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“It’s not what you have. It’s what you give”

I awoke the other day with a seven mile tempo run on the agenda. For those who aren’t familiar with a tempo run, it is basically a run in which you spend a period of time running at a designated pace that is faster than your normal pace. Tempo runs are essential to training because they teach you to run faster and to maintain that speed for increasingly longer distances.

I tend to dread them.

On this particular day, as my cadence quickened, it became clear that I was not in top form. My legs were sore from the workout of the previous day. My breathing quality was hampered by allergies and poor air quality. My sleep the night before had been too short and disjointed. I “just didn’t have it”. I had no shortage of excuses for why I would most likely fall short of the goal pace for the day.

In running, and in the rest of life, it is not about about what you have on a particular day. Rather it is about the effort that you give. After all, my ultimate goal was not to “win” in that particular training session, but to “win” (e.g. set a personal best) at the marathon I registered for that was still three months away.

Despite my best efforts, I cannot always control the way I feel on a given day, and I certainly cannot control the humidity level or the wind speed. Even though I can push through obstacles, I really can’t control the outcome fully. But, what I can control is what effort I give.

As always, this applies more broadly than to running. In our work and volunteer lives, there are myriad things that can inhibit what you “have” on a particular day. Most of these lie beyond our control. What we can control is the effort given, the attitude chosen, and the next step we take.

This relates to to foundational research by Carol Dweck on fixed and growth mindsets. Her body of work has established key differences between individuals in focusing on what they have (e.g. fixed mindset) as opposed to the effort that they give (e.g. growth mindset). Fixed mindsets are associated with lower rates of success, less risk taking and slower rates of learning while growth mindsets open up many new possibilities. The good news is that Dweck –and others who have expanded her work– have demonstrated that these mindsets are malleable, even with simple reframing of directions and recognition.

Finally, the concept of having and giving relates to the concepts of wealth and generosity as well. Religion and philosophy have long espoused the idea that “it is more blessed to give than to receive”. Authors like Adam Grant, in the sensational book ‘Give and Take’, have demonstrated that, despite what it may look like, a giving approach has greater benefits than one focused on receiving. It’s not what you have, it’s truly what you give.

I’m happy to say that on that particular tempo run, I chose to push myself, when I could (and have before) have chosen to mope, make excuses and give up. I gave all the effort I could, and even though the average pace at the end was not what I had intended, the average effort made it a successful day– one on which I could build toward my ultimate goal.

It doesn’t matter what you have today — how you feel, what unexpected obstacles and opposition you face — it’s what you give — how you choose to spend your time, what choices you make, how you contribute to others around you — that matters.