I differ with modern-day management experts who affirm that life is a race. They preach thus to create an unhealthy world where people toil hard and compete with each other, ultimately making more money for their corporate overlords. I believe that such an approach sucks out the beauty of life and creates a workaholic society.
Nevertheless, we are indeed living in an ultra-fast world. We have responsibilities to fulfill and deadlines to meet. In our personal and professional life, we are thus forced into a race that we do not want to run. Does this mean we have to fall into the rat race unwillingly and suffer through it?
When I was in this dilemma years ago, I was fortunate enough to have a mentor to look up to. A person with great vision, she helped me to see things in a different light.
“There are two kinds of people in the world.” She said and took a pause to sip her coffee; her eyes still fixed on me. “There are sprinters and there are marathoners. What is a rat race for one, is for the other a walk in the park”.
I sat across her in that café with my mouth wide open, and my coffee cup in my hand paused halfway. As someone with no athletic background, I couldn’t get my head around her sports metaphor.
Then she started explaining.
Sprinter Vs Marathoner
It was quite obvious when she elaborated on her allegory thus:
As with sprinters, most people tend to do short spurts of high paced work. They appear always stressed and are perennially impatient. Time, they feel, is too short, which makes them more tensed. Most people we meet, including me, are sprinters.
Marathoners, on the other hand, tend to have a different approach to life. They are very disciplined and even though they appear slow compared to a sprinter, they keep an even pace throughout. Starting early and working regularly, marathoners get things done. Their perseverance and infinite energy make them successful.
Of course, specific situations demand specific approaches. But in general, it is our nature that determines our inclination. Astonishingly, we find that most of the population are sprinters while a few are marathoners.
This is a curious notion. Though it makes us stressed and overwhelmed, why do most of us cling on to sprinter’s mindset? I think there are three major reasons for this.
Firstly it is procrastination. We tend to seek out more gratifying things first and keep the displeasing stuff to the end. If we are given a deadline for an assignment, say a week, it is our nature to take it easy during the first two days, start working on the 3rd or 4th day and find that we need more time on the 5th day. On the final day, we skip our meals, sleep and all the skippable things and sprint at a maximum pace to make it to the deadline on time.
The second reason is poor time management. Time melts away faster than ice in the sun for our generation haunted by attention deficiency. The duration of our attention span is decided by social media alerts. These digital distractions make it impossible to find the flow required to finish the work on time. Thus it forces us back to the cycle of meal skipping and sleep-working.
Finally, I believe it is social pressure. Everyone we know is a sprinter so we have come to the wrong conclusion that it is the way to do things. This belief is reinforced by 4-hour-work week-ish teachings. Moreover, it is the sprinter who gets all the acclaim.
Why marathoner is better
As admitted before, a situation demands a specific approach. Both have boons and banes. Yet, as a sprinter turned marathoner, I tend to endorse the systematic and disciplined approach.
I experienced a low level of stress when I became a marathoner. Now for a deadline of a week, I spread out the work equally for each day and start on the very first day. Thus there is no last-minute rush. I am able to enjoy the process rather than hoping to somehow get things finished.
Through the years, I have come to realize that when it comes to herculean projects, which takes years to complete, the best approach is the mindset of a person running 42 kilometers. Be it acquiring a new skill, writing a novel, or working on a big project, we have to be steady and slow. In fact, most great minds were marathoners who tirelessly worked for years to achieve greatness.
Enjoying the inevitable
When we look around in nature, we find nothing except humans are in a hurry. The growing tree, flowing river, and each small and big thing take their time and flourish slowly. But we humans tend to make ourselves miserable by pushing the pace.
Like in the fable, we can approach life like the tortoise, who won the race against the rabbit, with his steady approach. It surely demands discipline and perseverance, but it will make us less stressed and appreciate the beauty of life more.
I am thankful to my mentor for enlightening me about such a possibility. Though it was not easy to reshape my approach, it was the single change that had had the most influence in my life.
Still I am in the race, but at least I get to dictate the pace.
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