Barack Obama on success: Not a marathon or sprint, but a ‘relay race’

Former U.S. President Barack Obama and Prince Harry on day 7 of the Invictus Games 2017 on September 29, 2017 in Toronto, Canada
Chris Jackson | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

As the popular saying goes, "Success is a marathon, not a sprint." While some say you need to be consistent for a continual period of time, others say it's important to go all out in order to quickly achieve your goals. Still, others says you need both.

But former president Barack Obama twists the metaphor in a recent interview with Prince Harry of the U.K. royal family. Obama describes successful leadership as a relay race, which is a team sport rather than an individual one.

Speaking in an interview for BBC Radio 4, the former commander-in-chief says that he was simply completing one leg as a "relay-runner."

"There is the sense sometimes in any position of leadership that you by yourself do certain things and then it's over," he tells Prince Harry. "I always viewed it as a taking the baton from a whole range of people who have come before."

Admittedly, he says, some of those people who had come before him had "screwed up," while others had been "heroic."

On his final day as president, Obama says he didn't feel a sense of relief. "Relief indicates some sense of 'I can't wait until this thing is finished,'" he says.

Instead, he felt a surprising sense of serenity on leaving the White House: "I think there was a sense that we had run a good race."

Though Obama explains that he was pleased with the work he had performed over the past eight years, he admits that he held concerns about the country's future.

The fact that he and his wife Michelle Obama hadn't fundamentally changed was a satisfying feeling, he says, but it was mixed with "all the work that was still undone and concerns about how the country moves forward."

Alluding back to the race metaphor, he tells Prince Harry that as a leader, if you run hard enough, do your best and can pass the baton successfully with everything a bit better off, you can be proud.

"And I think we were able to do that," says Obama.

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