I’ve lost most of my desire to want things in life to happen quickly. And I couldn’t be happier about that. It was only a few years ago that I had a tendency not to realise how draining it was on my happiness to want something new to always be around the corner. But life is short, and also long. It’s taken me a while to see it that way.
The phrase “life is a marathon” is new to me but not to the world. It’s a common phrase used by the Chinese (人生就如馬拉松). Put another way, it’s a saying, “Those who win at the start may not win the final victory, and those who lose at the start may not lose at all”. To me, it’s less of a lesson and more of a reminder of a few things:
1. You control your destiny
In every marathon, two points stand out to me as the hardest: the start and a little before the finish. Both are where momentum works its hardest against you. Following Newton’s law: momentum is hard to get but easier to keep. It’s hard to start, but once you create a sustainable rhythm, it’s much easier to keep going. Second, many people give up a little before the end because they fail to see it or become more of a force acting against themselves. Either way, it’s always you against you.
2. You’re rarely on a flat road
Rarely will a marathon be completely flat, the same way a life without ups and downs is near impossible. Many things will make you feel up and down, where nothing could improve your happiness or everything does. But a dream should be hard-earned and something that takes multiple tries over a long time. That’s what makes it sweet.
3. Effort & result
You cannot control things in life, but you can grit your teeth at hardship and difficulty, put the effort in, and one day it will be better. Similarly, you cannot simply just “wing” a marathon or, through luck, find the life you always wanted. You must put the hours and effort to train your body and mind; otherwise, you are bound to suffer miserably. No action or effort, no result.
We all know life isn’t the same for everyone—but nature is a brilliant engineer: it creates all of us to look differently and have separate identities. It’s unbalanced and allows some people to have a headstart over others. Yet, it still tells us, “Do not abandon yourself; there is opportunity, compassion, talent and love for you to discover. But it is your responsibility to own it”. It’s your responsibility to take care of your environment, as that is nature’s way of engineering a better you.
Work: How to do hard things
People often get into the working world without knowing how to deal with uncertainty and stress (i.e., me). They spend years trying to be relentless, fierce and devoted to mastering their craft without daring to show a sign of weakness. But all I’ve seen from that is it makes everyone miserable eventually.
Moving away from this, there’s a way to stop yourself from feeling stuck and simply understand what makes you unhappy with your work. It may help you see how to approach stress and uncertainty in a new way: one that is life-giving rather than soul-sucking.
The book Values in Therapy detailed a framework not widely known outside of therapy circles. It’s called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, backed by over 800 randomised control studies.
ACT examines how our thoughts influence our behaviour to help debug when our mind gets stuck. It can recognise where your mind adds stress to existing problems and help you learn how stress gets in the way of finding meaning and enjoyment in your work.
It ultimately aims to move you closer to what you care about in life. From an ACT perspective, the main thing that gets in the way of us is when our behaviour centres around avoidance. When we’re focused on avoiding harmful thoughts and feelings over moving toward what we care about.
Here’s the important part: where other psychological approaches might try to resolve challenging thoughts and feelings by rationally explaining them or exploring childhood memories, ACT is about not seeing them as problems in and of themselves—they’re only seen as problematic to the degree that they interfere with living a meaningful and engaged life in the present.
It teaches people how to stay oriented toward what we are about even in the face of negative thoughts and feelings—because it’s a normal part of life.
Thus, applying this framework in sprint-based worth philosophy is powerful as it works on how we balance our momentum, focus, and confidence. It helps us start, moves our thoughts and feelings from abstract to concrete, forces crisp decision-making, and encourages us to follow up on ourselves.
If you want to face and conquer hard things in life—because there’s no escaping it—treat your life as a marathon, but work in sprints. When you work in sprints, it opens the door for more rest. It helps you cover more ground because you dedicate your time to creating clear values, present-moment awareness, committed action, and flexibility in short bursts than passively over time.
What I’ve Learned
Here are a few things I’ve learned recently.
Forever is not the definition of success
Imagine you opened a coffee shop and ran it for a while, and it makes you happy, but stuff becomes too expensive, and you want to do something else. Just because you closed it doesn’t mean it’s a failed business. I’ve had times when I felt like I failed because I stopped doing something earlier than expected, such as when I wanted to be a professional drummer. But doing something forever doesn’t make it a success, and quitting something sooner doesn’t make it a failure.
The art of being alone
Loneliness is more about our perception than how much company we have. Some people need lots of alone time to recharge; others would rather give themself an electric shock than spend a few minutes with their thoughts. Loneliness can be inspiration. It can be art. Here’s how.
Sun Tzu on adapting
A powerful military has no constant formation. Water has no continuous shape. Genius is the ability to be victorious over and over by changing and adapting according to the opponent. People who are the best at their craft adapt better than anyone.
One Question for You
What do you wish you had always taken more time to learn about? Can you start now?
Until next time,
Another great post. I really like your take on things, and I like the resources you give. The life is a marathon saying reminds me of the racing saying, "You can't win the race in the first lap, but you can lose it."