life is not a marathon

We have heard that a million times – life isn’t a sprint. It is a marathon where we need to persist till the end while savouring every moment.

I disagree.

Running a marathon is damn hard.

It takes of hard work.

The problem is, what happens after you reach the finishing line – i.e. whatever goal you are trying to achieve? Are we talking about short term or long term goals? Will we ever get there?

Life should never be viewed in a linear way.

The truth is, our goals change. We keep hitting milestones. In different stages, or life seasons, if you will, we want different things.

Hence it makes more sense to see life as different cycles.

I see it as a series of recurring sprints. We chase after different goals in different stages, and we want results fast. We go all in. We put our laser focus on things that matter to us during particular life seasons.

Those cycles are sprints to me since I always go full force.

At this point, this seems like the best explanation of life.

When we see life from a linear angle, it seems like we should be all heading towards these:

  • getting married before 28yo
  • getting 1st mortgage before 30yo
  • climbing to managerial level before 32yo
  • having kids before 35yo

How do we explain people who quit their corporate jobs following quarter-life crisis, take up another degree at their 30s, and choose not to have kids?

It feels so strange when these people seem to run towards the “opposite direction” as everyone else.

Honestly, life isn’t a race.

We aren’t even on the same lane.

It will be miserable to think of life like that, and you make yourself suffer to compare your current cycle to others’.

If your goals are to fulfil your vision, live life to full potential, why would you compare your current stage to people who want money and status through climbing the corporate ladder?

How is that even fair?

It’s a sprint, but it’s not just about speed.

Seeing life from different perspectives means a change of mindset.

You go full force, you maximise performance when you are sprinting.

When it comes to short term goals, it should be the attitude in approaching them.

Grow 100 subscribers in 3 months, write 1,000 words in 1 hour, couch to 5k in 3 months.

Once you established your goals and processes, You have the whole roadmap laid out in front of you. You take actions every single day to reach those goals.

For long term goals, it gets a bit tricky. Say you want to achieve financial freedom in 5 years, how do you approach it? After you get there, you will realise it’s not the end. You will always crave for more, or establish more challenging goals. That is another cycle in life. So for complex goals like starting a business and pivoting career, we need to maximise productivity, performance and perseverance. The best way is to forget about the goal and dive right into the process, as Jeff Haden said in “The Motivation Myth”. Try making that 1% improvement every time you do something. Also, enjoy the ride, smell the flowers along the journey.

The burnout during sprints

Unfortunately, some people (like me) sprint too fast, too hard, and they get a physical and emotional burnout.

The grind itself is horrible enough – burning the midnight oil, waiting for the first positive feedback loop to kick in. We have all experienced this at a certain point: we were exhausted, we struggled to carry on the daily activities, and there were ups and downs when it came to productivity and performance.

Then there is the emotional side of sprinting alone. It’s great when you have accountability partners or friends who are in similar situations. What if you don’t? If you are new to sprinting and your old friends around you are still running a marathon, how would you feel? Awkward? Isolated? Self-doubt is real. And it’s hard to not compare yourself with others. There are many moments I just wanted to throw everything away and jump back to the old, painful, predictable way of living. But no. That was too easy. We go all in to achieve our goals. Giving up is not an option. And as long as we stick to it, we are always winning.

The burnout is something that keeps me up all night. Eventually, I learnt to put my physical and mental health first. Here are some practical tips:

1/ keep Instagram scrolling to the minimum during weekends

Do this little experiment: when you are scrolling social media over the weekend, observe the stories and posts your “slow lane” friends (i.e. people who trade 5 days of slavery for 2 days of freedom) upload. Categorise the content by either “creation” (making something, whether it be baking, painting etc.) or “consumption” (lounging in the beach, fancy restaurants etc.). You won’t be surprised – people who have enough from Monday to Friday can’t be bothered to sit down all weekend to build a website. Oh, they do bake tho. During lockdown.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against consumption. My point is, what good does it bring you when you watch people live their “best lives” over the weekend when you’re grinding? We are always unconsciously comparing. Don’t be cruel to yourself. Keep scrolling social media to a minimum, if it’s bugging you. Also, go on an information diet if necessary.

2/ design your non-negotiable in life carefully

Don’t skip activities that bring you energy and joy. Yes we are all busy, but we also want to make sure we are productive and are performing at our best. Non-negotiable things are usually linked to keystone habits, e.g. sleeping, exercising, journalling. If writing brings you joy, do it first thing in the morning. Why would you skip it? You might have more energy to face the challenges that lie upon after your little creative session. Don’t trade off for things you treasure. When you look forward to those non-negotiable activities in your life, you don’t need willpower to get up.

3/ surround yourself with like-minded people

The grinding journey can get really lonely. But it doesn’t have to be miserable. It’s your perspective. Before the first echo kicks in, you might need to work long hours, tweak the process again and again. One thing that kept me sane was to be mindful of my information consumption and who I interacted with. I read stories of people I admired. I watched informative YouTube videos to boost my energy. I listened to podcasts from the most high-performing entrepreneurs. I occasionally tagged them on Twitter for quick interaction. Thanks to the internet, I was able to reach out to anyone I admired. While in real life there are no friends of mine who subscribed to this way of living (yet), this is how I keep going despite the “world” not appreciating what I am doing. It feels very nice to listen to stimulating conversations from people who walked your path before you. Try it.

Final thoughts

Life is made up of cycles of sprints. Be a serial high-achiever. Pursue your goals relentlessly. Live up to your full potential, and be unstoppable.