On October 12, a Kenyan runner named Eliud Kipchoge broke the 2-hour marathon, a feat which was previously considered impossible. It is a great feeling to make history in sport after Sir Roger Bannister," Kipchoge said. "I am the happiest man in the world to be the first human to run under two hours and I can tell people that no human is limited. I expect more people all over the world to run under two hours after today."
The breaking of barriers is an interesting phenomenon. Something is considered to be impossible, only until someone else does it. It can take years, generations or even millennia for humans to break a certain barrier, and once it is done, other humans will do it better, faster or more efficiently in much less time (and much more often) than it took to break the barrier the first time.
In the sport of running, it was considered to be humanly impossible to run a sub-4-minute mile until Sir Roger Bannister did it in 1954. Now, professional runners and even college athletes routinely run even faster.
Kipchoge is the first to tell you, he ran this race for mankind, and compares it to the moonlanding. He can’t wait for someone to beat his record, and for more and more barriers to be broken. His race was about more than just minutes and seconds on the clock, it was a call to his people, and all people, to break more barriers. The country of Kenya responded with crowds taking to the streets in celebration, and the president of Kenya called Kipchoge to congratulate him.
I remember when Meb became the first American to win the Boston Marathon in over 25 years. I was deployed to Afghanistan, and we spent 2 hours glued to the screen, watching people run! It was thrilling. It wasn’t about the running, it was about more. It was the year after the Boston Marathon bombing, and America needed that win badly! It was about taking back our country from the terrorists, as much as what we were doing in Afghanistan was, maybe more. It was so inspiring to me, that I went on to win my own version of Boston, the Boston Shadow Marathon conducted on Bagram airfield for the troops a few weeks later.
While the world celebrated with Kipchoge, the race was also subjected to intense scrutiny and criticism, as it was engineered with advanced science and technology—from his shoes to the team running with him—to help the runner maximize his speed and minimize all friction. The race will not be the new world record, a record which Kipchoge also holds. However, most people already agree that, critics withstanding, Eluid Kipchoge will go down in history as the first person to ever break the 2-hour marathon ‘barrier’.
This accomplishment is not dissimilar to Sir Edmund Hillary’s summit of Everest in 1953, also with the aid of advanced technology—portable oxygen. Previously, the mountain had been considered impossible to summit, but once it was done, eventually someone did it without the aid of oxygen. Today, summiting Everest is still no mean feat—many try and fail, some even die. But many, many others have succeeded.
It’s an interesting question, the use of technology and engineering to ‘artificially’ break barriers. The question ‘does it count’, is quite often shown to be less historically important than the question, ‘will it inspire others to strive for similar goals’. One thing for sure, distance athletes the world over will be striving to break the two-hour barrier with a much-renewed vigor than was previously seen. Generally, once something is considered possible, more people strive to achieve it for themselves—then it often becomes possible without manipulation of elements or technology.
Why should this marathon matter to those of us who aren’t professional marathon runners? Well, as someone who has struggled through both marathons and through breaking barriers of my own, I can attest that the surge of success that you feel when you break through a barrier, accomplish a long-held goal, or achieve something you never thought possible, will only fuel your drive to accomplish more and more. This is a positive in business you’re your personal life, and in building towards your own success.
5 Steps for breaking barriers in business or life
- Dream big and read broadly
Nobody ever broke through a tough barrier without big dreams and a lively imagination. It’s important to always be pushing yourself towards something. Reading broadly and engaging voices that are unlike your own can be an important part of opening your mind, allowing you to consider things you never have before, and figuring out which big goals you want to set for yourself.
- Be intentional
Realize that achieves major goals takes major amounts of commitment. Choose which barriers you will target wisely, as everything you place your focus on will take focus off of something else. I once choose to release my dream of breaking the 3-hour marathon myself, because I had a new baby whom I was dedicated to raising in a foreign language—something that would require a lot of time and effort from me. Doing that successfully was a more important goal for me than spending 4 hours per day training to run fast.
- Don’t Let Anyone Tell You it’s Impossible
While it’s important to seek out advice and listen to those with experience, also take criticism with a grain of sand. Whenever someone is telling you that something is impossible or ‘can’t be done’, just remember, everything is considered impossible until it’s not. One of my favorite quotes is “you can do anything you want, as long as it works” (Susan Shapiro, the Byline Bible). Often, those people telling us something is impossible have no experience in the goal that we are trying to accomplish. In business, I only take serious advice to change course from those who have already built million-dollar+ businesses—everyone else is just guessing.
- Don’t Settle
Breaking barriers often involved slight improvements on something already considered ‘good enough’ by many others. Kipchoge is the CURRENT holder of the world record in the marathon. There was no ‘real’ reason for him to keep striving to be better—except that he knew it could be done. When we hear people say, ‘look how far we’ve come’ that often disguises a more insidious message, ‘we’ve come far enough’. In reality, we can only build on what’s already been achieved. As soon as one barrier is broken, we can stand on the rubble to start breaking through the next one.
- Don’t quit
Most importantly, don’t quit. Nothing worth achieving is easy—or everyone would be doing it. If you know why you’ve set a goal, and you’re pursuing it for the right reasons, don’t let failures or near misses slow you down. It didn’t stop Thomas Edison, it didn’t stop Eluid Kipchoge when he missed his last attempt by 20 seconds. Don’t let it stop you.
DANIELLA YOUNG IS A TEDX SPEAKER, AN AUTHOR, COMBAT VETERAN, BOARD MEMBER OF OPERATION CODE, & THE CO-FOUNDER OF CAVNESSHR—AN HR-TECH COMPANY WHO’S MISSION IS TO MAKE BIG-BUSINESS HR AVAILABLE TO SMALL BUSINESSES, THROUGH INNOVATIVE SAAS AND VIRTUAL CONSULTING. DANIELLA SPECIALIZES IN HELPING BUSINESSES CREATE CULTURE ROADMAPS, LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT PLANS & EFFECT TEAM TRANSFORMATION. WANT TO LEARN MORE? VISIT OUR WEBSITE AT cavnesshr.com.
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