There are a lot of self-help articles out there on how to gain confidence.
Here’s the thing I’ve learned: confidence is only achieved through action. Pushing yourself beyond your limits, even if it makes you uncomfortable, is what builds confidence. While this is a running blog, and I’m going to tie this back to training for my first marathon, I want you to know that this applies to all areas of life. The more I consciously take action, the more confident in my abilities I become. There is a phrase that says “training for a marathon will change your life”. For me, it was true. Here’s my story.
In 2014, I decided to run a marathon.
I’m not sure why I made the decision. I’ve never been particularly athletic. I didn’t play team sports when I was younger (marching band doesn’t count). In addition, I was blessed with a quick metabolism so never really needed to maintain a regular fitness routine. In fact, just the year prior, I couldn’t even get through a full mile at a slow jog without stopping. But something about the challenge of long distance running really appealed to me. In 2013, I trained for a ran several distances – 5k, 10k, half marathon.
After completing business school in the fall of 2014, I found myself with extra time and thought, “why not?”. I didn’t even believe I could do it, it more seemed like a far off goal to stretch towards. A hobby to keep me busy. I didn’t have anything to lose, so I got to work.
When you first look at a training plan for a marathon, you can’t help but be overwhelmed. Plans are usually 12-16 weeks long, and at the peak of the training you complete training runs of around 20 miles. I distinctly remember looking at that plan and legitimately wondering how I would ever get to place where I could do that. I got the advice from many people to just trust the plan, and to take the training one day at a time, building confidence with each run.
As I started training, I quickly realized that this was a great new hobby.
I found myself exploring new parts of Atlanta to get the runs in, and doing things I never thought I’d do – like get up at 4 am to run or slog through the rain for several hours (and legitimately enjoy it!). Along the way, I met new people and worked out many problems while pounding the pavement. Before long, I felt like a “real” runner.
Each week brought a new milestone – my first 14 mile run, 15 mile run, etc. My 16 mile run did not go well. My legs could hardly move at the end and all I could think about is that 26.2 miles is a long way, and that if I couldn’t get through 16….how would I do 26? Again, my more experienced running friends told me to trust the training and take it day by day, and I pushed on.
Completing my first 20 miler brought clarity. At the beginning of training, I was not an athlete who could do such a long run. But with the right focus on activities that brought me closer to my goal, it came within reach. A few weeks later, I crossed the finish line of my first marathon, the Rock n Roll DC Marathon through Washington, DC. It was hard, I was recovering from the flu, it was cold and raining, and it HURT. But I did it. I ran a marathon! The feeling of accomplishment is hard to even begin to put into words.
The high from the race lasted for weeks, but the mindset change was permanent.
The lessons I learned bled over to every area of my life, especially my professional one. When working on something big, looking at all that needs to happen can be incredibly overwhelming. Training for a marathon taught me that taking a step back, breaking the work that needs to be done into smaller steps, and viewing it in a day by day perspective is an effective way to approach challenging tasks.
This approach leads to one important thing: accepting more stretch assignments.How training for a marathon helped me grow professionally Click To Tweet
Why do people shy away from stretch projects?
Because they don’t think they have the skills necessary, and the thought of failing will hold them back, especially when there are real business results and their reputation on the line. Sound familiar? Is this something that kills your confidence in the workplace? Something crazy happened after crossing that finish line for me: nothing seemed out of my reach anymore. I felt invincible, like I literally could do anything I put my mind to, no matter how hard it seemed.
I knew that I would have to work for it, and I may not be great right away, but I could get there if I put in the work.
It started within a few months with my job search. I applied for positions where I thought I may not have all of the skills, but felt that I could learn them and do the job well. Not too much time passed before I got one of those very positions.
The stretching didn’t stop there – I found myself volunteering for and owning projects that seemed intimidating on the surface. Even when I’m terrified, I still push forward and know that I’ll figure it out. Running a marathon has changed my confidence in my ability to do hard things. Sure, I’ve had missteps, but I’ve grown more in the past 18 months than at any other point in my career. My fear of failure has been overcome with my desire to be amazing.
So what’s the lesson for you? Am I telling you to run a marathon? Not exactly.
The idea of running a marathon may not appeal to you, and that’s okay. Find something that you’ve wanted to do in your personal life and just give it a go. Maybe it’s learning a new language or developing your cooking skills. Perhaps it’s setting a big scary fundraising goal to help out your favorite charity. Tackling a new hobby is a “safe” way to test your ability to work towards stretch assignments because nothing is on the line. Craft a plan and get to work, but take time after a few months to reflect on what you’ve been able to achieve with the right approach, dedication, and support. I promise you it will bleed into other areas of your life, and your confidence will start to build.