Without Limits


There’s a scene in a movie called Without Limits that I love. Bill Bowerman, the Oregon track and Team USA track coach, is sitting down for a coaching session with Steve Prefontaine. Pre, as many knew him, had that front runner mentality. Always in the front. Always in the lead. Always pushing the pace. Always giving everything he had. For Pre, victory came in outrunning and outlasting your competition.


And it’s no exaggeration to say that he was wildly successful doing this. Pre was an Olympian, and he held every record from the 2,000 meters to the 10,000 meters (a HUGE range for those of you who aren’t distance runners). A phenomenal talent, his drive and his plan took him quite far.


But there’s a problem with front running: It takes considerably more effort to lead than it does to follow. Drafting behind a runner makes the leader work harder to cut through the wind. But that’s a huge mindset shift for someone like Pre who has always operated out of a different posture with great success.


In the scene I mentioned in the movie, Bowerman is trying to convince Pre that there is a better way. Pre states, “I don’t want to win unless I’ve done my best. The only way I know to do that is to run out front and flat out until I have nothing left.”


Watching the movie, it’s easy to see that some mix of pride and an incredible faith in his own talents are holding Pre back. You see, Pre wants to believe that there is nothing he can’t do. That he lives and runs without limits. Bowerman confronts Pre in a moment of disillusionment and reminds Pre that yes, he does have limits, but that he should be thankful for them. They’ve let him fly pretty high so far.


As a leader, I find myself trying to be that front runner too many times. I want to give it all, to lead with that same mentality that Pre had, forgetting that in the end, it wasn’t successful for him. It’s not likely to bring the success I want either.


But that idea that Pre mentions haunts me a bit.


“I don’t want to win unless I’ve done my best. The only way I know to do that is to run out front and flat out until I have nothing left.”


When I read it again and think about the amount of energy given to work (even when it’s valuable work), I can’t help but think about the ways I can see myself trying to adopt the same mindset.


How many times have I worn exhaustion as a status symbol?


How many times have I given my all at work and not had enough left in the tank to invest at home?


How many times have I skipped lunch to keep pushing through to get things done around the office?


How many times have I self-imposed all of this when nobody else needs me to keep “front running” like this?


I’m not at all saying that our work as leaders and change agents isn’t worthwhile.  The problem is that we have so many things that are absolutely worthwhile pulling on us. School, family, friends, & faith all pull at us, and we owe it to ourselves and to those we love to make sure the tide isn’t pulling us too far in one direction or another.


We cannot give our all to everything. There’s just not enough of us to go around.


I don’t want to end up with nothing left to give in one area of my life. So, here’s a start for what we can do to combat that:


Identify your pitfalls.


Define your priorities.


Gut check regularly (preferably with someone else you trust to be honest with you).


Life is too nuanced and unique for me to make hasty generalizations here about how everyone should answer these questions, but I will say this: Everyone needs to be asking them, and we all need to be processing these things in the company of those we trust.


Our reality as leaders and change agents is not one that is without limits.


Try as we may to avoid it, you and I will both fail if we do not recognize this reality. Not might. Will.


I can promise it won’t be easy, but I can’t see energy invested here being anything other than time well spent. The work you are doing and your relationships with others are too important to pretend that you can simply press on without limits.
So before you move off to another corner of the internet, stop for a minute. Think about the pace you’re running at. Is it sustainable? How can it be changed? What would that look like? Is it worth it to you to get it right before you hit your limits?


Aaron Hogan is a committed connected educator in College Station, TX. He currently serves as an assistant principal at a 5/6th grade campus. Additionally, Aaron wears the hat of husband and dad! For more posts by Aaron check out his blog at afhogan.com

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