The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.
In many sports, DNF is a commonly used acronym. It means, “Did Not Finish.” It means you crossed the start line, but not the finish line.
There are many reasons for a DNF, often out of one’s control, like a crash or an unanticipated physical issue. A dog once ran through the spokes of my coach’s bike during a triathlon. At 25 miles per hour., neither she nor the dog had a chance. DNF.
Many stop short because they realize they may not podium or they lose the fire. Let me speak plain here – some are just quitters. They realize the course ahead is harder than they thought so they stop. I don’t respect that. In the sporting rink or at work, this latter kind of DNF is nothing to be proud of.
Listen, I get the desire to quit. Lots. When I shared last month on my race in Zofigen, I did not tell you all of the story. The accident I had prior to the World Championships wreaked havoc on my core muscles. When I completed the bike portion (150K) of the race, I could barely dismount. I almost toppled over as I raised my leg over the frame. As I left transition to finish the second run (30K), I was hobbling and had to walk.
I was in so much pain and so embarrassed. I was representing our country and all I could do was walk. I never walk! Humbled, I continued to hobble, all the while wanting to quit. In my mind, I was justifying clever excuses and preparing the elevator pitch, my tweets to followers and posts to Facebook as to why I quit. Vanity.
But something in me would not allow me to do that.
I eventually began to run, especially when I was within sight of a competitor. It was painful and humiliating to run so slow, but I did. My body adjusted and I gained speed and eventually finished. The most exhilarating finish of my career. While I knew I did not retain my title of top 100 duathlete in the world, I had so much satisfaction. I dug deep. I refused the DNF label. I crossed the finish line. Success!
I can tell you that on more than one occasion, I called a former boss to see if I could just quit my new job and go back to my old one where things were more familiar and comfortable. I tried to DNF. Thankfully, my former bosses talked me out of quitting so early. I persevered. The rest is history.
Training is a given. The foundation to success is to be well trained. So why do the well trained DNF? It comes down to attitude and it is predictable. There are two key indicators: predisposition and motivation. Check yourself here. I have to check myself as I prepare for each race and new job. It is not automatic.
Predisposition. First, if you do not have a predisposition to quit, let that be your motivator to persevere. I think about that when I want to stop. I know if I stop this race, it will make it easier to stop in another race. Break the pattern before it can even take hold.
Predictors to a DNF character:
- History—are you a quitter?
- Do you jump jobs when things get sketchy?
- Do you quit early on friends who disappoint you?
- Do you often take shortcuts or blow off responsibilities?
Motivations of a DNF character:
- Do you have a defined purpose for the job/race?
- Is the event part of a larger goal?
- Do you have a story for why you are in the job/race?
Since we can identify DNF predictors and motivations, we can take action to reverse the pattern if that is our character. It is pretty simple, really.
- Stop quitting.
- Vow to not quit when the going gets tough by setting goals. I had a goal that I would stick with any new job a minimum of two years.
- Take on smaller races and tasks and build positive history which will lead to increased confidence and ultimately motivation.
- Do routine introspection and let motivation develop and drive you. Figure out why you want to do that race or why you want to take that job. Let that sustain you through troubled times.
- Think about the long-term and overall vision and let a story develop. Think what the final chapter would read like. Let this story unfold before you.
- Surround yourselves with others that will hold you accountable.
Why is this so critical to think about? From a career point of view, it is easy for hiring managers to spot DNF character. Most will toss your resume in an instant if you show that pattern. You are easy to spot and will never make it past the first screening.
Moreover, from a personal perspective, it is hard for friends and family to count on a DNF personality, which then creates significant barriers that lead to mistrust and unfulfilled relationships.
Before your next race or your next job, think about these things. No matter where we fall in the DNF definition, we can all learn and embrace these concepts to ensure the probability that we will finish whatever race is set before us — at play, at work, or in life.