“You can achieve anything you put your mind to.”
How many times have you heard something like this (or said it)?
In our lives, there are times when the “anything” in that statement is out of reach.
For a long time, my goal was to run one mile in less than 10 minutes. I spent a lot of time with runners when I could run, and my friend group is still replete with runners because of the ties we established (I wouldn’t have it any other way – they are great people). For many of them, it was typical to talk about “warming up at a 9-and-a-half minute pace” or to fret when they ran a 5K and “only” kept up an 8-minute pace.
For years, I believed I would get there. I lost weight. I acquired a coach. I got up and did track work early in the morning. I ran intervals with Tallahassee’s best runners (I was infinitely slower than any of them, but being there pushed me in the best of ways).
Once in a while, when I was doing track work, I would come really close to running a quarter of a mile in less than 2.5 minutes. And I would think, “Now all I have to do is put that together four times.”
I never did put it together.
As I was still plugging away at achieving my goal, carrying it around on a handwritten piece of paper in my wallet, year after year, I began having episodes of a very high heart rate while running.
The first thing I did was go to a cardiologist. I was all too happy to jump on the treadmill for my stress test – a little more running in my day!! He gave me a clean bill of health.
Shortly after that cardiology visit, I was running a half marathon. It was a cold, brisk day and I felt great. I was making excellent time, until around the five-mile mark at which point my heart rate spiked to an alarming level. I remember walking past a medic, thinking, “you may be really stupid, Paula, to just keep going. There’s a medical professional right. there.” It wasn’t the first time I had done that during a race – walked past a medic knowing the HR showing on my fitness watch was not within good control.
After that, I insisted on a referral to an electrophysiologist. Over the next few months, it became apparent that I had an exercise-induced tachycardia. He tried to do an ablation (a procedure that deactivates the part of the heart muscle that is malfunctioning), but for a variety of reasons, the ablation turned out to not be an option.
I’ll skip over the documentation of my running (now walking) career from then (2015) until now. Let’s just say this: My most recent 5K (3.1 miles) time was one hour, fifteen minutes and fifteen seconds. In 2014, it took me roughly the same time (one hour, eighteen minutes and forty-three seconds) to run the 10K (6.2 miles) at the same event.
I’ll be honest. I find myself bristling at well-intentioned “you’ve got this” and “if you can believe it, you can achieve it” and “dream it/believe it/achieve it” types of statements.
Barring some incredible medical advance being introduced soon, the 10-minute mile will always elude me.
As someone who tries to infuse leadership principles throughout my approach whether I am in charge of a project or not, here are a few takeaways from the collapse of this particular goal.
What we know about people we are leading:
We should encourage them to be proactive about documenting their goals. Unless we have encouraged them to think through their aspirations and write them down, they won’t be clear on what they are looking for and we won’t know how to help them.
What we know about ourselves:
I knew I had a goal of breaking the 10-minute mark for a mile, and it was committed to a piece of paper I kept with me at all times. My coach knew. Many of my close friends knew. Anyone who read my blog knew. I did write about my cardiac changes as they were happening, but I never announced, “Hey! Looks like that goal is dead!” I owe it to myself and to those leading me to be realistic and straightforward about these changes. I deserve a chance to grieve the letting go, but I also deserve freedom from platitudes that aren’t going to change a single thing specific to that goal.
What we can change about our leadership outlook:
One somewhat decent thing about the workforce these days is that there is growing awareness of the diversity of situations we bring to the work world. Some people have invisible (or visible) physical or mental needs that call for accommodations that can help them maintain their productivity and sense of being valued as a contributor. Some people don’t have a disability as such, but are going through a life challenge. They may not know how to articulate that. That’s where the most basic of skills comes in handy: listening well.
We’ve all seen “tough love” examples in movies and on television (and in our own lives) in which a supervisor says to “tough it out or get out.”
Being sensitive to the struggles our people haven’t been able to articulate may keep them from dropping out of the race altogether.
Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many. My pronouns are she/her/hers.