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  • Writer's pictureAnne Fitzgibbon


Updated: Nov 14, 2018


As the New York City marathon approaches, I’ve been thinking about the similarities between marathon running and entrepreneurship. Apart from the obvious -- i.e., they are literally and figuratively about taking small steps toward an ambitious, long-term goal -- they also require a similar type of preparation for success.

Clarity of Purpose

It’s been many years since my last New York City marathon, but every year on marathon Sunday, I get up early, clutch a hot cup of tea, and curl up on my couch to watch the chilly runners gather at the start in Staten Island. My favorite part is hearing the stories of why they run -- and everyone’s got one.

I ran my first marathon in 1999 because I was turning 30. The next year, I ran to mark the millennium. In 2001, I ran to be part of the City’s post-9/11 show of strength. Whether we run to honor a loved one, note a milestone, or celebrate a recovery from illness, the bottom line is that what drives marathoners is almost always something personal.

Entrepreneurship also starts with purpose. As Simon Sinek explains in his book, Start with Why, it’s the meaning behind our efforts that drives us and invites others to connect personally with our mission. When I first founded the Harmony Program, I often spoke of what we were doing: providing children with music lessons. But, after witnessing the broad impact of El Sistema on children and communities in Venezuela, I re-centered my attention on why music mattered: it offers children hope, security, and opportunity.

Identifying and sharing our purpose is what engages and unites us.


A successful marathoner can only control so much. Even if you adhere 100 percent to your training schedule, there are good days and bad days. Two weeks before my first marathon, I came down with bronchitis. My doctor said, “I know you’re going to run, so my goal is to help you do it safely.” And, by adjusting my training and acknowledging my limitations, I was able to finish the race.

Being resilient is essential to entrepreneurs as well. You have to make peace with impediments and disappointment because you're pretty much guaranteed, at some point, to have your mission tested, your resources stretched, and your proposals rejected. Expect these challenges and many others. What will determine your success is how you respond to, and recover from, these set-backs.

The reason I moved to Venezuela to study El Sistema in 2007 was to improve the Harmony Program's quality and viability. As difficult as it was to acknowledge our weaknesses and re-imagine my model, ultimately I changed nearly every aspect of the organization -- from its logo to its leadership -- and the results were well worth the detour.

We all need a plan, but being willing to adjust it as we go

puts us in the best position to succeed.


In my third marathon, I “hit the wall” as I entered the Bronx where the crowds grew thin and shouts of “just six more miles” sounded more menacing than encouraging.

Just as I stopped for water and wondered if I’d ever get going again, a young woman I had met at the start ran over to me. Although she was still feeling strong and able to run faster than I could, she offered to join me, saying “It’ll be much more fun to finish together.” The marathon can be said to be an individual sport, but it’s the generous spirit it inspires in its runners that makes it feel like one big team of 50,000.

Being an entrepreneur can feel like a solitary effort sometimes, too. But there is strength in collaboration. Indeed, partnerships have been indispensable to the work of the Harmony Program. And, in the decade since my return from Venezuela, a community of entrepreneurs, similarly inspired by El Sistema, has exploded around the world aided by organizations like El Sistema USA, El Sistema Global, and the Global Leaders Program.

Building a network of support can magnify our efforts

and connect us to a greater cause.

Finishing the marathon was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. The lessons I learned from my training -- to reach beyond my perceived limits, to bounce back from discouragement, and to seek out and accept support -- have been valuable preparation for founding and leading the Harmony Program.

So, my advice to aspiring entrepreneurs on this NYC marathon weekend is to take these ideas ... and run with them.



  • Listen to Simon Sinek’s TED talk, How Great Leaders Inspire Action:

  • Identify three organizations and/or networks that can help advance your efforts

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You make excellent points, Anne. Very fine advice for anyone engaged in complex and difficult endeavors.

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