Harvey Mackay

Watching the Olympic trials for long-distance-running events, I was again struck by how little margin there is for error in making the U.S. team. Athletes who had trained for years lost by fractions of seconds. The winners go to Rio for the Summer Olympics, and the losers go home heartbroken.

Individual sports like long-distance running are especially tough because runners are on their own. They are not playing as a team. They must have tremendous desire, determination, dedication and discipline, notwithstanding commitment, enthusiasm and mental toughness. They have to set goals and prepare. It's the same in business.

To become a winning athlete or businessperson, you must be a hungry fighter -- hungry for success, hungry for victory and hungry to simply be the best. A coach can show you what to do, how to practice and how often, and offer motivational tips. But the bottom line is that it is up to you. Sometimes, desire is more important than talent. You must want to succeed more than anything. And sometimes even that is not enough, as the Olympic trials proved.

I'm as competitive as anyone. Close friends might even say more. But I've always approached life with the desire to do the best I can. If I do that, I'm usually satisfied.

I ran my first marathon after my 50th birthday. I've run nine more since then, for a total of five New York marathons, four Twin Cities marathons and the 100th Boston marathon. I've also completed three half-marathons in the last three years. I'm proud of these accomplishments, not because I ever came close to earning a spot on the Olympic team or even winning the race. I was just happy that I finished, did the best that I could do and left it all out on the course.

For amateur runners like me, the key to running a marathon is that it is not so much a physical challenge as a mental one. Your body does not want you to run a marathon. Your mind must make you do it. Therefore, you have to develop a rationale so powerful, a determination so strong, that it will enable your mind to overcome the vigorous protests of your body.

The important thing is that you start off on the right foot, if you'll pardon the pun. Preparation is the difference between dropping out of the race and finishing it.

Bill Rodgers, winner of four Boston and four New York marathons, said, "To be a consistent winner means preparing not just one day, one month, or even one year -- but for a lifetime."

To run a marathon is to practice a form of self-discipline based entirely on visualization. You must imagine yourself doing the impossible. And that enables you to do it. Time? It's not always important. Anyone who finishes has won. They have beaten the competition -- themselves.

There is only one thing runners really compete against: It is the little voice inside us that grows louder and says, "Stop." It is, unfortunately, a familiar sound. We hear it all our lives -- at work, at school, in all areas of our lives. It tells us we cannot succeed. We cannot finish. The boss expects too much. The company is too demanding. The homework assignment takes too long. My family is too unappreciative.

The truth is that many successful people are no more talented than unsuccessful people. The difference between them lies in the old axiom that successful people do those things that unsuccessful people don't like to do.

Successful people have the determination, the will, the focus and the drive to complete the tough jobs. When I am hiring employees, I must admit that I take a longer look at resumes that include experiences demonstrating the kind of commitment required of runners.

Running may not be your thing, but all of us have to earn a living one way or another. The majority will work anywhere from 35 to 45 years. The average person will have three to five career changes and perhaps 10 jobs before their 40th birthday.

Statistics like these make a foot race pale in comparison to the treadmill so many workers must master just to bring home a paycheck. Good training and the right mental preparation will help you find a job you love, one that challenges you and satisfies you and makes you want to get back in the race every day.

Mackay's Moral: Dedication and commitment are what will carry you through the long run.

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