01 Mar 2018

Turning Point: One Step at a Time

by Christina Wallace (MBA 2010)


Christina Wallace (MBA 2010)
(illustration by Gisela Goppel)

I cheated on the mile run in junior high gym class. I was a chubby girl who spent every moment of free time practicing piano, reading Nancy Drew, and flipping math flashcards. Kids and adults alike had told me I just “wasn’t athletic,” and that was OK—I was smart and talented in other ways. So when the time came for that mandatory mile run I had to get creative.

We didn’t have a gym at my small parochial school, so the teacher determined four laps of the parking lot would work just as well. Luckily this meant I had plenty of places to hide. I found a tree a few hundred feet beyond the starting line and ducked for cover. Then I spritzed myself with water to ensure that I was appropriately sweaty and jogged out for the last lap. It worked.

Later I attended a boarding school for the arts, where I could take ballet instead of gym class. Sports, and running in particular, were just not a thing I was meant to do. This was a fact. An incredulous college roommate tried to coax me around the track one warm autumn night, but I gave up after a quarter of a mile and plopped down, wheezing with self-righteousness.

Sports, and running in particular, were just not a thing I was meant to do. This was a fact.

Sports, and running in particular, were just not a thing I was meant to do. This was a fact.

Then at 24 I started at HBS. During those opening weeks of first year I met several hundred of my classmates and discovered something unexpected: The proportion that had run marathons or climbed Kilimanjaro was statistically improbable within a random sampling of people. These Herculean feats of endurance were recited as so pedestrian that I suspected one of two things was true: Either the admissions committee was biased toward athletes, or these activities were things that could be accomplished by any human who dedicated herself to the task.

In other words, I discovered the difference between the “fixed mindset” and the “growth mindset,” as Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has framed it. So I decided to figure out how to be athletic.

My first visit to Shad involved a miserable 13-minute mile around the track while getting lapped by a former Olympian. On my second visit, a classmate, alarmed by my heavy breathing, asked if I had asthma. (I don’t.) By my third, I discovered the quiet hour at the gym where I could work out in relative solitude.

After that third visit, something clicked: The way to get better at running is to run. And I made a few discoveries. First, the key to running a marathon is to start at the starting line, putting one foot in front of the other until you hit the finish. Everyone has a different take on training protocol, but for me all that mattered was that I believed I could do it and therefore decided not to quit. Second, training is more about mindset than physiology. I spent more effort reprogramming my inner monologue at mile 12 than building muscle or cardiovascular endurance. Conveniently, that mindset shift was as applicable in the final hours of summiting Kilimanjaro as it was in the most challenging moments of my startup career. Third, I’m not fast, but that’s not the point.

Nine years later I’ve run 22 half-marathons, 3 full marathons, and 3 Olympic-distance triathlons, as well as climbed Kilimanjaro and trekked to Everest Base Camp. Have I ever finished first, or even in the top 10 percent? Ha! No. For someone who not so secretly likes to be the best at things, it is a humbling truth to accept that I’ll never be “above average” in this part of my life. But cultivating a practice of endurance and resilience has paid dividends far beyond the physical.

Christina Wallace is vice president of growth at Bionic and cohost of The Limit Does Not Exist, a podcast focused on the interaction of STEM and the arts.

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 2010, Section B
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