The Last 10%

I was nearing the end of my three-mile run (I’m no marathon candidate), and was feeling awful. Tired, hot, sore, and ready to throw in the towel. Looking at the fitness app on my phone, I realized that I only had 10% remaining. As much as I wanted to quit, I forged ahead and completed the full run as planned. That moment of difficulty, angst, and exhaustion at the 90% mark is a place where many of us stop in fitness, business, and life.

This inflection point got me thinking… how many of us do 90% of the work but give up just before we win the prize? Think of the lawyer who studied hard, made it through law school, landed the job at a great firm, did solid work for a client, but ultimately lost in court when success was only that last 10% away. Or the sales executive who conquered B-school, mastered all the jargon, scored a prized gig at a great company, leaned the product features, but then lost the big deal to a competitor when that last 10% could have changed the outcome in her favor.

I firmly believe that many of us are within that last 10% zone, but may not even know how close victory is. We’ve done the hard work to make it this far, but too often fall short in giving that last burst of energy to conquer our challenges or seize our opportunities.

Instead of producing ‘acceptable’ work or stopping when you’re tired, or you feel like you’ve given it enough, think of the fatigue as a signal to forge ahead. You’ve already done the vast majority of the sacrifice, endured the lion’s share of the suffering. The point where you want to quit is a signpost telling you that you’re awfully close to the target.

In boxing, the last stretch of a fight has a special name: the championship rounds. These last two rounds separate the history-makers from the also-rans. They provide a platform to dig deep and fight through adversity in order to earn the title of champ. Tackle your greatest victories by fighting through that last 10%, giving it everything you have until you finish strong.

Those that suffer through the last 10% of hardship are the ones who enjoy what only 10% of elite performs earn: success at the highest levels. The last 10% is hard on purpose, encouraging those who deserve the victory to fight for it. Seize your own championship by forging ahead at the very point where most other quit. The extra pain will only last a little longer, but the win will be permanent.