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Personal Development
fall 2021

Capacity: Fuel To Go The Distance

Life’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint—You Need to Prepare Yourself for the Long Haul
Written by: Louis Carr

Capability is essential if you are going to be successful at anything; you have got to have what it takes. But capability is not enough on its own. You also need sustainability—enough of what it takes to keep doing it when others run out of steam, to go the distance. Take a sprinter who bursts out of the starting block faster than anyone else. It’s all very well being ahead in the first few yards, but it’s still being there when you cross the finish line that really matters. Call it capacity.

We don’t spend enough time on the fine art of scaling [skills]—ensuring they can go the distance.


From my years in business and mentorship, I have observed that while there is a lot of emphasis on developing people’s skills, and rightly so, we don’t spend enough time on the fine art of scaling them—ensuring they can endure.

This oversight has become more clear to me over the last 18 months. The coronavirus pandemic and resulting financial hardships, and the terrible racial tensions the country experienced, left many people feeling overwhelmed and stretched to the breaking point. They didn’t have enough capacity to cope with what was being asked of them.

The shortfall seems to be especially acute among young people, from my observation. Maybe that’s because we older folks haven’t done a good enough job in preparing them. Part of it might have something to do with them having grown up in such an “instant” culture, where you don’t have to wait for anything, or persevere.
Either way, we owe it to them to help them recognize the need for and learn how to develop capacity, if they are to become all they can be.

Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines it as: “The ability to hold or contain people or thing: the largest amount or number that can be held or contained the ability to do something: a mental, emotional, or physical ability.”
I first became aware of my own need to develop capacity years ago, through a demanding work schedule

My busy week started with a six o’clock Monday morning flight from Chicago to Washington, D.C. I’d arrive in time for a 10 a.m. meeting that lasted all day, then head back to the airport and fly on to New York City. By the time I arrived at my hotel, I would have been up and on the go for 18 hours… and it was still only the first day of the week.
I knew that drive and determination wouldn’t be enough to sustain me indefinitely. I needed to do some things differently; I needed to expand my capacity. Having been to college on a track scholarship, I was aware that it was possible to increase my performance—and that the process may not be entirely comfortable.

Planning ahead

First, I began to plan ahead, preparing myself in advance, mentally and physically. I made sure that I had packed everything I needed ahead of time, on Sunday. I ensured that I got enough rest, so I wasn’t starting the week already tired.

Looking at my coming schedule, I worked out when and what I should be eating to keep me well fueled; for example, I realized those doughnuts I grabbed at the airport had to go, because the sugar rush wasn’t good for me in the long haul.

While better time management was crucial, it wasn’t the only thing. I knew I also needed to expand my emotional capacity. I was impatient, but getting bent out of shape because I was stuck in traffic on my way to a meeting wasn’t going to help me. Acknowledging ahead of time that there might be things beyond my control reduced some of the level of frustration I experienced when they did occur.

When you look ahead and adjust your expectations in the light of what’s realistic, you can reduce the intensity of your reaction if things do go wrong. And, I realized, I could be prepared enough so that I could use any forced “down time” by making calls or catching up on important reading. I could get something done rather than fume about what I wasn’t going to be able to do.

Building muscle

This kind of anticipation shouldn’t just be short-term. It’s good to look at what you need to get through the next week or the next month, but what about what you are going to need for the next season of life, when you step up to another level?

What was enough for you as an entry-level employee won’t be enough when you get promoted to a manager. What works for a manager won’t be enough for a junior vice president, and so on up through the levels.

I first learned this when I went to college. I hadn’t done much reading in high school, to be honest—other than for CliffsNotes! So you can probably imagine my shock when I got to college and learned I had to read eight whole books for just one class. I just about fell out of my chair.

I realized that if I was doing the bare minimum at level one, there was just no way it was going to be enough when I stepped up to level two. I needed to be building my capacity, like a weightlifter. They don’t think, “Well, I bench-pressed 200 pounds. Think I will stop there.” They always want to add another plate to that bar—and that means working their muscles, strengthening them for what is to come.

This change in my attitude and actions wasn’t all a quick fix. But over time, I recognized that I was increasing my capacity, which was increasing my overall effectiveness.

Enlisting help
As a leader today, I encourage people to apply themselves to developing their sustainability, and not just for their work life. If we don’t have the capacity to handle what is on our plates at work, that is going to spill over negatively into the rest of our lives. We’re not going to have what we need for our families and friends and other pursuits.
There has to be some intentionality. Runners don’t get quicker or develop more stamina just by wishing it were so. They do so by training on the track and in the weight room, even on days when they don’t feel like it.

And just as an athlete doesn’t improve on his or her own, you won’t be able to really build your capacity without some outside help. Someone who can observe, ask the hard questions, offer advice and then hold you accountable. Different aspects of your life—physical, emotional, financial—may need people with different skills to come alongside.

If capacity is the bucket you need to keep filled, then you may find there are little holes in the bottom of yours that can cause it to leak. Distraction is a big one— wasting time on things that aren’t really important. What they may be depends on your circumstances: some people say television is a distraction, but it’s sure been good for me!

Be open to learning new things even if they don’t seem immediately applicable today.

Avoiding distractions

While focus is super-important, I encourage young people not to become too narrow-sighted. Be open to learning new things even if they don’t seem immediately applicable today. You don’t use everything you learned in school your first year out.

It’s like building up a library of knowledge that may come in useful some day. Some people are surprised to learn that I graduated with a degree in journalism, but here I am years later using some of that education as publisher of WayMaker Journal.

The more knowledge you have, the greater your capability. And I believe that you’ll be more curious, which is a sometimes overlooked but huge factor in success in any field. Innovation begins with a question like, “Why not…” or “What if?”

Having disciplined myself, I have significantly developed my capacity over the years. I can work long and hard and not feel exhausted at the end of the week. In fact, I typically feel energized, because I know I have been operating at the best of my capability and capacity.

When I watch sports, I’m looking for the athletes’ capacity. That’s what it is all about in the big games—how the stars have developed their physical, mental, and emotional capacity to be the ones who can make a difference when it counts. To be the winners.

I remember basketball great Larry Bird being asked one time why he had been born. That was easy, he answered—he had been born for three seconds left, one down. He knew he had the capability and the capacity to make the winning shot.

Not all of us are Larry Birds, but we all have the ability to increase our capacity. When I was probably in sixth grade, a teacher said that we humans typically use only around 10% of our brain’s capacity, and that fact really stuck with me. Imagine what we might achieve, individually and together, if we increased that—not just mentally, but in every way—by 10%, 20%, or even 50%.

Louis Carr is President of Media Sales at BET Networks, founder of the WayMaker movement, and publisher of WayMaker Journal.