there are no shortcuts.
the only journey is the one within. - Rilke
Yesterday, I ran my first half marathon.
I took up running four and a half years ago, never having participated in any sort of endurance sports in my life. The first weeks were painful, both physically and mentally. The Greenway Trail in Lilburn had just been built, and almost exactly one mile down, there is a little turtle garden statue. At first, I would congratulate myself for running to the turtle without stopping, and then to the end of the trail and back to the turtle without stopping. On it went, through my first 5K, my first 5 mile run, my first 10K. I very rarely run that trail anymore, but often, on runs short or long, wherever I am in the world, I think of that turtle.
Today, marks my 5 year anniversary at Bard.
I went from a 4-person office in a Buckhead high-rise, stopping at Panera or the Apple Store over lunch, to a 400-person office in the middle of nowhere, Newton County. At first, it was hard. I was the youngest engineer on staff by half a decade, and several decades below the average age. During my first week, our lab techs asked me if I was the new high school intern. In the 5 years since, I have had 6 bosses (8 separate times), visited 7 plants, and launched 9 products. In the last year alone, I’ve racked up 84,067 flown miles for business and learned some really important things. It is true what Steve Jobs said: work has been a large part of my life, and I have tried in that time to do what I believe to be great work.
At first, when you start running, it’s easy to get excited by your progress. To see the mileage rack up, and to feel the changes in your body as it adapts to pounding pavement, to filling lungs with air, to swinging arms and seeking roads.
But at some point, running, like work, gets hard. It becomes tedious. It’s one more thing to do on a busy day when you’d rather go home and watch TED talks and eat bonbons. There are so many mornings when I curse my Up for waking me up at 5:45 in a time zone I don’t recognize to go hit the treadmill because it’s 15 below zero outside and the wind’s whipping snow.
But I get up. There are no shortcuts to training. There is no substitute to building volume in your sneakers. You cannot eat clean for three days and expect to be at race weight. You cannot skip your mileage, week in and week out, and expect to finish 13.1 miles - not safely.
Similarly, at some point, on your 4th long haul flight in as many weeks, you are exhausted. There are frustrating days, long meetings, other job offers. Your laptop’s blue-screening and that last dataset from that last test doesn’t seem like it’s going to shake out tonight.
But there are no shortcuts to being a good engineer - or a good [insert job title here]. There is no substitute for slogging through hard work - to digging in your heels, rolling up your sleeves, and earning your stripes. It’s something similar to what some from an older generation would call “paying your dues”, but I don’t think it’s limited to those early in their careers. You cannot be successful without the discipline to finish.
I read an essay once, called “The Common Denominator of Success.” I can’t remember what pointed me to it, if it was Stephen Covey or Miller Templeton or something else. Honestly, it sounded pretty hokey at the time. But I read it, and basically Albert E. N. Gray boils it down to this:
"It’s just as true as it sounds and it’s just as simple as it seems. You can hold it up to the light, you can put it to the acid test, and you can kick it around until it’s worn out, but when you are all through with it, it will still be the common denominator of success, whether you like it or not. […] Successful men are influenced by the desire for pleasing results. Failures are influenced by the desire for pleasing methods and are inclined to be satisfied with such results as can be obtained by doing things they like to do."
I don’t know everything about success, and right now I’m not entirely sure what it looks like a year, two years, five years from now. But I know this:
There are no shortcuts.
There is a lot of talk about the courage to leap. Risk for reward, they say. I don’t want to discount leaps, or the people who take them. I have been one of those people, have taken those leaps. Often times, that’s the courage that is demanded of us - to say yes. To go forth. To change the status quo.
But today I am thankful for discovering the courage to stay the course. For the discipline to finish, even when you don’t know where the road leads. For every mile, even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard.
Staying the course has never been my easiest choice. This journey has been at times emotionally challenging and intensely personal. But as I look back at every juncture I’ve had, the right choice has been to continue on, even when it would have been easier to leap. To continue to slog through, to build credibility, to ship products. To find humanity and connection with the people who share the road with you. To do hard, unglamorous work.
There’s no pill that can make you skinny. There is no singular act that will make you humble nor any singular prayer that will make you pious. No magic words you can utter nor any gift you can buy to convince someone of your love. There is no potion that can turn lead to gold.
In the long run, we only hit what we aim at.
Love, the verb.
Log your mileage.
Put in the hours.
Day in and day out.
Anyone can start something. The real alchemy is the discipline to finish.