By James Butler, Your Business Your Future tutor and coach

The flipside of constantly striving for excellence is that we owner managers are often seen as perfectionists who are never satisfied and never know when to stop.

Recently, I had to make a difficult decision to stop doing something which I’d set myself as a goal. I’d like to share the story with you, write from the heart, and trust you will take what is right for you personally from it.

On 10 October, I started the Great Eastern half marathon, with my best friend Graeme. Our goal was to clock a sub-2hr time, before we turn forty (which is rapidly approaching!). We ran the same race last year, which was Graeme’s first at that distance, but we missed the 2hr mark. This year, we were supported by Graeme’s friend Dave, as our pacemaker. Dave had worked hard with Graeme in training to get him race fit. I hadn’t stuck to my training plan, had suffered a cold and wasn’t sure if I could keep up with the other two guys.

At about five miles, I could feel that I just didn’t have the oomph in my legs to last the pace, and I had a huge mental battle about what I was going to do. There’s an adage in sport that all the effort and success is in the top three inches of your head, and my brain circuits were in overdrive for about ten minutes as I wrestled with my frustration and not being able to keep up.

So, at just over five miles, I stopped, and decided not to finish the race. I could have carried on and completed the distance. I’ve run 26 miles before, so I know 13 is well within me. Instead, I decided to conserve my energy, not make myself ill, and get a lift to the finish. I knew I would get that horror for runners – a DNF instead of a time. I knew I would have to face all the people who knew I was running that day, and I knew I was going to have to face my best-friend, who I wasn’t up to supporting.

My wonderful wife Bev was unbelievably supportive, expressing gratitude that I hadn’t risked my health, or our impending holiday, by trying to be macho. Yet my internal critic was questioning my mental strength, my integrity in coaching others when I fail myself, a huge range of emotions. So I resolved to do all I could do in the situation – learn from the experience and share that learning with others. Here are my reflections:

Know your priorities

Achieving the sub-2hr mark was on my goal sheet for 2011. I tend to achieve things on my goal sheet! However, as I laboured at 5 miles, I realised the 2hr mark was always Graeme’s goal, not mine. I wanted to help him do it, but I wasn’t quite so committed to it as he was. And I knew Dave would get him through. My health, and my leisure time with Bev the following week, were more of a priority for me. This wasn’t the Olympics – I can run a race another time. So I chose my priorities, not Graeme’s, and pulled out. (Spookily, when I looked at my goal sheet later that day, I realised I had put a question mark after the goal. So maybe I knew last December I wasn’t going to do it!)

Know your limits

I have definitely learnt over the years that our limits are higher than we realise, and we can achieve more by pushing those limits. At the same time, ultimately there is only so much we can do. I had put a lot of my energy in the weeks before the race into my charitable work and my business, and there wasn’t enough left to keep up 9 minute miles. I also know that in another time and place, my limits might be higher, and I will make the grade – that may be what I decide to do (and then I will be able to say I did my sub-2hr in my 40s, not my 30s!).

Know what’s needed

Dave had set out a clear training regime, based on his years of success in running. I ignored that, tried to do “what I could” and ultimately did too little. Now I know what is needed to give me the best chance, and I know I need to make that a priority if the race is my priority. Graeme did put in the hours, and it showed.

Know integrity is not about PR

I honestly did wrestle with the idea I was letting down colleagues, clients and blog readers by not pushing myself to a goal. Then I realised that not finishing, and dealing with it, was as much a sign of my character as ploughing on and possibly injuring myself. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. I just need to be me.

So, what does this story stir in you? What are your priorities, and what goals are you working to that are not really yours? What can you choose “not to finish”? What could you be saving your energy and resources for?

A key part of the success of the Better Business Programme (for participants) is the focus on the Me theme, making sure that the business objectives are aligned with the personal aspirations of the owner manager. The deep exploration of that interplay between the desires of the owner, and the range of other goals that come from outside sources is what allows past participants to focus on what really matters, and thus have more success.

The other side of this story is the fact that determination and effort in the face of adversity are often markers for success. I am inspired by people who overcome challenges and achieve, and maybe if I had more grit I would have got that 2hr half marathon. In dealing with that question, three inspirational resources have come to my attention, which I share here in case they are useful for you. First, a quote from cycling legend Lance Armstrong:

Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever

Secondly, two great YouTube clips that might inspire you to keep going:

Derek Redmond finishes 400m race in 1992 Olympics


Finally, I am infamous as a begrudging Apple customer but whatever my feelings, Steve Jobs stands out as a visionary of our time, and he will be missed. One of Steve’s most well-know quotes springs to mind:

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle.”