When I started running five years back, I didn’t get it. There was no real reason to run — I wasn’t training for a race, nor did I need to lose weight. I could literally be doing anything else — sitting on my couch, watching Netflix, eating a cookie. I felt like stopping at many points, but I continued running.
Running is like life. It is actually long, not short. The more present you are, the longer it feels. The less present you are, the shorter it feels.
It sometimes feels a bit pointless, there isn’t an obvious reason to continue doing it, and yet, you do it. You discover and create meaning along the way. Action generates information, longevity creates meaning. The more you run, the more you learn why you’re running.
Running is different from a sport like basketball where 30 minutes fly by because there’s so much to do — so many people involved, lots of passing and coordination, making space for a clear shot, running back for defense. Basketball is more intuitive to me; it’s easier to keep going, people depend on me, and the dopamine hits from making shots are frequent. Running is a solo sport and there’s no social consequence to quitting midway. Every minute is deliberate, almost like you are meditating with your body. There’s evidence of running distorting your perception of time – the mental boredom and physical pain makes time pass slower.
I’m naturally an initial attraction type of person. I’m excitable about ideas, people, and activities that I am immediately drawn to. Running has taught me the value of acquired appreciation, and more importantly, the importance of endurance: doing something you like for a very long time.
It takes many decades to do something meaningful and running simulates those decades. On a long run, you feel what it’s like to work on a project for a decade because you go through many emotions while you’re doing it and it takes forever to finish it. The last 10% feels like the longest because you know how close you are. You can physically feel your legs, core, and breath through every step of the run.
Repeating something seemingly mundane for many years turns it into something special and transcendent. Working on a project over several years — not necessarily continuously but never formally quitting — means the ideas can make their way into your subconscious and your conversations in ways that can be magical.
The most common failure mode of startups isn’t that dramatic, it’s just founders who gradually run out of motivation and quit, no different than stopping midway through your run. My learning from running a startup is that it’s important to have a near-religious persistence to not quit, especially during the first year. There are all sorts of reasons to quit — no one cares about your product, no one wants to work with you, no one wants to invest in you. Or in a seemingly happy case — a company offers to acqui-hire you, someone gives you a great job offer, a shiny new technology seems interesting. That first year can feel long just like your first long run but it’s important to doggedly keep going.
Survival is success. The people I respect the most are those that have continued creating and putting their work out there for many decades. The most impressive thing about Paul McCartney isn’t the Sgt Pepper’s album, it is the fact that he is still prolific at 80, creating interesting music, collaborating with a wide range of artists, and doing what he loves.
One of my favorite biographies is a musical biography of Paul Simon. What’s most striking is that he is still making music at 81. He is experimenting with new styles and still learning. Paul Simon made Sound of Silence when he was 23, Graceland when he was 45, Rhythm of the Saints at 49, and So Beautiful or So What at 70. He has made music for so long and he’s still going!
Most people think in time horizons of a few months, hardly anyone thinks in terms of decades.
Louis CK had an interesting conversation with the comedian Theo Von. He was telling Theo how good he was at standup, but when he heard that Theo had *only* been doing it for 18 years, he said that’s exciting because Theo is not even close to how good he could be. “If you’re that good at 18 years and continue to keep standup as your number one thing, then you’ll be unstoppable at 22 years.” It takes 22 years to get really good at standup!
Endurance applies to relationships as much as it does to ideas. I have close friends who I’ve known for over two decades. There’s something magical about having so much shared context that continues to compound every year. The same thing that was funny to us five years back is even funnier today. Long-term relationships are acts of choosing the same person and values over and over again and watching something seemingly ordinary take on profound sanctity and significance.
Endurance matters. Don’t give up on something that’s important to you. Everything else is possible to figure out.