[Warning: If you are interested in a calm, comfortable life, this blog will be counterproductive for you.]

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Danger of Running After A Goal (AKA How I Hurt My Ankle)

I was out of town (in Chicago for the Leadership Summit, actually) and decided to go for a run in the morning. Leadership conferences inspire me to do all sorts of crazy, idealistic things like change the world and run in the morning. They’re dangerous like that.

So I put on my running shoes and run into a field next to the hotel. Leaders love running off into the unknown, right? The first ten minutes were glorious. It was a cool morning and I was being so very responsible, running like that. Then I planted my left foot in a deep hole. My foot twisted back toward me while the rest of my body kept going forward. 

In my defense, it looked like solid ground when I put my foot down. Grass had grown up in the hole and then someone had cut the grass level with the rest of the field.

It immediately hurt. I stopped and carefully tested my ankle. My first thought was that I couldn’t afford to be seriously hurt. I had been looking forward to the Leadership Summit for months and months. Besides, I had been running away from my hotel for about ten minutes. I still had to run back.

It hurt, but I wasn’t crying. So I decided that it must not be a real injury. I would just run it off. Confident I’d solved the problem, I ran back to the hotel, got ready, and went to the conference.

But by the end of the first session, not only was standing painful, my ankle hurt while sitting still. It wasn’t excruciating, but it wasn’t going away either. Like any other tough man, I texted my wife to tell her about my injury. She replied with the sympathy and compliments for going running that I had hoped for. And then she added a challenge to have it taken care of. Get it wrapped, get ice, take some ibuprofen—she had lots of ideas.

My first response was to say it wasn’t that bad and I didn’t need to do all that. I was thinking about how all this work might cause me to miss some of the conference. I didn’t have time to be injured.

Then my wife, being a wise woman, said: The longer you wait the worse it will get.

Let’s be honest. I had injured my ankle and no amount of wishing was going to make it go away. The only choice left to me was how bad it would get before I did something. If I kept pushing it off, kept trying to pretend it would get better on its own, I risked serious problems. Or I could face the unpleasant truth and start recovering faster.

And this is true for all of us as leaders. We get inspired with a grand vision and run off into smooth-looking fields. Then we step into hidden holes. We get hurt, or more often, we hurt others. But we don’t have time for people to be hurt. We’ve got grand visions to make happen. And we face the same decision I did. Pretend it isn’t a big deal, that it will take care of itself. Or spend precious time to take care of it.

Remember my wife’s wisdom: The longer you wait the worse it will get.

Be honest with yourself. You are going to have to spend time on it at some point. You don’t get to change the fact that you stepped in a hole. But you do get to decide how long to let it fester. And the longer you wait, the worse it will get. And the worse it gets, the more time you’ll have to spend fixing it.

Wise leaders don’t let problems fester. Wise leaders take quick action once they realize any damage has been done.

At the next break I approached the emergency medical team and they wrapped my ankle, gave me ice packs, and I took some ibuprofen I had in my briefcase. Three days later I managed to exercise with no pain at all.

What have you been trying to avoid dealing with? If you were to deal with it, would would be the first step you could take? What are you waiting for?

Remember, the longer you wait the worse it will get.

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