Staying Power

The Tortoise and the Hare is a fable a lot of us have heard, and I know that we’re supposed to admire the turtle’s steady determination, but I’ve always liked the rabbit better.

I’m a sprinter, just like the hare.  When I do something I do it full-force, but I can’t keep that pace for long. I’ve seen this aspect of my personality show itself in countless ways over time – I can repaint and redecorate a room in a day. I can write a decent report in just a few hours. I can psych myself up to take on enormous tasks … for about three days. Then I lose steam.

When we apply the fable to our financial lives, it carries a heavy judgment on us sprinters.  Supposedly, we’re lazy and irresponsible.  We don’t finish what we start, and we’re just not sensible like the tortoise.  If you’re a hare like me, you know the drill – You get going, crank out a huge chunk of progress, then get discouraged, distracted or just need to catch your breath.  Then comes the voice. “You did it again.” It says.  “You never finish what you start.  You’re a flake.  Everybody thinks so.” Try getting moving again under that kind of psychological onslaught. That’s when I wish I was a turtle so I could crawl into my shell and hide from the world for a while.

Today, I am standing up to defend my inner rabbit.  We hares are not immature, flaky people.  We have different weaknesses than the turtle, but we have different strengths as well. There are real advantages to being a rabbit. Speed, efficiency, flexibility, and the ability to turn on a dime when needed. The problem with the hare isn’t laziness, it’s the discontinuity that comes with working in short spurts.

It’s easy to get distracted in between sprinting jags, but when I’m focused, I can go very far, very fast. Because I’m a sprinter, I’ve learned to tackle projects I can finish quickly before I lose momentum. Usually, this works out well for me. The trouble is that many of the things I want to do take more than three days to achieve.  If I’m going to live the adventures I think about, I can’t sprint my way there.

“Slow and Steady Wins the Race.” But, I’m a rabbit, not a turtle!  If I act like a turtle, my inner rabbit will die! I can’t let that happen. I can’t make the decision to deny my inner nature long-term.  I’ve tried before, and the real me always comes busting back out, gasping for air. I can’t be a tortoise, even if Aesop says I should be.

If you’re a sprinter like me, what we need to do is to figure out how to be a rabbit,  but act like a tortoise when we need to. We need to learn the art of slowing down – but not stopping – when we need to rest or refocus.  We need  staying power.

Marathon runners learn to rest on their feet.  They don’t keep one pace the entire time. Instead, they vary their speed in order to take advantage of bursts in energy, and to allow themselves to slow down when they need to recover.

This is the hurdle I have to clear right now.  I’m at a point in my career where a lot is being expected of me.  I care very much about the quality of work I sign my name to. I can’t afford the luxury of inconsistency anymore. In my professional life and my financial life (they are intricately linked), I want to learn how to maintain a steady pace toward my goals in between spurts of inspiration and enthusiasm.

Consistency in pace and performance is a turtle kind of quality.  If I’m going to adopt it, I need to adapt it to suit my rabbity way of living.

When I was a kid, and I had chores to do, my dad would make it into a kind of game.  One spring, we had a community field to prepare for planting.  After the area was tilled, about 50 of us lined up along one edge and started to walk to the other side, picking out the large stones along the way so that the plants would have an easier time getting through the soil.  Anticipating the boredom such a regimented activity would inspire in his five and seven year-old daughters, my father invented a game on the spot.  We spent the afternoon ‘grocery shopping’ for rocks.  It is one of my favorite memories of playing with my dad from that time.  That’s the kind of mental trick I need to do now.  I need to make consistency in my work, and in my savings, more fun.

My question to myself this week: How do I turn, “Slow and Steady” into a game?  Tune in next week, and we’ll see if I figure it out.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Nancy Marks
    Mar 24, 2011 @ 15:05:04

    What a great post! I’m in the process of turning myself into a distance runner–definitely a “turtle runner”–but in all other aspects of my life, I’m a sprinter. I get very excited about things, but there’s often a lot of procrastination involved before I finally kick it into gear and accomplish great things under pressure. Running requires me to set real but reasonable goals (ok…now I’m really commenting on your next post) and do what needs to be done every day (or at least every week) to actually meet them. I’m training for my second Half Marathon and trying to apply what I’m learning to other parts of my life. While I’m only just figuring this stuff out for myself in my 40s, I hope to help my kids get the idea a little younger. Maybe you could invent a financial plan that reads like distance running training plan. You know, substitute dollars deposited for miles run…? You could be the Hal Higdon of financial marathoning!


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