fat and inefficient, to be disrupted by hungry start-ups whose founders are fresh out of University. In this case, admittedly, there is no “finishing line”, the race just keeps going, but easing up when you feel that you have “made it” is the beginning of the end.
Don’t look back, and don’t look around. Concentrate on what you have to do to get to where you need to be, and don’t relax for a minute. Plan future goals and as you achieve them, plan more. This repetitive goal-setting cycle will keep you motivated and hungry to continually achieve and exceed.
I came across a video a year ago on YouTube. Faten El-Helw, an Egyptian lion-tamer came into the cage with two of her lions. She walked to the front of the cage, smiling and waving to the clapping crowd, her back to the two lions. Then she started dancing. The inevitable happened and one of the lions smashed her to the ground. For English rugby fans, this would be the equivalent of Maro Itoje taking out a seven-year-old kid. The hit was fast and brutal. The girl got up, but you can’t but help thinking that if she was just a little bit more aware of the lion’s mood that she wouldn’t have been so relaxed. She had the somewhat arrogant attitude of someone, who had already crossed the line, but she paid the price. The same was also true in the 2005 film, Grizzly Man which chronicled the life (and death) of bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell. Complacency when you think you have something mastered can be catastrophic.
Every time that I feel that things are going well for me, I remember that video with the lion or that documentary with Timothy. Have I really crossed a particular line? Is the job truly done and dusted? Could something unexpected happen to scupper my best-laid plans?
Whatever you are doing today, keep doing it until it is totally finished to the best of your ability. If you slack off during the last part of the job, maybe it isn’t going to be as good as it could be. There is sometimes a fine line between mediocrity and excellence.
Those last few metres before the finishing line could make all the difference.