It all started two weeks ago. We were having a lunchtime cookout at ReluTech HQ to celebrate the Atlanta Braves home opener. There was an intense game of corn hole being played on one side of the patio, but I was more concerned with snagging a hot dog and some cookie cake. But my ears perked up when I heard my name: “Sarah will do it!” I could hear Mark Metz, our CEO, exclaim.
A group of employees had signed up to participate in the Atlanta Tough Mudder on April 26. For the uninitiated, Tough Mudder is a 12-mile obstacle course designed to test all-around strength, stamina, teamwork, and pure guts. The obstacles play on common human fears, such as water, electricity, and heights. Our team needed a couple of more participants, and somehow I had found myself volunteered as a tribute. To give you an idea of what a Tough Mudder race entails, here are some of their “signature” obstacles:
Obviously, my first reaction to being drafted for this sadistic torture-fest was a petrified “HELL NO.” But you can’t say that to your CEO. So, I smiled and said, “Sure.”
Tough Mudder is way more than just a fitness challenge. The founders, Will Dean and Guy Livingstone, contend that it’s a set of values lived out not only on the course, but also in everyday life. It’s kind of hard to see how crawling under barbed wire through puddles of mud or running through a maze of live wires carrying up to 10,000 volts relates to corporate culture, but Dean actually came up with the idea for Tough Mudder while he was a student at Harvard Business School.
He originally set out to create something that was “Ironman-meets-Burning Man” and what resulted was Tough Mudder. Unlike more individualistic marathons and triathlons, Tough Mudder is all about teamwork and accomplishing something as a group. It’s a test of endurance that forces you to push your boundaries and get outside of your comfort zone. I was terrified to compete, but I was going to give it my best shot. To quote one of the greatest hockey players Regional Managers of all time:
A few months back, Mark Metz wrote a blog about BHAGs, or “Big Hairy Audacious Goals.” Coined by famous author Jim Collins in his book “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies,” a true BHAG is “clear and compelling, serves as a unifying focal point of effort, and acts as a clear catalyst for team spirit.” Collins goes on to say, “It has a clear finish line, so the organization can know when it has achieved the goal; people like to shoot for finish lines.”
In this case, I was shooting for a literal finish line. In his blog, Mark actually mentions the Tough Mudder race specifically. He makes the point that when setting a goal, obstacles should always be expected. However, you can’t use those obstacles as excuses for not accomplishing your goal. Going into the Tough Mudder, I had no idea what I was up against. I was willfully ignorant. All I knew was that I was going to finish the race with my team; that was my BHAG. Being challenged in life is inevitable, but being defeated is optional. A challenge only becomes an obstacle when you surrender to it.
That is the Tough Mudder mentality. We don’t grow when things are easy, we grow when we face challenges—and when we rise to meet them. Before the start of the race, the Tough Mudder hypeman (not sure what else to call him, but sidenote—how do you get that job?!) led the group in reciting the Tough Mudder pledge:
I understand that Tough Mudder is not a race, but a challenge.
I put teamwork and camaraderie before my course time.
I do not whine–kids whine.
I help my fellow mudders complete the course.
I overcome all fears.
There are some implicit cultural values shared by everyone who works here at ReluTech and they actually bear a striking resemblance to the Tough Mudder pledge. We’re determined, fearless, resilient, and—above all—team players. Another trait we value is something that we vaguely refer to as “hustle.” It’s a combination of actions and a mindset that some may describe as scrappy, competitive, or grit. Someone with hustle is relentless in their pursuit of ambitious goals; they are hungry to succeed and are willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. Some may call this character trait “tough.”
The Tough Mudder race was an incredible test of strength and willpower. I’m not going to lie to you, it was not easy. I plunged headfirst into a tight, dark tube and then into a pool of ice-cold water that nearly immobilized me. I scaled a 16-foot wooden wall using nothing but a rope and a leg up from one of my coworkers. I dove into a treacherous, shoe-stealing quagmire of a mud pit and slogged over mound after mound, lending a hand to the people behind me to help them get over, too. By the end of it, I was scratched, bruised, filthy, a little bloody, and tired as hell. But more than anything, I was proud of what I had just accomplished—it was totally worth it.
The best part of it all? We were getting muddy for a good cause. Service and sacrifice are two huge underlying themes of the Tough Mudder event series. Throughout the race, you are encouraged to help your fellow Mudders overcome all the rigorous obstacles together, but the Tough Mudder organization is also committed to giving back to the community in a much larger sense. This year we partnered with Promise686, an Atlanta nonprofit on a mission to mobilize and serve churches and families to meet the needs of orphans and foster children, both locally and abroad. Together with a handful of other companies, we formed a team to compete in the challenge and raise money to secure much-needed resources for underserved and at-risk children.
To borrow some words from Winston Churchill, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” At work, we set brave goals and work tirelessly to accomplish them. When you achieve great levels of success, we believe you are granted the privilege, opportunity, and responsibility to give something greater back to the world. Currently, the Promise686 team is 76 percent of the way towards their fundraising goal of $200,000—but it’s not too late to donate! Your contribution—however big or small—will help equip churches and families with the resources to care for vulnerable orphans and foster children. You can learn more by visiting their website here.
Life and business can be a lot like an obstacle course—there will always be roadblocks and sometimes the journey will push you to the edge of your limits. But with enough strength, perseverance, hard work, and support, we are capable of accomplishing even the loftiest of goals. And when we reach those goals, it’s our duty to pay it forward and help someone else reach theirs. That’s true toughness.