Compass CEO Robert Reffkin’s impressive career has included a stint in the White House, roles at some of the most well-known companies in the country and the founding of what is now a top-five real estate brokerage. But outside of his business acumen, Reffkin has achieved something arguably equally as impressive: running a marathon in every U.S. state.
In a letter to all Compass employees and agents Monday, Reffkin shared lessons learned not from the board room, but rather, from that monumental physical achievement.
While I’ve been spending more time than ever at home, I’ve been reflecting back to the days when I spent a lot more time outside. Starting in my late 20s, I ran 50 marathons in six years, one in each U.S. state, to raise $1 million for nonprofits. Running all those marathons taught me so much about this country, about myself and about how people push themselves to do big things.
Here are five of the biggest lessons that have stayed with me to this day:
1. Everyone’s running for something
Nobody decides to run 26.2 miles just for the fun of it. In most cases they’re doing it to honor someone they care about, bounce back from a loss or prove the doubters in their life wrong — even if that doubter is themself.
I was running to support young dreams to give back to the non-profits that helped me in my life and to support kids from disadvantaged backgrounds who are trying hard to realize their dreams.
In a world that can discourage them and knock them down, I ran to help pick them back up and show them there are plenty of people that believe in their potential and want to support them.
What are you running for? What’s your underlying motivation that will give you the fuel to work hard when you are tired and want to give up?
2. There are no shortcuts in life
Look, I tried to find every one I could, but in the end, I realized I just had to put one foot in front of the other and keep pushing until I reached the finish line. There’s simply no substitute for hard work.
3. Don’t forget to enjoy the journey
Getting the opportunity to run in each of the United States was unforgettable. It’s not all about crossing the finish line — it’s about the gorgeous views along the way and the beautiful geography and character of each community.
I remember stopping on the beach in Grand Island, Michigan, and breaking down in tears over the sheer beauty of the sun rising over the water. I didn’t finish that marathon as quickly, but I’ll have that memory forever.
4. You have to know yourself to be your best self
To keep a strong and steady pace — and to reserve enough energy to sprint across the finish line — I had to know my own strengths and limits. I had to learn to listen to my body so I could push myself hard without pushing myself past my breaking point.
Rather than looking out and comparing myself to others, I looked within and compared myself to my own potential. That’s the key to going the distance, no matter what you’re doing.
5. No one succeeds alone
I did the running, but my mom Ruth did everything else to make my marathon-running possible: planning the race schedule, booking the flights and the hotels, finding us a place to enjoy a meal together after the race. I couldn’t have completed a single race without my mom, much less all 50 of them. And her being there on the journey with me made the experience so much more special.
I know how hard it is to keep running, mile after mile, race after race. I know that voice in our heads telling us how much easier it’d be to just give up and quit. But I also know the joy and satisfaction that comes from taking on something that seems completely impossible and doing whatever it takes to make it across the finish line — and I know you do, too.
As you keep navigating this marathon of a year, I want you to know that I believe in each of you, and I’m cheering you on every step of the way. And if there’s anything I can do to be helpful, don’t hesitate to reach out.
Robert Reffkin | Founder and CEO
Editor’s note: This letter has been edited for style.
Robert Reffkin is the founder and CEO of Compass. He was inspired to enter the world of real estate by his mother, Ruth, a longtime agent who now proudly works at Compass. Robert completed a B.A. and M.B.A. from Columbia University and worked at McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, and as a White House Fellow.