It was nearly 10:30pm when the Uber dropped my brother off at his Hollywood home and continued the additional three-and-a-half miles to the Airbnb I was renting in Los Feliz during my visit. I scrolled Twitter for the first time in several hours, landing on Nike’s live Breaking2 broadcast, 90 minutes in progress.
With five million worldwide, I spent the next 30 minutes watching elite Ethiopian runner, Eliud Kipchoge, attempt to break the two-hour marathon barrier.
I followed the quest to break two hours for the better part of 2017, ever since running the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon in January, alongside (or, more accurately, over two hours behind) Kenenisa Bekele, as he attempted to break the marathon world record set by Kenya’s Dennis Kimetto in the 2014 Berlin Marathon (2:02:57). After a nasty fall within seconds of the start line, Bekele would drop from Dubai just after the half way point.
Nike’s Breaking2 has received a fair amount of flack. One part moonshot, one part masterful marketing campaign, the company controlled for everything including (but not limited to) the three athletes chosen to make the attempt, the weather, the course, the pacers and the gear. In fact, Kipchoge’s finishing time would not even count against Kimetto’s world record, as the run violated International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) rules, including having runners’ fluids shuttled to them on the course via motorcycle (so they wouldn’t have to divert energy to a drink table, as in a typical marathon), as well as the highly practiced inverted diamond pacer formation (to lessen wind resistance) and rotating pacers (to ensure the pacers’ continued speed). In short, the attempt was highly engineered.
But should that matter?
One of the best parts of my job as a Director at Amazon.com is helping others think about their career trajectories, and where they hope to be in months or years, whether in or outside of Amazon. We talk about building intentional relationships with their managers’ managers. We talk about networking, in detail that involves specified lists of people to meet, how to meet them in a way that feels authentic, and what to talk about once they’ve done so. We talk about milestones and timelines and measuring success. Inherent in these discussions, of course, is the assumption of strong performance; for many at Amazon, that comes naturally. But beyond just doing good work and hoping someone will take notice, I am helping them to think about their careers in very deliberate ways. In short, I am asking them to identify their dreams, and then helping them engineer the path to get there.
I’ve had practice. Nearly 20 years post-undergrad, I’ve had four careers. Not four jobs, four careers. My most recent pivot was in 2016 when, after nearly a decade in labor relations and nearly five years in Amazon’s warehouse fulfillment organization, I announced to my manager that I wanted a new job outside of labor relations and outside of warehouse fulfillment. In other words, I told him I wanted a job for which I was minimally qualified.
Over the course of six months, I explored my passions within the company through informal discussions and a lot of cups of coffee with leaders of various departments, I got real about my strengths and my areas of opportunity, and I landed in a role that has helped me grow exponentially. I feel like I am much more valuable to the Company, and to other employers, after making the move. But I’m only 39, and I have a lot of good working years left in me. So I continue to engineer.
The best kind of dreams don’t come true over night. They don’t come true on their own, and they don’t come true without planning and intention.
In the final minutes of Kipchoge’s epic run, it became clear he was unlikely to break two hours. It didn’t lessen the magic, however. In those final minutes, we weren’t focused on pacers or high tech shoes, we were focused on Kipchoge, and the dream he represented. His 2:00:25 finish, while not officially recognized by any governing body, is an example of the things that can be accomplished by dreaming big, and being unafraid to engineer a path to that dream. What will your path be?
“Passion is a choice. You need to choose to be great. It’s not a chance, it’s a choice.” – Eliud Kipchoge