As a teenager, I ran and cross-country skied. If you had asked, I would have told you that I trained because I liked the races. I wasn’t a strong athlete. My best performances left me in the middle of the pack. Still, though, I loved the feeling of butterflies before an event—and I typically finished these races wanting to do another.
It took until recently, though, for me to understand that the race wasn’t the point. Nope. It was the training. Consider what would happen if I had to choose between racing and training. Racing without training would leave me out-of-shape, and in pain. However, if I trained without racing, I’d still be in good overall physical condition.
Unfortunately, training alone can become a drag. One day, you find yourself out on the trail, and don’t know why you’re there. Your legs feel like dead weights. A kilometer seems like 10. The reason to carry on gets foggy. This is the molasses.
At the start of a new endeavor, movement is easy. This applies to sports as well as projects (whether a startup, book, painting, or… well… whatever). At the beginning you think mostly about possibility, so you move fast and ignore the details.
In time, details become more relevant. For example, if you’re writing a book, ideas initially come fast. A few weeks in, though, you start needing to fact-check details. Passages don’t always flow together smoothly. And, there might be some content hole you just don’t know how to fill.
The bigger, or longer-term, your project is, the thicker the molasses. With ongoing projects, the events of a single day start to seem less significant. You’ll know you’re knee deep in molasses when you say to yourself, “I’ll skip today and run, tomorrow,” or, “this isn’t a critical task, but I’d rather work on it, than something that is.”
Fair enough. On a long road, you sometimes you get tired, stiff, or sore—and need a break. The trick is to not let your break carry on—or for the project to become a lifeless, soul-sucking grind. I say this, because the longer you stay stationary, the harder it is to start moving again.
That’s what’s amazing about a race: It gets you excited. For most of us, a race isn’t about winning. It’s simply a motivational tool. It creates purpose. It reinvigorates. And it’s how you cut through the molasses.
For runners, races are easy to find. For makers, races are equally present—but less visible seeming. So, when you find yourself in the molasses, pick one small thing you need to build. Then set a timeline, and treat this task like a race. For example: “We’re adding feature x by Friday—even if it’s not perfect.”
This simple approach reduces meandering, lends focus, and lights a fire in your belly. I’d write more about this, but @shelkie and I just started a race—and the clock is ticking.