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How Helping Others Can Help You Succeed

No, for real. It’s science.

Who knew that one of my favorite toys growing up would be a perfect metaphor for teamwork?

I know, I know, it’s been a few weeks since the 2018 Boston Marathon, but my wife shared a Story from the race with me the other day and neither of us can stop talking about it. Partially because it’s an inspirational feel-good story in a time where we could all use more of those, but I think mainly because we’re both trying to fully understand the philosophy behind it. It’s truly remarkable.

So here’s the deal: there’s a professional female distance runner named Shalane Flanagan. She’s considered to be a kind of veteran in the field and has, for almost ten years, mentored a growing community of younger female distance runners to help them improve, run stronger, run faster, and win. Because of her, there’s been a spike in overall qualifications, Olympic appearances, and top three finishes. It’s more than just an idea, she’s doing it and getting results.

So, she’s kind of like a “team mom” except for one thing: she’s also out there running crazy fast and trying her best to leave you in her dust.

She’s helping her competition?

Yes, well, not really. It depends on how you define “competition.” She doesn’t see other racers as her competition, she sees the race itself as the competition.

This is what a leader is — someone who sees that if everyone gets better, then everyone can continue to keep getting better. Someone who has the rock-solid confidence needed to help those around them improve, instead of just being concerned with how they stand out from the group. Someone who has the vision, insight, and love for the field to know that being the best of a mediocre group is worth exactly zero shits.

Flanagan knew that Helping the larger group helps her, too. If everyone steps up their game together, then everyone can rise to new challenges together. This attitude and philosophy has earned her incredible loyalty and respect in the field of running. So much so, that her mentees are always looking for ways to pay it forward — or even back to her.

In this year’s Boston Marathon, Flanagan was tapped mid-race by friend and mentee, Desi Linden. Linden told Flanagan that she didn’t have it today and might drop out. If there was anything she could do to help Flanagan in the meantime, she’d be happy to do it.

Flanagan obliged. Linden ran alongside her for miles and even slowed down to wait when Flanagan had to use the bathroom mid-race. There they were, with Linden’s focus no longer on winning the race, but rather on helping her friend and mentor, Flanagan.

But then something started happening.

Linden started getting her legs back under her. She started feeling good. Then she started feeling great. Then she started feeling so great that she didn’t drop out like she thought she was going to.

Then, she not only finished, but she went on to win the whole goddamn thing. The first American woman to win in over 30 years.

That’s when sports psychologists everywhere started chirping about the physical and chemical benefits of sportsmanship. Turns out that when you help someone, your brain releases chemicals (endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin, to be specific) that all help increase focus, mood, and motivation, while also reducing pain.

Yep. I’ll have what she’s having.

We all want to help. We all need help.

So helping people isn’t just a selfless act, it can actually give a boost to your own system, too. Ok, that’s not the moral of the story here, but there is a positive chemical reaction that happens when you help someone.

Think about that for a second. That is pretty f**king awesome.

When I started Magic Room Brand a bit over two years ago, I knew I was going to need help. A lot of it. And I still do. Every day. But luckily, I learned somewhere along the way that sometimes helping yourself means helping others. If we’re all better, then we can all continue to get better, avoid pitfalls, and share successes.

Back when I was setting up multiple networking meetings every day for a few months, I was admittedly in a position to get more than I was able to give. Now, every once in a while, I’m on the other side where I can connect people with other people and yeah, it’s kind of nice.

Help can be hard to accept, but it’s easier when you know that accepting it is also giving it.

So do yourself a favor and go offer someone a hand today.

May your path be clear and the winds at your back…


Vijoy Rao || Founder // Magic Room Brand
When you’re doing something you love, never ever compromise.

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How Helping Others Can Help You Succeed was originally published in The Ascent on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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