What Running the Marathon Taught Me About Life

July 18, 2016, 1:00 AM UTC
Lacing up before the run
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The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for “How do you stay motivated?” is written by Lori Bailey, global head of special lines at Zurich Insurance.

Several years ago, I decided to run a marathon. I had always been an avid runner, but my running generally consisted of short, recreational runs to get some exercise and gather my thoughts at the beginning or end of a day. Day after day I would run the same loop, at the same pace. But after years of doing the same running routine, I began to get bored and needed something else to keep me engaged. That’s when the marathon idea came to me.

In today’s world, it’s very easy to be demotivated. It seems there are always too many things to be done, too few resources to manage them, and never enough time to accomplish it all. To-do lists grow longer instead of shorter, stress levels increase, and time management quickly becomes an overwhelming, if not sometimes impossible, task. As a result, we often fall into the trap of doing the same things day in and day out – never adding any variety or change to what we do. In times like these, it’s very easy to get discouraged and simply give up – even on those things which you used to once enjoy.

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And that’s where the challenge comes in. We all need goals in life – both in business and in our personal lives. It is simple human nature that we all want to work towards something – a promotion, a better work/life balance, or even a healthy lifestyle – and ultimately to be successful. Goals provide us with important milestones and something to work for. But while goals often serve to keep us focused on a particular area, what truly motivates us is a challenge. Challenges aren’t meant to be easy; they test our skills, tap into our character and defy our strengths. They can take on all shapes and sizes and can be physical, intellectual or behavioral. They can be short or long-term, personal or career-oriented; they take us outside of our comfort zone and force us to learn something in a new and different way. Most importantly, however, challenges keep us engaged. It no longer becomes an item on the to-do list, but rather the to-do list itself. Time management turns into time embracement. But above all else, challenges all have one thing in common – they generally make us stronger than we were before we started. Simply stated, challenges motivate us.

After four long months of training, I completed my first marathon in 2009. It was one of the hardest challenges that I’ve ever taken on, and there were days when I questioned why I was putting myself through it. But I learned a lot about myself in those four months, and I was never more motivated to put on a pair of running shoes as I was during that time. I’ve since moved on to other challenges – each one new and different, but equally motivating.