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Lessons from a Potato Farmer

By Scott Barber


This week, our blog is written by a special guest author – one of The Joshua Group's consultants, Scott Barber. After a career in non-profit leadership, Scott is now CEO of Scott Barber Leadership. Scott is a seasoned public speaker, leadership trainer, and life coach with a passion for self-leadership. He specializes in coming alongside others to help create and execute customized plans for their personal and professional lives. Meet Scott & more of our team here!

 

As someone who has been a recreation runner for nearly three decades (and has even coached a little bit on the side), I have to say that I resonate with the idea of pace.


Pace makes sense to me. It’s the reason why I love the story of Cliff Young so much.


Cliff, an Australian potato farmer, entered the inaugural 544-mile Sydney to Melbourne Ultramarathon in 1983—the year he turned 61.


Every single one of the other competitors was a professional runner, not to mention they were all under the age of 30. None of them gave Young a chance. Many of them laughed at his presence in the race, assuming it had to be some kind of joke.


As far as running strategy goes, most of the professional runners decided on a tried-and-true technique that was proven to be successful—run for about 18 hours a day, sleep for six or seven consecutively, and then pick up and do it again for the next six or seven days.


Cliff’s strategy was—unsurprisingly—a little different.


Instead of cycling from sleeping to running on a regular schedule, he decided to run at a slow but steady pace for as long as he possibly could.


As you might expect, Cliff was quickly left behind as the other, professional runners took off. He was forgotten as soon as the race began.


But Cliff pressed on his with his plan. He took stride after steady stride for 5 days, 15 hours, and 4 minutes—until he shocked the racing world and won the race. He even finished 10 hours ahead of the second-place runner.


What a story, right?


There are—obviously—some serious life lessons we can learn from Cliff, especially when it comes to the topic of pace.


  • Steady progress over time beats talent every time. This is true in long-distance running and it is true in life. Once you know you are on the right path and doing the right thing, keep at it. Don’t give in, show up again tomorrow, and trust in the process. This is the Flywheel Principle that Jim Collins writes about in his bestseller, Good to Great. It will yield results if you keep at it because life is not a sprint.

  • Don’t assume everyone else’s strategies are the best ones for you. Of course, it is wise to learn from proven patterns of success—but it is equally important to be true to who you are. Had Cliff Young followed the run pattern of run-for-18-hours, sleep-for-six, it’s highly likely he wouldn’t have just not won, he probably would have come in last place. Instead, he used his strength of stamina to employ a strategy that could only have worked for him. Lean into your strengths.

  • Trust your background. Cliff Young grew up on a 2,000-acre farm where he would round up the family’s 2,000 sheep. He claims that he used to have to run for two or three days straight chasing down sheep. During his famous ultramarathon, he imagined himself chasing sheep and outrunning an oncoming storm. What is it in your background that has uniquely positioned you for success?

  • Don’t be swayed by the naysayers. If Young had listened to the crowds or the professional runners who laughed at him, he never would have made it to the starting line.

  • You can do more than you think—for a season of life. Conventional wisdom has taught us to work 40 hours a week, take 2 days off on the weekend, opt for 3-4 weeks of vacation each year, and sleep 8 hours a night. This is a good and sustainable pattern that will give you energy and life balance. I try to follow this pattern pretty closely. But the reality is there are seasons where more will be required of you. And you have the ability to give it—for a season or brief part of your life. Had Cliff Young continued much longer he surely would have suffered serious physical consequences. When the time comes to give more, reach in and draw from your reservoir. Work harder and longer. Give your best—then take a rest.

Cliff Young’s story reminds me of a much older story of a teenage boy who showed a lot of promise. Like Young, this teenager was asked by his family to herd sheep. During the long days with the sheep, he practiced hour after hour using his slingshot and became a marksman.


He often used his weapon to fight off predators to keep the sheep alive. Still a teenager, he volunteered to represent his people in a one-on-one, winner-take-all battle against a Philistine giant named Goliath.


You probably know how this goes, but if you don’t, check out the rest of the story. Ultimately, no one gave young David much of a chance.


King Saul gave David his armor but it wasn’t a fit for him—literally or figuratively.


Instead, David instinctively knew the lessons listed above. It took only one stone flung with deadly accuracy from his slingshot to accomplish his mission. That day was a turning point for David and for the nation of Israel as he gained popularity and eventually became the greatest earthly King Israel has ever known.


What in your life requires an unconventional strategy? What from your past uniquely positions you to accomplish something great? What lessons from Cliff Young and the shepherd boy David could serve you during this season?


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