In the long run

I met with a business owner the other day who has experienced a particularly difficult year. A confluence of economics, technology and criminal activity in his industry has kept him working long hours, with relatively little to show for it.

He is fried. Burned-out. Constantly wearied by the “fight or flight” adrenalin reaction of tensing up every time the phone rings (because it is so often more bad news.) The company isn’t failing financially, but it is failing culturally. People are abandoning ship. They are tired too, and he no longer has the energy to psych them up for the next challenge.

He is also a runner, and he gave me a running analogy that really hit home.

“When you run marathons, there is a point in some races when you decide that you are done. You don’t want to continue. You can’t continue. For me, that usually comes around the 21 mile mark. You have 5 miles to go, but you just don’t have the energy or motivation to run those last 5 miles. You want to sit on the curb and have it all be over.”

“The problem is, you can’t stop. Once you have gone 21 miles, you’ve outdistanced the support services.The help that’s available to the weekend runners who have overextended themselves isn’t there. At 21 miles you are on the way back in. The only help is at the finish line. You can sit down, but there won’t be any golf carts coming along to scoop you up. You won’t get any nourishment. Your clothes and car, along with anything else that might make you feel better, are all at the finish line.”

“So you have to continue, because the only way to get out is to finish the race. You can run the last 5 miles. You can walk. You can crawl. But you can’t stop.”

How many of us have experienced that kind of feeling about our businesses? How many times have you said “If I wasn’t the owner, I’d quit this job?” Have you ever thought about how unfair it is that an employee can say “This is too much,” and just shift the burden to you? He or she can opt out. You can’t.

There isn’t any magic formula for getting past this point. You plug away, probably at a lower effectiveness than you are accustomed to. You take on extra work for the people who bailed out on you. You can run, or walk, or crawl, but you have to get to the finish line.

There is an upside. You will finish, because that’s what made you an entrepreneur in the first place. If you were a quitter, you wouldn’t have gotten this far. You need to focus on how tough it is at the moment, remember it, and save it.

One day this will pass. You will have met the challenges. Circumstances will change. You’ll have a business that runs smoothly, and employees who can do their jobs well. There will be more money in the bank, and less for you to do.

That’s when the little guilt pangs will set in. Maybe you should pay the employees a bit more, just because you can. Maybe you should take on some more responsibilities, because the employees look a bit harried. Maybe they think you are lazy, because you are working fewer hours than they are.

Save your 21-mile memory for that time. Only you will know what you did to earn it. That will have to be enough.

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