If you’ve been in business any length of time, chances are you’ve “bonked”—a phenomenon that happens to marathoners around mile 20 otherwise known as “hitting the wall.” Succeeding in business is much like running a marathon: The start is exciting, with the thrill of anticipation swelling as you toe the starting line. You know where you want to go, and you’re committed to getting there. The end is equally exciting. Actually seeing the finishing line in the distance brings on a surge of adrenalin. It’s much easier to finish the race when you’ve got the end in sight. But between the excitement of the start and the rush of the finish, there’s the toughest part of all: The middle miles.
“Those requisite, unavoidable middle miles can be a desolate wasteland, or they can be the most productive miles of the race. It’s how you deal with them that determines if and when you cross the finish line, and in what kind of shape. Winning in business is no different.
It’s no wonder that during a business middle mile, there’s a huge temptation to quit. “This is the often precarious, volatile and risk-intensive stretch of one’s company or career that lies between the excitement of starting a new journey and reaching the end game objective, whether that be selling a business, taking a company public, becoming an executive or entrepreneur, securing a new position, pursuing a new career path, or retiring wealthy.
Here are five tips on how professionals can persevere through the business middle mile:
1. Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
The middle mile is the stuff in between, and where the real work gets done. It’s the time in your business or career journey when you burn the most energy, deal with fatigue and hopelessness, work through budgetary and employee concerns, embrace setbacks and do your best to overcome burn-out. It’s in this period when there’s a huge temptation to quit. Lack of discipline, poor implementation, and failure to simplify are the three primary reasons, but beneath all of those symptoms is the underlying failure: Losing sight of the finish line. You have to keep your eye on where you ultimately want to go.
You didn’t get to the middle mile without effort. You’ve put in some hard work, but suddenly, the work you’ve done is not advancing you nearly as fast as you want it to. This critical time is when the best “athletes” trudge forward with new training methods, harder work ethics and a stretch of their imagination and willpower. Committed professionals don’t quit during the middle miles. They also don’t settle for good enough. They realize good is the enemy of great. The bad stuff often doesn’t keep you from succeeding; the good stuff does, because it allows you to settle. You’ve achieved some success by making it to the middle mile, so now it’s time to move out and move on.
2. Do What Others Won’t Do
During the middle miles, it’s particularly important to have the discipline to do something productive every day in working toward your goal—sacrificing things you’d like to do for those tasks you need to do. Discipline is the foundation upon which all success is built, especially during the middle mile. It’s the bridge between wishing and accomplishing.
The formula is pretty simple. Have a no-nonsense attitude, work hard and improve every day. Arrive early and stay late if that’s what it takes. Many professionals get stuck in the middle for the simple reason that they don’t work hard enough to get out of it. Don’t be one of them. No one needs to convince a distance runner to get up early, lace up the running shoes, and get those training runs in. If you want to be successful, you must have the discipline to do what others don’t want to do. Have a plan and work it every day, whatever it takes. Get up earlier. Work harder. Persevere.
3. Implement for Impact
Good intentions aren’t enough. How many times have great ideas gone nowhere? How many deadlines have been missed, promises not kept, to-dos never followed through on? It happens a lot. In fact, most entrepreneurs aim to do right; they just fail to pull the trigger and finish the job.
Barriers to implementation might include practicality, manpower, and financial or technical limitations. The act of “deciding” to implement may be a barrier in and of itself. Do you have the guts to make a decision that may affect your company financially or legally? Whatever the case may be, the key to implementation is to identify these barriers at the outset, and design a strategy that limits their impact on you achieving success. If it’s YOU that is impeding progress, do something about it. Analyze your paralysis, and eliminate any invisible barriers that you place on yourself. If a barrier is external, call on those you trust who can advise you on how to clear the obstacle.
Finally, nurture those relationships that are going to help you implement your project. Many times, plans are not implemented simply because your stakeholders aren’t buying into the vision. And if you can’t help people see your vision, then the idea is useless. Nurture and shepherd the people around you who will help make your idea a reality, and help them envision the finish line as you see it. You can’t do it alone.
4. Simplistic Synergy
It’s important to keep your business simple and streamlined. Why take two dozen steps to accomplish something if you can get it done just as effectively in only three or four? Like marathoners, achievement-minded professionals need to figure out how to achieve maximum results with the least amount of effort. Working hard is important but deploying and leveraging resources in the most effective way possible is even more important. Simplifying processes whenever possible makes it much easier to accomplish more in less time.
Simplicity will get you through the middle miles faster. During the middle miles, professionals can get bogged down by details that don’t bring about improvement or advancement. It’s important to get rid of time-wasters so you carry less weight, make fewer mistakes, move faster, and trudge up that proverbial hill. You’ll have more time to scale and expand your business or career without the extra headaches of complex tasks. Remember, marathoners are lean for a reason.
5. Envision the End Game
At the beginning of the race, it’s easy to remember why you’re there—to get to the finish line. When you’re starting a new business, enterprise or position, your goals are fresh in your mind. However, as the weeks and months go on, it’s easy to get lost and forget what inspired you in the first place. The key to getting through the middle miles is to look at your goals each day and remind yourself why you started your journey.
Distance runners know the best way to make it to the top of a long, steep hill is not with huge, bounding strides but with smaller, forward steps. Those bounding strides will burn up the energy you need to keep going and will likely cause you to take a misstep that will send you tumbling back to the bottom of the hill. The smaller steps are a much more efficient use of your energy and will help ensure you make it to the top and beyond. Smaller steps help you take the time to focus on what you need to accomplish here and now to achieve your long-term goals. Be meticulous in executing activities that result in success. Have faith in the steps you’re taking now, and the time you’re investing will ultimately pay off.