We’ve all heard this phrase before: ‘life is a marathon not a race’. Yet how many of us put it in practice?
Ironically we’ve been nurtured to worship and admire endurance. From the preachings of Jesus Christ who endured so much in his life for the good of Mankind, culminating in enduring the weight of the very cross he was crucified on; to persecuted mythical heroes we grew up in awe of, from Hercules to Tarzan, to more modern characters like Rocky Balboa who beat the odds by never giving up. We revere not their success but their endurance… we envy not the result but the courage they show in ‘going the distance’ as the soundtrack of Rocky – by that very name and not coincidentally – reminds us, climaxing our emotions seeing a guy refusing to give up despite the beating he was taking, enduring till the end even if he lost. Or did he? As the expression goes ‘he may have lost the battle but won the war’.
Tenacity, grit, persistence are the things that make one endure through tough situations. Time and time again we see those being more instrumental to the long term success in any given situation that the mighty powers of whatever one deploys in the short term: talent, wit, intelligence… I call those ‘situational masteries’. You can master a situation with traits like charm… the ability to outwit someone, talk the talk; you may even hit some home runs with situational mastery. People do after all become overnight hits- sometimes. They do in casinos too! But that’s neither a strategy for success not a safe haven for ones’ hopes or ambitions. It’s dependent as much on luck as on anything else; or in there being just the right mix and fit between the ‘situation’ and the tricks possessed to master it in this notion of ‘situational mastery’.
Building endurance is, on the other hand, a strategy. It’s a sustainable, dependable and more predictable – or a more backable – route to success. I’d much rather train for a marathon than the 100m sprint (although admittedly I have done neither). By the nature of having a longer path from the start point to the end you have just much better odds of finding a way to win; to muster the energy and stamina needed to keep going. I’d much rather bet on a team committed to building something – anything – for the longer term. Be it a business, climbing a mountain, building a family.
Warren Buffet put it perfectly when asked how is it possible that he beat every other investor with the least sophisticated of strategies, purely by sticking to fundamentals. He said: “because no one wants to get rich slowly”