I crossed the Boston Finish Line and the world changed

It’s 10:00 am Monday, April 15, 2013 and the Boston marathon starts. At least I think it does. I’m standing in a corral for the 2nd wave of runners, far away from the start. Perfect running conditions. Light wind. Sunny skies. Not too hot for runners, not too cold for spectators. Doesn’t get any better than this. What I don’t know is it will get a lot worse.

After persisting through the 26 miles or 42 kilometers I run down Boylston and cross the finish line in 3 hours 41 minutes. Nine minutes slower than planned due to severe leg cramps, but I’m very happy. I join the throng of finishers, get a medal, and grab snacks and water. Find the bus with my clothes bag, put on a warm jacket and head for the family area to meet my wife Baiba.

Need to go back and cross over Boylston, but can’t push through all the finishers rushing towards me. So I take the long way around and hobble along back streets with other runners. After running 26 miles we’re like the walking wounded, limping along. Suddenly a massive explosion erupts. We look at each other, “That doesn’t sound good.” Then another explosion. The sound bounces around buildings so we have no idea where the blasts come from. Assume it has nothing to do with the run. “Maybe gas explosions.”

Then it’s back to normal, discussing the ups and downs of the run and how we finished. Now we’re back to Boylston and a policeman opens a gate to let us cross. I can’t believe my eyes. The street is empty. No people. Not long ago it was jammed with thousands of finishers on the way to pick up their bags. (When the explosion occurred all runners were stopped. And from here you can’t see the destruction and panic at the finish line area.) I just stand there in disbelief. Nothing makes sense. But that’s par for the course after running 26 miles. So I think, “Well, maybe they just sent the finishers down another street.” (Yeah, sure, for the first time in history.) And why are all these security and medical people running around? “Well, to help tired runners of course.”

Finally I reach the family area where runners who just finished are being reunited with family and friends. Baiba spots me and recounts what a happy, joyous scene this area has been. Until the first explosion, then instantly there was complete silence. You could hear a pin drop. When the second explosion went off there was more tension, but no panic. Now at this point everyone is back to normal, giving high-fives and celebrating. Nobody has a clue about the pain, suffering, and death just a few blocks away. Or how thousands of police, fire, medical, and security have sprung into action and are totally focused on helping the victims and checking for more bombs.

Baiba and I walk to a pub to meet our buddies from the Marathon Dynamics running club and exchange congratulations: “Wow, a personal best!” Or condolences: “I blew up on Heartbreak Hill.” Then on the pub TV we see what really blew up – and the whole mood changes. Suddenly the run is insignificant.

We watch in shock and stunned silence, unable to comprehend the devastation, injuries, and death at the finish line. Baiba sees the location of the explosion on the north side of Boylston Street and says, “I was almost there.” I go “What!!” She tells me her plan was to watch me finish and then meet me at the family area, her normal routine when she’s watching and not running. So she walked up the south side of Boylston, but couldn’t get close to the finish. However the north side (where the bomb later exploded) was less crowded. She asked a security guard, “Can I use the overhead bridge to get over there?”  He said, “No. It’s just for media. You have to walk a mile down, then cross over and walk back up the other side.” She started to walk there, but then stopped, thinking she might be late getting back to the family area to meet me. I can tell you, Baiba is very punctual. She insists we’re 3 hours early for a flight and hates to be late for anything. So she scrapped her plan to stand at the finish line. Perhaps punctuality saved her life.

Others were not so lucky. Our sincerest condolences to the families and loved ones of those who died, and our hearts go out to all those who were seriously injured in this senseless tragedy.


Note: Previously I wrote that I crossed the finish line six minutes before the bomb exploded, a calculation based on the 4:09:43 time on the finish-line clocks when the explosion occurred. Now I’m told the clocks were showing the time for the third wave of runners, so the six-minute calculation is wrong. The bombs actually went off 42 minutes after I crossed the finish line. My story is still accurate, but I was on a different street when it happened. At the time I didn’t pay any attention to where I was because I thought, “Just gas explosions. Nothing to do with the run.” So there was no reason to remember the exact location. I apologize for the error and it has been corrected in the story above.


The Everest Marathon: And Now for Something Completely Different

or How NOT to Celebrate Your Anniversary

To celebrate our 40th anniversary, Baiba and I decided to do something different. So, we went to Nepal and ran the world’s highest marathon. Are you tired of running the same old humdrum marathons? Looking for a unique run? Here are 12 ways The Tenzing-Hillary Everest Marathon is completely different.

Click photos to enlarge



Marathon Start -photo EverestMarathon.com

To reach the starting line of most marathons, you simply hop into a car or bus, drive there, and then it’s a short walk to the start. The Everest Marathon is different. You still walk to the starting line, but it takes two weeks to get there. It starts at Everest Base Camp, high in the Himalayan mountains of Nepal, and there are no roads, cars, or vehicles. So, you do a grueling trek along mountain paths.

Everest trek – Bruce Macfarlane

Oh, there is another option to get there. Mortgage your house to pay for a helicopter ride. But the trek is actually better, because going slowly gives you time to acclimatize to the extreme high altitude. With the helicopter option, you zoom up quickly, then hop out of the chopper at Base Camp and instantly turn into a vegetable with acute mountain sickness.

Our route to Base Camp followed the same path that Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay took in 1953, when they became the first men to summit Everest. As I was climbing up the steep, rocky hills, struggling to breathe, I thought, “This is really cool! I’m walking in the footsteps of those great mountain climbers. I wonder if they felt as miserable as I do?”



Himilayas – Peter Brunning

Many marathons, such as Boston, take place at low altitude. A few are run at high altitude, like the Madison Marathon in Montana, the highest in America (9,000 feet or 3,000 meters). But, the Everest Marathon towers above all the rest. It starts at an altitude of almost 18,000 feet (5,500 meters) making it the highest marathon in the world. It’s also the only one where you’ll run at “extreme” high altitude, which means you can’t breathe and shouldn’t be there.

Everest trek – Michael Phoenix

Another difference is the views. When running most marathons, typical views include the backs of hundreds of runners, police directing traffic, cars backed up for miles, porta-potties, pavement, and skyscrapers. The Everest Marathon is different. It has none of the above. Actually, it does have skyscrapers, but instead of buildings they’re some of the world’s highest mountains.

And they are spectacular. Well, I’m told they are. I was too busy crawling over rocks and trying to breathe to look up.




Yak – Richard St. John

In a typical marathon, roads are often closed to traffic, so drivers are beeping their car horns and yelling, “Get off my road!” The Everest Marathon is different. There’s no problem with car horns, since there are no cars. But there is a problem with yak horns. What’s a yak? Picture a small bull with big sharp horns, wearing a fur coat. And, just like the drivers beeping their horns, these animals are in a hurry to get somewhere. They own the path, so you’d better stand aside or they’ll use their horns to butt you out of their way.

Yaks – Michael Phoenix

Yak – Bruce Macfarlane








Yaks are the tractor-trailers of the mountains, carrying heavy loads on their backs. In theory they’re domesticated. In reality, their owners are nowhere to be seen, and suddenly you’re stopped in your tracks by a gang of uncontrollable animals charging towards you like locomotives. (Hence the term “yak trains.”)

Normally, runners in a race won’t stop for anything, but in this free-range “running of the bulls” there’s no choice. So when you hear the dreaded sound of yak bells, you quickly take cover behind a rock and count the precious minutes of time you’re losing until the yak train passes.

But what if you’re running along a mountain ledge and there’s no place to go except over the cliff? Then you should stand very still against the wall side of the ledge. If you stand near the edge, a yak could butt you into space and you’ll fall to your death. I left instructions that if it happened to me I wanted my epitaph to read, “He died on Everest,” and not “He was killed by a small bull wearing a fur coat.”

Note: Yaks do serve one useful purpose for trekkers and runners. The trail wasn’t clearly marked and a GPS (Global Positioning System) won’t always work in the mountains. But there’s always YPS (Yak Positioning Shit). Not sure which direction to go? Just follow the trail of yak dung.



Everest Trek uphill – Richard St. John

As marathon day approaches, many runners taper – run less and rest, in order to have fresh legs for the big run. But Everest is different. Instead of sitting around tapering, with our feet up having a cold one, we were slogging up high hills with thousands of steps, then struggling through obstacle courses with huge boulders, narrow ledges, and swaying bridges.

Suspension bridge – Richard St. John

Trek Uphill – Richard St. John








I thought we were going to Base Camp. Really, we were going to Boot Camp. The only thing missing was a Marine Corps sergeant yelling, “Pain is just weakness leaving your body.” My poor little legs were crying out, “Hey, we’re supposed to be tapering! By the time we get to the start line we’ll be dead.”

So Bruce, a good personal trainer in our group, explained to my legs that they just had to hang in there and keep going. He was very motivating. Then he collapsed from diarrhea, vomiting, and dehydration and had to rest for a couple of days.



Yak cheese pasta – Richard St. John

The week before a marathon many runners carbo-load – consume foods rich in carbohydrates (mainly beer) to build up the energy reserves that will enable them to run 26 miles. But the Everest Marathon is different. Instead of carbo-loading, I carbo-depleted.

The problem at high altitude is there’s not enough oxygen for all your body parts. And for some reason your mind thinks breathing is more important than eating, so it takes away your appetite. And the higher you go, the less you feel like eating. Which is absurd, because the higher the altitude, the harder your body needs to work just to breathe, move, and not freeze to death, so you actually need more food and calories, not less.

But I had no appetite, and just when I should have been going back for seconds of pasta, I was hardly eating. Thanks to carbo-depleting I lost eight pounds, and Baiba started referring to me as “the lollipop” – a head on a stick. I’ll show her when I write my new weight loss book, The Everest Diet: How to Get High and Lose Weight at the Same Time.

On the plus side, the less you weigh, the faster you can run, and suddenly I was eight pounds lighter. Wow! I was ready for a new burst of speed. Then I realized I had no energy to actually move my legs. Carbo-depleting may not make it big in running circles.



Runner – EverestMarathon.com

Runners consume great quantities of oxygen, and in a typical marathon there’s plenty to go around. The air is thick with it. But the Everest Marathon is different. It has thin air. The run starts at 18,000 feet, or 3.5 miles up in the air, where there’s only 50% of the oxygen that you breathe in a typical marathon. Usually it feels great to get “50% off,” but not when it comes to oxygen.

As I was running along, it was like having one of those bad guys from the movies on my back weighing me down, and his hands were covering my mouth so I was struggling to breathe. Legs need oxygen to run, so having only 50% meant I was at least 50% slower than normal.

Everest Base Camp- Michael Phoenix

Brains also need oxygen to function, so my IQ dropped by half, and I was 50% more stupid than normal. (Obviously I wasn’t very smart to start with, or I wouldn’t be at extreme high altitude.) The “50% more stupid” factor meant that, even though I took a book all the way up to Base Camp, I gave up trying to read it. I thought it was in Nepalese or some other language. Now I realize I was holding it upside down.

In my tent on marathon morning, the “50% more stupid” factor meant that getting ready to run took at least 50% longer than normal. I was sitting there like a baby, staring at a piece of cloth wondering what it was for. Then I realized it was my sock, and I had to put it on. I was puffing and panting just trying to tie a shoelace, and then needed a ten-minute rest before tackling the other one.

Base Camp – Michael Phoenix

The way to overcome the low oxygen problem is to live at Base Camp for three months before the marathon. Then your body will be fully acclimatized to the high altitude and the 50% slower/stupider factor won’t apply. Although you may have to run the marathon in a straightjacket, put on you by Base Camp doctors telling you, “No sane person stays up in this miserable, cold, desolate hell-hole for three months!”



Running uphill – EverestMarathon.com

Many runners have bathmophobia. No, it’s not a fear of taking baths, although runners fear that too. It’s a fear of slopes or hills. Runners hate them because they really slow you down when you’re trying to run a fast time. That’s why many race organizers try to choose courses without hills, and then use the flatness to attract runners. The Oz marathon in Kansas brags about a “Flat, Wickedly Fast course.” But the Everest Marathon is different. I doubt the Nepalese even have a word for “flat,” and if there were truth in advertising the ad for this marathon would state “Humungous Hills, Excruciatingly Slow Course.”

Hill, 2 hour climb -Richard St. John

Everest trek hill – Richard St. John








But, that’s not what runners want to hear. So to attract more participants, the Everest Marathon should brand its hills with names, like the Boston marathon’s legendary “Heartbreak Hill.” Of course, in Nepal a hill as small as Heartbreak would be considered just a little speed bump, so what’s needed are names more suited to the monster hills around Everest. How about TimeBomb, since slogging straight up over thousands of rocks will destroy all hopes of a fast time.

Runner-rough path – EverestMarathon.com

Going downhill can be worse than up, because you fly down the hill to make up time and risk a pulled muscle or bad fall. So appropriate names for these steep, rocky downhills might be KneeWrecker, QuadKiller, CalfPuller, LegBreaker – or how about RunEnder!

During the marathon I caught up with Judith, from Britain, who was limping along with a big gash in her knee, after a nasty fall on a long downhill stretch. No roads or ambulances up there, so she struggled to the nearest aid station a few miles away, and that was the end of her run. Then I saw Peter from New Zealand limping along with trekking poles. He said he was running downhill, jumping from rock to rock, when suddenly he heard his knee crack. Ahhhhh! His partner ran back a few miles and found the trekking poles. Then Peter limped his way to the finish line, arriving in the middle of the night.

Judith and Peter deserve big awards for “Extraordinary Persistence!” Actually, everyone who ran the Everest Marathon should get a persistence award, no matter how fast they finished. Seventy-year-old Isaac from the US crossed the finish-line in 16 hours, as did Signy from Norway, who ran the marathon on her 74th birthday.



Everest Marathon winners – EverestMarathon.com

Kenyans are the typical marathon champions. But a Kenyan will never win the Everest Marathon. They prefer heat, not cold, and when the temperature drops to 70º they put on warm hats. No way they’re going to run at extreme high altitude, where you freeze and even the animals wear fur coats. So, the winners of the Everest Marathon will continue to be Nepalese. This year there were 153 finishers, roughly half from Nepal and half foreigners (from 18 countries). The first 25 finishers were all from Nepal, and of the first 50 finishers only five were foreigners.

Of course, the Nepal runners have an unfair advantage since they live at high altitude and go up and down mountains with huge loads on their backs. The great runner Emil Zatopek, winner of three Olympic gold medals, used to practice sprinting around a track with his wife on his back. But in Nepal that’s nothing. As we foreigners were trekking along in superlight, high-tech, hiking gear we were continually passed by Nepalese men in beat-up shoes carrying loads heavier than Mrs. Zatopek.

Porter- Base Camp – Peter Brunning

Heavy load – Richard St. John








Yes, those who live and train at high altitude will always have the “altitude advantage.” So to even things out, we low-altitude runners should invite the Nepalese runners to a “Zero-Altitude Marathon” at sea level. Then we’ll be the ones who are fully acclimatized and have the big advantage. The Nepalese won’t know how to handle low altitude. So with 50% more oxygen pouring into their lungs than back home on the mountains, they’ll start coughing and puking just like we do at high altitude. And they’re used to running on steep, rocky paths, so they’ll be tripping and falling all over themselves on our flat, paved roads.

So, come on low-altitude runners, this is our chance to gain back some confidence and self-respect. Sign up for the “Zero-Altitude Marathon” today – and don’t forget to invite all the Nepal runners who finished three hours ahead of you.



My new “Personal Worst” marathon time

In a typical marathon, runners try to achieve a PB: Personal Best fast time. But the Everest Marathon is different. There you’ll achieve a PW: Personal Worst slow time. Yes, with its high-altitude, speed-inhibitors, and obstacles, this marathon will ensure you run a stunningly slow race. You’ll wait for yak trains to pass, make frequent diarrhea stops, crawl up unending hills, hunt for water when aid stations run dry, and backtrack for miles after taking the wrong path. But it will all pay off in the end, as you bask in the glory of achieving a new Personal Worst.

Personal Worsts have three advantages over Personal Bests

1.) Crowds are moved more by PWs than PBs. At the Everest Marathon when you finally drag your debilitated body across the finish line in the middle of the night and achieve a Personal Worst, the crowd will be so moved by your persistence they’ll break down and cry. When you run a Personal Best nobody cries.

Richard achieves a Personal Worst

Finish line – photo Peter Brunning







2.) Another problem with Personal Bests is they have a “best before” date. We get slower as we get older, so now at age 65 I’ll never top the 2-hour, 43-minute PB that I ran when I was 30. But you can always top your Personal Worst, no matter how old you are. And I’m proud to say I just set a new Personal Worst record of  11 hours, 38 minutes, and 2 seconds. Thank you Everest Marathon!

3.) Sickness and injuries will prevent you from running a Personal Best, but actually help you achieve a Personal Worst. Throughout the Everest trek and run I felt tired and had a bad cough. I blamed it on high altitude, but when I got home my doctor said I had severe bronchitis the whole time. So a big thanks to bronchitis for helping me set my new Personal Worst. Hmmm… if pneumonia had set in, I could have run an even better worst time.





Everest run friends – Bruce Macfarlane

Running can be a solitary sport, and although you may run with an old friend or team, marathons are not on the list of “Best Places to Meet New Friends.” Sure, during the race you might say a few words to other runners, but if they’re in your age group you’d rather beat them, than meet them. And when it’s over you don’t know people’s names, just numbers, “Hey, congratulations 10,895. Great run!”

But Everest is different. You trek to the start line with the same group of people for two weeks and actually get to know them. You share running stories, laughs, and good times, but also bad times due to the high altitude and thin air. You get sick together, cough together, sneeze together, and freeze together. The website said we would “all get to run together.” It could add, “And all get the runs together.” Just about everyone in our group was feeling bad at some point and a few suffered from Acute Mountain Sickness and had to be flown back to civilization by helicopter.

Australian friends -Richard St. John

Norway friends – Richard St. John








But through it all, complaints were few and spirits were high. It seems the more adversity a group encounters, the more people are drawn together. As the challenge, the struggle, the pain increases, so does the sense of camaraderie. Whether you finish in first place or last, you’re all in the same boat, or running shoes, and that creates mutual respect and lasting friendships.

Everest run friends – Richard St. John

After the trip Norbert in Austria wrote, “The trip was far more about the people I got to know, than about the race itself.” And Michael in the UK said, “After the trip I tried to explain to my wife my sense of ‘bereavement.’ However much you love being home, you definitely do miss the heightened camaraderie of the trail.” So, if you want to make real friends, maybe set Facebook aside and get out and do something tough with a group of strangers.



Richard pushing himself – photo Jeremy Barber

Marathons are all about pushing yourself. You have to push yourself out the door to train, push through injuries, and on run day push through those last six miles when you hit the wall and your legs just want to stop. Every marathon pushes you out of our comfort zone, but the high altitude of Everest takes discomfort to new heights. There’s the long trek up to base camp, thin air, altitude sickness, no appetite, no heat, freezing nights, fitful sleep, one shower in two weeks (a bucket of water I poured over myself), and a hole in the floor for a toilet. I was so far out of my comfort zone, even Google Maps couldn’t find it.

Baiba and I chose the Everest Marathon to celebrate our 40th anniversary, but on the trek to base camp I said to her, “Why are we doing this? We don’t even like heights and we’re at extreme high altitude. We’re cold, coughing all the time, and there’s no air to breathe. What a miserable way to celebrate our 40th anniversary! Whose idea was this anyway?” She said, “Yours.” Too late to go on a Mediterranean cruise, so we just pushed on.

Then, at last, came marathon day. Finally, we were running and it was great. Sure, it was incredibly tough and long, and you had to push yourself hard. But I was reminded of what Richard Branson said to me when I asked him the secret of his success: “I don’t like to get too comfortable. I like to push and see what I’m capable of, and I think people get more satisfaction if they live their lives in that way.” He’s right. When I pushed myself through it all and crossed the finish line, there was a lot of satisfaction. After I stopped puking.

Richard St. John – photo Jeremy Barber



If you’re going to travel all the way to Mount Everest, maybe you’re thinking, “Should I run the world’s highest marathon, or instead climb the world’s highest mountain?” Well, I’ve run marathons (more than 60) and also climbed high mountains (two of the world’s seven summits), so here’s my conclusion.

The good thing about running a marathon is you won’t die. In fact, more people die playing golf than running marathons. So, even though the Everest Marathon is extremely tough, and when you’re crawling the last six miles you’ll wish you were dead, the run won’t actually kill you. In fact, it might even help you live longer, since studies show that running can increase your lifespan.

If, on the other hand, you want to decrease your lifespan, then climbing Everest is for you. This year eleven climbers lost their lives on the mountain, and at Base Camp we sadly watched a helicopter bring one of the bodies down. So when you weigh all the factors, which option should you choose: climb the mountain, or run the marathon? There’s no question. Running the marathon wins. Because climbing Everest will cost you about $100,000 and runners are cheapskates.

So, looking for a different marathon, a new challenge that will push you a bit more, but not to your death? Try the Tenzing-Hillary Everest Marathon. Looking for a way to celebrate your anniversary? Go on a cruise.

Wait! On second thought, now that we’ve recovered we’re thinking it really was an extraordinary trip, with wonderful people, and one that we’ll never forget. Hmmm… maybe the Sahara Desert Marathon for our 50th anniversary? As Baiba says, “If it hurts it must be a vacation.”

Happy Trails – photo Satish Neupane



Richard St. John



little vision + small goals + small steps = BIG SUCCESS

Some successful people have big visions, big goals, and take big leaps. But many do the opposite. They don’t look ahead, set small goals, and take small steps.

Issy Sharp, founder of Four Seasons Hotels, said to me, “People ask what my big vision was for Four Seasons Hotels. But I had no vision ­– ever. I didn’t do this to build a business. I did it to build one hotel. I wasn’t even thinking of doing it again.” And with that approach of little vision, small goals, and small steps, Issy built Four Seasons into the world’s top premier hotel chain.

The problem with setting big goals and taking large leaps is they can be very intimidating, and actually discourage us from ever getting starting. The other approach of setting small goals and taking small steps makes it easier to get going and keep going.

Forrest Sawyer told me the small approach is how he went from being an unknown radio announcer to becoming a famous TV news anchor: “I started with 1-minute pieces, and then I would do 3-minute pieces, and I would keep doing them until I got them right. And then I did 10-minute and 13-minute pieces.”

When I first started running, my only goal was to run a few blocks and try to keep up with my wife. But it wasn’t long before I was lying on the ground gasping for air while she kept going. I stayed at it, gradually got better, and a couple of years later thought, “Maybe I’ll try running a 26-mile marathon.” I crossed the finish line, and after I stopped puking I said, “I’ll never do that again.” Then a year later, “Hmmm, maybe I can run a faster marathon”…

Now, at this point in my life, I’ve finished over 50 marathons on all seven continents and run more than 75,000 miles (120,000 km). That’s equal to 3 times around the world, or 25 times across the United States. It’s been a blast, and I did it all with no vision, no big goals, and no big leaps. The same approach led to success in my career.

The bottom line is we can accomplish big things with little vision, small goals, and small steps. So go ahead. Take the first step. What are you waiting for?

Success takes 10 years – capturing Osama bin Laden

PERSIST is the 8th trait for success, and one of the big things we need to persist through is time, because there is no overnight success. The number that keeps coming up in my research is 10 years to succeed at anything.

It takes 10 years for dancers to develop, surgeons to be trained, and surfers to ride the big waves we see on TV. It took 10 years for Einstein to come up with E=mc² and 10 years for the BlackBerry to be developed. Google founder Larry Page told me it took 10 years to make the Google search engine a success. He said, “It takes a long time to do these things and a lot of success is just due to the amount of time you put into it.”

My book shows many more 10-year success stories, and now there’s another one to add to the list. It’s not a person’s success or a company’s success; it’s a country’s success. It took the United States 10 years to succeed at capturing Osama bin Laden after the September 11 attacks in 2001. To be exact, it took 3454 days. Schoolteacher Gary Weddle knows, because when 911 shook the world he was so upset he forgot to shave – and then he vowed not to shave again until Osama bin Laden was caught.

So a big Persistence Award goes to all those in the U.S. military who hung-in for the 10 years it took to finally track down the world’s most wanted man – and to you Gary for persisting with your vow. Congratulations on finally shaving off your decade-long beard. You look 10 years younger.

More on Gary Weddle

Should you put up with CRAP?

One of my definitions of CRAP is Criticism, Rejection, Assholes, and Prejudice. Here’s an email which touches on the “A” part of CRAP. It’s from Kine Bergseth, following a talk I gave at the Gulltaggen marketing conference in Oslo, Norway.

“Hi Richard. Thank you for making my day. I really enjoyed everything you said. My question is: Should you take crap from someone or leave, even if that ruins your career in the company and everything you have worked for over the last four years?”

Well, Kine, generally, the only time it’s worth taking crap is if you’re getting something good in return. Gardeners put crap (fertilizer) on their gardens and beautiful roses grow. Sometimes the same thing happens when people lay crap on us. It stinks, but out of it we might gain knowledge, insight, opportunities, money, or something else that helps our career. Note: never put up with crap just for the money. There must be some other benefits.

At my company, we once had a client who treated everyone like crap (except his bosses). He was a bully who yelled at people, treated them rudely, and made incredible demands. But he was also a loyal client who gave us challenging projects, supported us, and pushed us to do our best. As a result, we produced good work, won awards, and got new clients. Out of his crap came some roses.

So, Kine, are there any roses to keep you there? If you persist through the crap, will the four years you’ve already invested start to flower? If so, maybe it’s worth staying. But, don’t stay just because of the time you’ve invested. That’s the past. If you look ahead and take your knowledge to another company, it could breathe new life into your career.

The bottom line is, if you’re getting crap from someone ask yourself, “Am I getting any roses out of this?” If the answer is yes, then maybe it’s worth hanging in there. If not, get out and move on. Life stinks if you spend it in a toilet.

Bad Luck – A Springboard for Success

In a previous post about adversity, I talked about how the bad luck of being injured and not able to run fast led me to take some good photos. Here is another story about how bad luck led Finbarr O’Reilly to win World Press Photo of the Year.

A picture can be worth a thousand words when it comes to inspiring people to get involved in foreign aid. Photographer Finbarr O’Reilly was shooting in Africa to show the world the plight of people suffering from famine and starvation. Unlike them, he had food, but it was not good food and he was struck by food poisoning. It made him so sick and weak that he was unable to travel out to villages and take photographs, and he ended up crashing in an emergency-feeding tent. He says, “I spent about 2 or 3 hours in this tent, where there were a dozen women and their infants who were all severely malnourished. I didn’t have the strength to go out, so I sat around in this tent for much longer than I would have otherwise.”

But Finbarr didn’t just sit there feeling sorry for himself. He kept his eyes open, observed the women and children, and empathized with them. A mother sat down across from him, holding her malnourished child. The boy raised his tiny, emaciated fingers to his mother’s lips. Finbarr says, “I felt like there was an interesting moment that was about to happen.” He found enough energy to pick up his camera and click. Later, that image won World Press Photo of the Year, in competition with over 83,000 others. So, the bad luck of getting food poisoning led Finbarr to an award for best in the world – and gave the world a haunting image of the famine to help mobilize relief efforts.

There’s a myth that successful people have good luck. But interestingly, success often results from bad luck, because it can push us to problem solve and take us in new directions. So, when we’re hit in the face by adversity, sure we can sit around complaining and feeling sorry for ourselves. But only for about ten minutes. Then we need to get up, take action, and do something that might turn the bad luck into a springboard for success.

Finbarr O'Reilly © Reuters

Running through adversity

I’ve always wanted to see Cambodia and its temples of Angkor Wat, the lost civilization that was rediscovered in the jungle. So, when my wife and I heard there was an Angkor Wat half-marathon, we rushed to sign up. Not only would we see the wonderful old temples, we would get to run around them. And it was for a good cause – artificial limbs for landmine survivors.

But then, two weeks before the race, I pulled a calf muscle on a run and could barely limp home. So, should we cancel the trip and do it next year, or persist and see if I could finish the run, even walking? No brainer. Persist!

Doctors say that runners make terrible patients. They should really call us “impatients,” because we’re so impatient we won’t stop running long enough to heal. And that same impatience also makes us go out too fast at the beginning of a race. I’d done it before with a minor calf injury – didn’t let it heal and went out too fast at the start of the next race – and the minor injury turned into a major one when searing pain brought me to a crashing halt halfway to the finish line.

This time I needed to squelch the desire to run a fast time. But how? The answer was sitting on the table in front of me. My camera! Maybe carrying a camera might shift my mindset from fast-run-mode to photo-mode. So, I tried it on race day and it worked. I kept stopping to take photos, which gave my calf a break, and focusing on the people and scenery took my mind off the pain.

I talked to the local people lining the road and high-fived the kids. My male ego didn’t even get pissed off that other runners were passing me, because now I viewed them as photo subjects rather than competitors. As I hobbled over the finish line, it was one of my slowest times, but I didn’t even care because I had such a great time. And I have some good photos that would not have happened without the injury.

Adversity really sucks, but not being able to do one thing often pushes us to problem solve and try something else that results in a different kind of success. As the great Dale Carnegie once said, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”

(Click here to see a few photos of the run, people and temples.)

Congratulations Helen Upperton!

Last night I was glued to the Olympic women’s bobsleigh races as Upperton and Brown won silver, and Humphries and Moyse won gold. The two teams made history as the first Canadian women to win Olympic medals in women’s bobsleigh. I cheered for them all as they stood on the podium, and especially Helen Upperton.

Helen’s sister Louise used to work for us, and one day she brought her “little sister” into the office to help out for a few weeks. Helen typed some of my research and interviews about success and we discussed them as she did office chores. She loved athletics, but was still trying to figure out what to do with her life. After she left, Louise kept telling us what she was up to, and one day exclaimed, “Helen is going to try bobsled racing.” She had stumbled into it when a friend suggested it, not even realizing that women participated in the sport. She discovered she loved it, but it has been a long haul with many disappointments. In the last Olympics she came fourth and missed getting a medal by 5 one-hundredths of a second. Imagine! Here’s part of an email Helen sent out at the time, four years ago:

“Helen Upperton”
Date: Wed, 22 Feb 2006
Subject: Sigh!!!! It’s over…

Hi everyone,

Well, It’s done. It came and went in a whirlwind of emotion, adrenaline, excitement, fear, disappointment, joy…basically everything you could imagine. At first I was so happy. We just came 4th at the Olympic games. This is so amazing. And then it started to dawn on me…I missed a medal by 5 one-hundredths of a second…I couldn’t believe it. I was so sad. I stood and watched the other teams get their flowers and stand on the podium, and thought that it was almost me. So close… Sigh.


Well, Hels, now it is you. You persisted through the downtimes, worked hard, practiced like crazy, stood on the podium and made history. Wow!  A big congratulations!

Persisting Through Disabilities

I just saw a video of Nick Vujicic, an amazing man who happily lives life without arms or legs. While watching it, I had an instant flashback to yesterday when my wife and I were out for a walk. We saw a man coming towards us and he had a metal, high-tech arm that was glistening in the sun. In the old days, we would have thought “disabled.” Now we thought, “That’s cool.” It has taken a long time, but the way society views disabilities is finally changing. On the other hand, I was training to run a half marathon next weekend, except now I have a bad case of heel spurs and can barely walk, let alone run. Guess the perception of disabilities that affect me personally hasn’t changed. They suck! The trick is to persist through them and keep going, just like Nick.

Click here to see Nick Vujicic video

What's the Difference between the Unsuccessful and the Super Successful? (besides better clothes)

Matt Moore in Australia writes, “You’ve spent a lot of time hanging out with successful people. Did you ever look for unsuccessful people who followed your 8 traits and did not become Bill Gates, etc.?”

Good question, Matt. In addition to spending a lot of time hanging out with successful people, I also interviewed some unsuccessful people, in order to get a point of comparison. Some were homeless men and women and others were people I met who had not achieved success, no matter how you measure it. Their responses indicated they didn’t follow any of the 8 success principles. They were doing jobs they didn’t like; they didn’t work hard, had no focus, sat back in their comfort zones instead of pushing themselves, and didn’t try to improve. They were only out to help themselves rather than serve others, and they tended to give up rather than persist. So, there was a high correlation between not doing the 8 Traits and not achieving success.

On the other hand, with the successful people I interviewed there was a high correlation between following the 8 principles and achieving success. Did all the people who followed those principles reach Bill Gates kind of success? No, everything is a matter of degrees, including success. In any endeavor, we can achieve: 1. Small success. 2. Moderate success. 3. Big success. 4. Super success. And be careful not to look down on those who achieve small or moderate success. Big success is built on a foundation of small successes and we need to pass through 1 and 2 before we reach 3 or 4. As Bill Gates says, “We took one step at a time and made the software better and better.”

So, if successful people follow the 8 Traits, what differentiates the ones who achieve super success from those who achieve moderate success? Again, it’s a question of degree. The Gates and Oprahs of the world not only do the 8 Traits, they do them to a greater degree than other people. They love what they do more than most people. They work more hours (even after he was a multimillionaire, Bill Gates worked most nights until 10pm and only took 2 weeks off in 7 years). The super successful focus more, push themselves more, come up with more ideas, improve more, serve others more, and persist more. They do the 8 to a greater degree, and that correlates to a greater degree of success. By the way, this applies to success in any endeavor, from the mother who succeeds big time at creating a family, to the CEO who succeeds big time at creating a company.

You may think, “I’m doing all those 8 things, so how come I’m not super successful?” Well, how long have you been at it? Remember, there’s no overnight success. We need to apply the 8 principles and PERSIST for a long time before achieving any success, let alone BIG success. As EDS founder H. Ross Perot once said, “Most people give up just when they’re about to achieve success. They quit on the one-yard line. They give up at the last minute of the game, one foot from a winning touchdown.” So, if you’re doing everything right, but haven’t succeeded yet, hang in there and persist.

One last point: Forget about achieving “BIG” success, or comparing yourself to the Gates and Oprahs of the world. It just drains energy away from doing the 8 things that really will get you there. Legendary basketball coach John Wooden said, “Don’t compare yourself to somebody else, especially materially. If I’m worrying about the other guy and what he’s doing, and what he’s making, about all the attention he’s getting, I’m not going to be able to do what I’m capable of doing.” So keep your head down, focus on doing the 8 Traits, and build a trail of small achievements. That’s the path to big success. 

Susan Boyle, Average-Looking Angel

When Susan Boyle walked onto the stage of Britain’s Got Talent, the audience saw a dowdy, middle-aged woman who announced she was unemployed, had never been married, and “never been kissed.” They instantly wrote her off as having no chance of success as a singer. But when I saw Susan I suspected she’d be great. Why? Because she’s not great-looking. She’s an ALP, an Average-Looking Person, and my research shows that the top people in any field are usually ALPs, not BLPs or Beautiful-Looking People.

Yes, contrary to popular belief, being good-looking doesn’t lead to success and may even hinder it. My book Stupid, Ugly, Unlucky, and RICH has many examples. But you don’t have to believe me. Just go on the web and look at photos of the world’s richest people (of course, money isn’t the only indicator of success, but it’s one of them). It’s hard to find a good-looking billionaire. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Rupert Murdoch are not head turners, just average people you wouldn’t look at twice. And even though they’re among the world’s top CEOs, they would never be chosen by a Hollywood casting agent to play the part of a CEO in a movie or TV show. They’re simply not good-looking enough. Of course, Hollywood has it all wrong. In the real world, it’s the average-looking people who make it to the top.

Why do average-looking people finish ahead of the beautiful ones? Because many beautiful people sit back in their comfort zones, rest on their looks, and float through life. Doors are opened for them. They get the best seats at restaurants. They automatically get noticed, so they never learn to do the 8 things that really will help them succeed, like WORK hard and PUSH themselves. Meanwhile, the average-looking people, like Susan Boyle, have to work their butts off and keep pushing themselves in order to get noticed – and in the end that takes them further than looks ever would. I’m not saying good looks won’t help you get a date. I’m just saying, if you want to succeed, the top 8 Success Factors are much more important than looks. PERSIST is one of those factors and it took Susan Boyle, this average-looking woman, 47 years of persistence to be able to sing like an angel, blow an audience away, and prove herself. Hats off to Susan!

How I Met Bill Gates

Ten years ago, I wrote to Microsoft and asked for an interview with Bill Gates. They sent me a rejection letter that said, “Bill really appreciates your interest in his perspectives on what it takes to succeed, but he regretfully must decline.” It was such a nice letter, I wasn’t even discouraged. I thought, “I’ll just keep doing my research and maybe some day I’ll get to talk to Bill.”

Well, that day was today. At the TED conference, I walked around a corner and stumbled into Bill Gates. I went up to him and introduced myself, we chatted for a while, and I told him about our 8 To Be Great Educational Program for colleges.

Then I said, “Would you like a copy of my book, 8 To Be Great?” But, as the words came out, I noticed he had no briefcase or bag to carry a book. So, what did I do? I stupidly tried to talk one of the world’s most influential people out of taking my book!  I said, “Well, maybe it’s too hard for you to carry.” Bill said, “How big is it?” I said, “It’s small,” and dug into my backpack for a book. He took it, looked at it, and said, “Thank you! I’ll read it.” And he was very sincere.

A few hours later, a man came up to me and said, “I just saw Bill Gates, and he was carrying your book under his arm.” Needless to say, it made my day. But not because it’s “my” book. Because it might help get the content out to more young people who are struggling, and give them a boost in life.