Lessons from Last Place: My 20-Second Track Career

Jun 14, 2024 | 0 comments

Sometimes in life and business you come in dead last.

Here’s a story about how it happened to me.

It was 2007. “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’) by T-Pain and “Umbrella” by Rihanna were at the top of the charts. I was a university student in China, and an organizer of the annual university track meet came into my class to ask for volunteers.

Not a single student raised their hand. It looked like our department would not be represented at all.

The silence stretched on. The organizer detailed the events, and I raised my hand for the 100-meter. I had never done track before, but how hard could it be to run 100 meters?

The event organizer’s eyes gleamed as they sized me up for my track suit, taking in my 6’3” frame. I was flummoxed when I was given a size 4 XL, but when I tried it on, it fit. Really well. For not the first time, I realized I was a giant among the locals in Southern China.

Lead up to the race

Now that I looked the part, my preparation leading up to the event was easy. I kept to my normal diet at the time of street side barbeque and cheap beer. I went to the track with a friend and ran a warm up trial, for fun. We had ice cream. I was ready. Wasn’t I?

The morning of the track meet arrived. It was hot, the sun already high in the sky. I rolled up to the event with a posse of friends for moral support. I was sporting my 4 XL university track suit.

Race day

Time to race. I arrived at the blocks in my chunky running shoes and tracksuit pants and immediately started regretting my decision. All around me were lean, muscular competitors in spikes and racing gear. I knew I was way out of my league.

They had me in the best lane, block 1. Perhaps word spread and they were taking mercy.

“运动员,请就位” “Runners, take your positions” came over the speakers. “预备!” “Set!” BANG! The starting gun went off.

I stumbled, bumbled, and fumbled out of the blocks, already far behind the closest runner. There was no catching up. But I put my head down and ran my heart out. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I saw the finish line up ahead.

I crossed it, completely gassed and absolutely dead last by many, many long seconds. I stood there, doubled over laughing—my first reaction to the deeply humbling and actually very funny situation.

My friends joined me on the side of the track chuckling and “congratulating” me. Some of the other runners also came and patted me on the back and shook my hand.

And that, folks, was the start and end of my illustrious university track and field career. Overall, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. But maybe with a little less street side barbecue and beer, and a little more training.

Why it’s important to raise our hands

It pays to “put your hand up” and try, even if you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into. Even if you might get embarrassed.

Raising my hand has paid off for me in many other areas of my life and in business. As has the ability to laugh at myself. We have to be bad at something before we become good at it. If we take ourselves too seriously, we might never continue, or not enjoy the journey, or never even start. I may have come dead last, but I got a great story – and a size 4XL tracksuit.

So laugh it up and push ahead for what you want, in life and in business.This message was brought to you by the last-place finisher of the 2007 Sichuan University track meet.

How about you? Have you ever come in dead last in something? What did you learn from it?

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