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The 10 Year Race

It may surprise you to learn that as a financial advisor, my job isn’t just about numbers and markets. It’s about helping people achieve their goals in life.

Over the course of my career, I’ve found one of the largest obstacles to achieving your goals isn’t money – it’s mindset. To put it simply, people with the right mindset tend to achieve their goals more than most.

What is the right mindset? To answer that, I’d like to relate a story about a colleague of mine named Charles.

Rewind back to 2006. Charles was coming off two knee surgeries and weighed 215 pounds. He never believed he’d run like he did back in college – until the day came when he looked at himself in the mirror and said, “No more.” He set a goal that he would run again. But not just that – he’d run in the Western States Endurance Run (WSER.)

The WSER is a 100-mile marathon, one of the oldest and most prestigious of its kind. To enter, you must first run one of several approved qualifying races. If you complete that, you can then enter your name into an annual lottery. If your name is selected, you’re in. If not, you can try again next year. For every year you enter but are not selected, the number of names you can enter doubles. However, you only have a seven-year window to make it before you must start back at the beginning.

As you can imagine, it’s an intimidating process that scares off all but the most committed runners.

When Charles began running, he found he couldn’t run more than a couple hundred yards. So he would run, walk, run, walk – a hundred yards at a time. Slowly, his conditioning improved, until he was finally able to run in his first 5K.

A year later, he competed in his first marathon.
By 2011, he ran a 100-mile event for the first time, finishing in 27 hours and 32 minutes.

Charles was happy with his progress, and enjoying his renewed fitness. But he knew he was still far from attaining his ultimate goal. So he started running in mountain marathons, where he not only had to combat the terrain, but time itself. In his first mountain marathon, he only had 38 hours to complete the course. He finished in 37. Everything seemed to be smooth sailing, and he ended up qualifying for the WSER several years in a row, though his name was never selected in the lottery.

Then, he hit a wall.

While running a qualifying race in 2016, he realized he hadn’t prepared properly. As a result, it took him 16 hours to run a 15-hour race. He had failed to qualify.

Charles was crushed, and it’s not hard to understand why. After ten years of intense, grueling training; after ten years of subjecting his mind and body to unbelievable strain, he was still well short of his goal. He felt like quitting and giving up the sport altogether.

Still, he decided to give it one more go. His next race was in Michigan, where he had 30 hours to finish a 100-mile race. All through the night Charles ran – in a torrential downpour. It was impossible to see, he was cold and aching, and there was simply too much mud. Again, he failed to qualify.

Again, he thought, “To hell with it. I’m going to quit.”

But here’s the thing about Charles: despite his frustration, despite his doubts, he had the right mindset. Because it was then he came to a realization: If it weren’t for failure, accomplishment wouldn’t mean anything. So many times, he had forced himself to work out, then forced himself not to quit the next day. In fact, almost every day of his life for ten years was spent deciding not to quit. Some days were easy; most were very hard.

That’s when Charles got up, dusted himself off, and decided to focus less on how far he had to go and more on what it would take to get there. He rededicated himself to preparation. He found people to train with, including a new coach and a new crew. He mapped out race courses. He ran, and ran, and ran.

And as the year drew to a close, he ran – and finished – his sixth 100-miler. He had qualified. Now, he just had to hope his name was called in the lottery.

This is the point in the movie where the music stops, where everything gets very quiet and still. Where the camera zooms in on the hero’s face as he waits to see whether fate will reward him for his efforts, or punish him for his failures.

“When they called out my name,” says Charles, “I broke down and promptly started crying like a baby.” After ten years, Charles was in the WSER.

Understand, it wasn’t a day he had waited for. It was a day he had labored for. In a sense, he had only ever run one race. A ten-year race. A race against his own doubts. A race he had finally won.

At the beginning of this letter, I said the biggest obstacle to achieving your goals isn’t always about money, but mindset. And the best mindset, I’ve found, is to remember that if it weren’t for failure, accomplishment wouldn’t mean anything.

Whatever your goals are, you will probably fail at them – at least at first. You will probably have to work harder than you imagined. You will probably have to be more patient than you expected.

But if you have the right mindset, like Charles did, you will finish your race.

You will never truly know yourself until you have been tested by adversity. – J.K. Rowling