May 11, 2022

Just Finish

Just Finish

Just Finish

Nathan King

In track races, a photo finish is exciting, but have you considered the excitement of watching who finishes last?

You see it most in the middle and long distance races like the 1,600 (mile), 4 laps around the track. A few people vie for first, thrilling spectators when someone trailing surges to take the lead. Then come a few clusters of runners. Long after everyone has finished, even as the crowd grows restless, some poor soul crosses the finish line.

The emotional experience in watching the last place runner finish the race is surprisingly compelling.

It's the act of finishing.

The last place runner begins the race no different from all the other runners at the starting line. From all appearances, all the runners begin the race in pursuit of fame and glory, to impress the ladies, to earn acclaim. But in that final moment of closing the race well behind the others, only grim determination remains. Without knowing the person, hearing any words, seeing any facial expression, I see a person's heart. The runner races not to defeat others, but to overcome his own fears, his own resistance, his own limits. He races to finish.

And in that I take three points of inspiration from the last place runner.

1. Pursue outcomes that have deep meaning.

The last place finisher runs for something other than gold. He knows he can't win even before he starts the race. The race has essentially finished when the last place finisher still has a half lap or more to go.

I am so often tempted to act for the purpose of recognition, or fame. These runners have set that aside, and run for a much deeper reason. Doing the work when you are last among your fellow runners, and accepting that, is a surrender.

It can feel like death. And the courage to let a quest for fame die and endure the hardship of running for something else is a deeper layer of satisfaction.

2. Challenge yourself in public.

The last place finisher knows he is not the best and has no chance for victory, but has committed to running publicly. Why not just run the race around the neighborhood where no one can see how slow you are relative to elite runners? Because it is public for a specified outcome, and this creates accountability.

So often I deceive myself that I need to work in private until my work is good enough – championship level – to make it public.

But the probability of finishing is so much higher if I act in public.

I've started initiatives and quit in private, thinking "I'm the worst," or "this is pointless." Maybe that's true, but life is a richer experience when you complete challenging projects than when you don't.

By running the race, the last place finisher reframes the race. It's not about defeating other people, it's about defeating himself.

3. Belonging to a community is important to finishing the race.

It's not always obvious in the race itself, but getting to the race itself is impossible without a community of runners to prepare together. Of all the metaphorical races I've not run but wanted to, of all the times I started aiming for a race but quit, a common theme was that I sought out the race without community. Community helps you finish.

The most moving example of community support for a last place finish is the 400m race from the 1992 Olympics

Talk about emotional.

What will you take on that you are willing to finish in last place?

When I attend a race, I think I’m there to experience the thrill of victory. But instead I experience a deeper element of humanity. I'm not alone in this: the last place finisher gets more support than the people who finished in the middle of the pack. I see myself in those who finish last. I feel an empathy and a connection.

Here’s to finishing last.




I help leaders and teams achieve clarity and alignment so they can reach their potential


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