I’m writing this as the sun is about to rise on the morning following my 50th birthday party. It’s 5:30am. My heart is full and my feet are tender from dancing all night. Supercharged with happy hormones – I’m too full of energy and emotion to sleep yet. Energy always seems infinite when it’s from joy.
Most of the other mornings I recall being still up at 5:30am after going non-stop all night were not after parties, but rather during adventure racing endurance events. Travelling across hundreds of kilometres of wild terrain for days and nights non-stop. Feet tender and body exhausted – and puffy – from anything between 300-600km of continued physical effort, and a maximum of 2h sleep per 24h. I thrived on it – the challenge, the adventure, the adrenaline…
Resilience, pushed to the extreme in relentless forward movement.
‘Progression,’ we called it. Progress…
Supercharged progress under extreme fatigue meant decision making could become a question of life and death at any moment.
In adventure racing, every. second. counts. Other than staying alive, the podium is the goal. It’s all about destination – and arriving as fast as possible, first if possible. Sleep monsters -hallucinations from sleep deprivation – are the medal of honour. Hungry? You’ll get used to it. Scoff a handful of something to eat, refill the water bottle. FAST. Drop the mountain bike for the kayak or the kayak for the climbing ropes, concentrate on the goal, ignore the fatigue and keep going.
I’m not telling you all this just to boast about my exploits. The point I’m trying to make is this:
So many of us are doing a corporate, every-day life version of the adventure race. And particularly one or both of two things which drain the power from our leadership
1) Rushing to finish (everything) and get each task over and done with ASAP so that one day we can finally pause. There is no ‘one day.’ Forgetting that every second counts, but not in the way you think.
2) Keeping going, being hyper resilient, when we would do better to take a real break. Forgetting the secret of elite performance, that rest day is a training day. It’s the pause which provides the space for better decision making.
Back then, in order not to become an extra burden to the team in an already challenging environment, I wouldn’t even consider pausing to take a stone out of my shoe or properly adjust my race kit to avoid chafing, blistering or discomfort. I would just grit my teeth steel myself and bear it, so I wouldn’t be responsible for slowing the team down. This was my narrative and I wore it like a badge of honour:
Just keep going.
Don’t be a bother.
You don’t need anything.
You can do it.
Don’t waste time.
Shut up and get over it.
Grit your teeth
You’ll be fine.
Oh yes, I was fine. Like most doers, I was trained to be fine. The day I limped across the finish line of my last 475km, mountain adventure race – 84 hours after we started and with only 9 hours sleep under my belt – knee swollen to the size of my thigh, shoulder displaced from a hard fall from my bike during the pre-race preliminaries, I was still fine. Hell, I was even smiling. But I was hurt, broken and my achievement had a bitter after taste. Especially as we weren’t even close to a podium.
You might be saying – and rightfully so – ‘She’s crazy, I would never put myself through that sort of effort.’
Only I bet you do! I challenge you to look at your own way of showing up in your life and see if you can recognize some parallels.
Are you relentlessly pushing yourself to get stuff done and explaining it away as not having time to what you want to do? Are you driving yourself to an imaginary finish line that never actually appears?
Do you live in overwhelm?
No time to breathe in between back to back meetings
Striving to get everything done and move forward to the next place.
Rarely pausing to nourish, replenish, rest, or take the stone out of your shoe!
Like me then you are action biased. Nurture built on nature from when we are young. We strive to accomplish. One project after another. One race after another. One summit after another. One meeting after another. One meal after another, one mouthful after another, one book after another, one whatever after another. A consumer of arrivals, done things and making things happen as quickly as possible. Where life is reduced to a ledger of ‘done or not done.’ Each thing I got done, I thought, moved me one step closer to being able to stop and breathe. Find peace.
Ahh but peace is a place to come from, not a place to get to. And every second does count because it is a second of your life.
When I was little I had a recurring dream of being submerged deep under water. My only means of survival was to create a bubble of oxygen by rolling myself into a ball (dreams are full of possibles aren’t they!) and sucking in enough air from the bubble to swim up to the surface. And breathe.
That’s how many women I work with feel. Submerged. Overwhelmed. Underwater. Barely coming up to breathe. Capable of holding the world on our shoulders and going the distance. Trying to create enough air to breathe from a constricted space. It becomes second nature.
Stamina, capability, resilience – being able to go the distance – and teamwork are widely acclaimed superpowers.
Going the distance, doing, overriding discomfort, putting ‘the team’ and ‘the finish line/results’ first and foremost, not needing anything, being self-sufficient – creating your own air, stretching your capacity – again, and again.
These are virtuous strengths when you come from a place of choice, but they become your kryptonite when they unconsciously dictate your entire way of showing up in the world.
When they, by virtue of being your default mode, are running YOU.
Then this learned behavior not a superpower. A survival mechanism, not a way to thrive.
Until you are being resilient from a deeper commitment to leadership and integrity rather than from a sense of deficiency or fear of not being enough. Until you integrate rest and regular pause as the hallmarks of exemplary professionalism and wise leadership, these ‘virtues’ will be your vices – the stones in your shoe that end up diminishing your capacity and preventing you from succeeding at what you want to create next.
If you truly want to make a deeper impact you need to unlearn this. Untrain yourself from it being your default mode of operating.
And redefine accomplishment, resilience and rest differently.
P.S. If you are committed to creating deeper impact with your life and realising a seemingly impossible goal, but feel held back by time, doubt and lack of real support.
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