We don’t typically pay attention to the last person to cross a finish line. All the glory comes when the tape is broken and we marvel at the accomplishment of the athlete. That’s true unless you’re talking about the 1968 Men’s Olympic Marathon race in Mexico City. In that race, most people only remember the name of the last place finisher.
In 1968, Tanzania competed in only its second ever Olympic Games. John Stephen Akhwari was a runner from Tanzania competing in the men’s marathon that year. Early in the race, he took a serious fall. He cut and dislocated his knee. Any chance he had of winning an olympic medal crashed to the ground with him.
The pack of runners he was running with moved farther and farther ahead of him as Akhwari limped and stumbled along the race course. Soon, they were out of sight. Other runners caught up to Akhwari, and they too passed him up and disappeared on the horizon. He must have known that the top finishers of the race were likely crossing the finish line by now. And yet he kept on moving. One foot in front of the other.
Akhwari was alone on the course. The crowds along the road had moved on. Only a few people lined the street as Akhwari slowly made his way along the road. Hours went by and he kept on moving. The sun had set. The street he ran on was dark except for the headlights from the police escort that followed him.
The darkness was finally dispelled when he ran up the tunnel entering the Olympic Stadium where he had to complete one lap to finish the 26.2 mile agony. The crowd was sparse–mostly just leftovers from the events earlier that evening. But every single one of them rose to attention as Akhwari entered the track. Applause grew as he rounded the corners. His ungraceful gait caused by his bandaged and dislocated knee grew faster. The cheers from the crowd grew louder and louder. He pushed himself forward. One gimpy step after another. He forced himself around the track reaching the finish line more than an hour after the winner.
When asked why he continued to run his answer was simply, “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race. They sent me 5,000 miles to finish it.”
I don’t think anyone runs a marathon without having a passion for running. I mean those people actually enjoy running. There are others who run because they know it can be good for them. But they’re the people who pack the regular 5K and 10K fun races every month.
No, a marathon runner is someone who has a passion for running. And an Olympic marathon runner may be the most passionate of all. The elite runners of the world are they.
But that passion is not enough to propel them to finish the race. What I forgot to mention above is that John Stephen Akhwari finished 57th in the marathon that year. Seventy-five runners started the race. So what happened to the other 18 runners? We’ll never know. They don’t show up in any accounts of the race other than the ignominious designation DNF (Did Not Finish). They didn’t all dislocate a knee. We would’ve heard the story of 19+dislocated knees in one race story by now if it had occurred.
No. For some reason only they know in their hearts, the passion reservoir emptied out and they never finished the race they started. I can only imagine the pain, discomfort, stress a marathoner feels along the road. Yet despite all of that, and maybe even more that Akhwari suffered, he finished the race while the others didn’t.
What did John Stephen Akhwari have that the DNFers not have?
Akhwari had a purpose to go along with the passion for running. He was not going to let his country down on the world’s biggest stage. Of course, he loved running. And I’m sure he had run 26.2 miles hundreds, no probably, thousands of times. The thrill of finishing a long run was not what kept him moving. It was his purpose of making his country proud.
Without purpose, you are subject to the rise and fall of your emotions. Just look at your typical day. We, entrepreneurs, go through a roller coaster of emotions in any given day. It is so much easier to work with a positive mood rather than a disappointed or upset one.
Emotions are like a candle burning in a dark room. The brightest and most intense part of the candle is the flame. Your eyes automatically focus on the candle because it is the brightest thing in the room. But if you look just inches away from the candle, the room is still dark. If even the slightest breeze blows the flame, the light is dimmed and the intensity of the flame falters. In the same way our emotions are at their brightest and most intense near our starting point. But the farther we move from our starting point the dimmer the light gets. And forget about when adversity strikes and our flame gets pushed around.
For example, look at New Year’s resolutions. Every year you and I look over the past year and we make our solemn promises to make changes or improve in the new year. January 1 hits and we’re filled with the emotion of the new year celebration and we start our resolution with gusto. But as the days, weeks, months go by, we get further and further away from the emotions we felt when we made the resolutions. It gets dimmer and dimmer…until we forget about the emotions that set us in motion at the start of the year and we’re back to our old habits.
Your passion creates motion, but it is undirected motion. Like candle light that shines in all directions, it is action in all directions instead of one productive course. Passion without a directing purpose doesn’t get you to the finish line. It burns with intensity at its core, but all but disappears the further out we look.
A purpose acts more like a flash light than a candle light. The light is focused forward toward your goal. Your purpose keeps you looking forward instead of looking back trying to draw from the passion and emotion that started you on your path when things turn dark or the road gets rough.
Your purpose should tap into something bigger than yourself. Your purpose should exist whether you are in a good mood or bad mood. Your purpose exists regardless of your emotions. When you are motivated by a purpose, your focus is on something external rather than your internal emotions or passion.
A new Korn Ferry study shows that when employees of consumer companies focused on the organization’s purpose; annual growth rates of the companies were almost triple the annual rate for the whole sector. In addition to that, a company that has a true purpose has an easier time recruiting and retaining talent and winning new customers.
The reason why is obvious. A clear purpose gives you something to work toward regardless of outside forces. A business setback–stay on purpose. A financial win–stay on purpose. Critical business decision–stay on purpose. Purpose isn’t just the roadmap to success. It’s the engine under the hood moving you forward.
One of my favorite ways to uncover my purpose and direct my actions is to take the 7 Questions Test. Or maybe it’s more like the 1 Question Test–7 Times.
The test has a simple and effective format.
“I want ________________________________________________(1) so that _________________________________________________(2)”
You fill in two blanks of a simple sentence and then you take the answer of the second blank you just wrote and make it the answer to the first blank of the next sentence and then fill in the second blank.
“I want ________________________________________________(2) so that _________________________________________________(3)”
“I want ________________________________________________(3) so that _________________________________________________(4)”
“I want ________________________________________________(7) so that _________________________________________________(8)”
You continue with that for a total of seven sentences. When you’re done, you should have a deep, visceral reason for why you want what you want. Congratulations, you’ve found your purpose.
Take some time this week, and give it a try. If you’d like, I created a .pdf that you can download for free with the exercise preprinted so that you can fill in the blanks. You can download the form HERE (no login or email required).
I’d like to hear what you thought about the exercise. And as always, if there’s a way that I can serve you in fulfilling your purpose, please let me know.
If you came to the page from a social media link or someone shared this page with you, please take a moment and sign up below for our email list. When you are a subscriber, you will be the first to know when I post new content that might interest you. Subscribers will also receive exclusive content specially created for them.