From the Trails to the OfficeAfter 25-plus years of consulting and 100 endurance races of half marathon, marathon and ultra-marathon distances, I’ve noticed lots of parallels. Here are a few.
9 Lessons Learned From 25 Years of Consulting and 100 Long Distances Races
After 25-plus years of consulting and 100 endurance races of half marathon, marathon and ultra-marathon distances, I’ve noticed lots of parallels. I’ve learned many lessons during my races that apply to my work as a consultant. Here are a few.
Lesson 1: Be thankful you’re able to lace up and go. Not everyone is capable of going for a long run. Some can’t make it due to their age. Some have health problems. If you can lace up and toe the line, you’re lucky.
Try to think that way about work. Sometimes it’s hard to jump out of bed and sprint to work with a smile on your face. But recognize that there are people who would give anything to have your job. Understand that you are blessed. Be thankful for the opportunity and make the most of it.
Lesson 2: You have to show up in order to finish. Lots of people talk about doing marathons and ultra-marathons. Not a lot of people show up on race day. In order to cross the finish line you have to first cross the start line.
It’s just as true in business. It’s critical to “show up” each day. You can’t succeed if you only bring your A Game occasionally. You have to bring it every day, for the duration of the engagement. You have to show up in order to get your project over the finish line.
Lesson 3: Drink before you’re thirsty. One of the keys to finishing long distance runs is hydration. Drink early and often. Your body will appreciate it and you’ll be able to go the distance.
As a consultant, it is important to stay abreast of the latest trends, research, methods, and technologies. Continuous learning is vital to serving your clients or supporting your business. Read. Attend lectures. Participate in professional conferences. Take online courses. Seek certifications. Don’t wait until you need to know something to begin your search—stay on top of the latest information in your field. In other words, “drink before you’re thirsty.
Lesson 4: Never pass an aid station without refueling. Sometimes, on the trail, runners feel like they are falling behind so they bypass an aid station to make up time. Inevitably, this comes back to bite them. In your race prep, you develop a plan. In that plan, you’ve outlined all the things you MUST do in order to be successful. If it is a good plan, stick with it. That includes refueling at the aid stations.
On your project, spend enough time planning the work. Understand where all the “aid stations” are. We often refer to them as milestones. Be smart about how and when you’ll get there. Be prepared to pause, take stock, and celebrate this small victory. Let your team know how well they’ve done to get to this point. Remind them where the next milestone is and what it will take to get there. You and your team will benefit from taking these pauses to refuel.
Lesson 5: On the tough parts, keep your eyes on the trail. When it’s safe, look up and enjoy the view. There are lots of obstacles along the trail. It’s easy to lose your concentration. It’s easy to stumble and fall. You have to maintain your focus to do well.
The same is true at work. Things come up. Obstacles appear. Keep your eyes on the “trail” as you move toward your milestones. Some parts of the project will be trickier than others. Use extreme focus on those parts. But, when you can, look up and take in the big picture. Celebrate how far you’ve come. Try to enjoy the journey.
Lesson 6: When you’re feeling good, encourage other racers. You’ll need for them to return the favor when you’re not. As you run past your fellow racers, offer them a word of encouragement. It’s amazing how your quick gesture helps push them along.
The same holds true with your work colleagues. Look for opportunities to stop and offer them a pat on the back, a kind word, or a listening ear. There will be days when you’ll need for them to return the favor.
Lesson 7: If someone goes down, stop and help them. On the trail, things happen—pulled muscles…twisted ankles…heat exhaustion…cramps…slips, trips, and falls. When you come across someone in trouble, you help them. You get them on their feet or you offer them water or you go for help. You don’t run past them.
In business, people go down as well. It is often obvious when someone is struggling. You can see that they’re not going to make a deadline or won’t deliver the best deliverable. Help them. Can you act as a sounding board? Stay after work to lend a hand? Give up your lunch hour to listen to your colleague practice a presentation? Figure out a way to help. Your colleagues will appreciate it and the team will benefit.
Lesson 8: Run when you can. Walk when you have to. Just get to the finish line. Finishing is what matters—not how fast. Many runners get stuck focusing on their time. They want to go fast. They want to set a personal record. And some push so hard they end up dropping from the race (because of injury, exhaustion, mental fatigue, etc.). Sometimes it’s better to slow down. Slowing down can help a runner get to the finish line.
In business, you’ve probably heard the saying, “Go slow to go fast.” This is the same concept. Sometimes there is benefit to taking a step back—revisiting the work plan and focusing attention in another area for a moment in order to ensure you get to the finish line. Keep your overall goal in mind. What is it you’re trying to accomplish? What problem are you trying to solve? I’ll bet it has nothing to do with how fast you finish. So, slow down. Get it right. Deliver a great solution. If your company or client tries to push you to finish faster, remind them why you’re there. Remind them of the benefits of success and the cost of failure. Let them know you want to get it right. Tell them, “sometimes you have to go slow to go fast.” Changing those behaviors, implementing that new technology, or whatever your project has been tasked with will eventually help your client go faster.
Just keep running.
Lesson 9: An endurance run isn’t the most difficult thing you’ll ever experience. When you feel like quitting, keep that in mind. Don’t get me wrong, some runs are very difficult. Running 31 miles through the mountains, in the rain, can be a challenge. Climbing thousands of feet in the heat, or running hills over and over again along a 26.2 mile course can be debilitating. You’ll want to quit. When these thoughts enter your mind, remember, this isn’t as hard as life gets. There are many things harder than running in the mountains. I won’t list them here; I’m sure you know what they are. I’m sure you’ve experienced some of them. When you think about those trials, you realize you have it pretty easy to be spending the day in the mountains, breathing good air, getting some exercise, and enjoying the companionship of like-minded people.
We all have tough days at work. Tough months… Tough clients… Think back to all those “tough” experiences. You survived them all. Keep plugging away. Recognize those bad days aren’t so bad; you can handle them. Just keep running.
Endurance running and consulting: same thing, different wardrobe. Who knew?
Resilience v2020What is resilience and how do you build it? As a two-time cancer survivor, here's what I know.
Unprecedented. Yep, that’s about it. Let’s think about what’s been unprecedented in the past eight or nine months.
- COVID pandemic and the associated economic and jobless numbers
- Ongoing social justice marches involving people of all races and ages, in reaction to police killings
- 600+ fires in California due to exceptional lightning storms
- Americans locked out of other countries because we’re viewed as the disease vectors
- Murder hornets
It almost seems like the ten plagues in the book of Exodus!
Daily articles report the number of Americans suffering from anxiety and depression. It’s no wonder; it’s easy to feel like we’re in a dark hole that’s just getting deeper.
We know the world will not go “back to normal” in the next six months.
What to do? Call on your old friend, resilience.
We all have it. Some have more than others, but we all have some in us. Who got you to move on when your parents divorced? Resilience. When your dad passed away? Resilience. And when you lost the “love of your life” to your best friend? Resilience.
What is resilience?
It’s the capacity to recover quickly from difficulty or challenges of any kind and (hopefully) come back stronger, wiser, and more empowered.
How do you build it?
There are thousands of books and articles on how to build resilience, written by people with lots of good credentials. Just Google it.
I’ll tell you what has helped me. (As a person who has survived multiple recurrences of life-threatening pancreatic cancer and one bad encounter with colon cancer, my resilience credentials are pretty good.)
- Love yourself. Take care of yourself so you can take care of others. Eat well, laugh, go to sleep at a decent time, play, and exercise. Be gentle with yourself. Be proud of who you are as a human being, not just as a partner, sister, daughter, or employee.
- Take one day at a time and avoid the what-ifs. What-ifs usually are negative, rarely positive.
- Focus on what you’re grateful for, not what you don’t have. For example, maybe you’ve just been laid off. But you have a loving partner. Maybe you can’t travel to see your mother in Germany. But you can still run outdoors and enjoy nature.
- Live each day as happy as you can—in that day. Today may not be one of the happiest in your life but, provided the givens, how can you make it a decent day? For example, let’s say air quality is an unhealthy 160. Stay indoors and have your own dance party! Dance and jump like a kid—unencumbered.
- Compartmentalize. Don’t get overwhelmed by all the woes of the world. Focus on one of them at a time. Or if that’s still too big, take a big break and stay inside your bubble. Immerse yourself in some healing, calming, or creative activity. Draw, exercise hard, binge-watch, make a multi-step dessert…the news usually does not change that dramatically from day-to-day. It will be there tomorrow, if you want to engage.
- Share one thing that was good about your day with someone, or record it in a journal. It may be very small—maybe you saw a lady bug on a flower in your backyard, or your morning cup of coffee was exceptional.
One last thing: they say that if you force yourself to smile, you’ll actually feel better. Try it!
Dear CoronavirusWhile many have suffered from a devastating health crisis, COVID-19 also opened our eyes to the need for real transformation.
Emerson’s Off-the-Clock series captures the personal thoughts of our consultants.
As strange as this seems, I have a love/hate relationship with you. While so many around the world have suffered in the last few months from a devastating health crisis you caused, you also did something good. You exposed our flaws and opened our eyes to the need for real transformation.
At first, we were at a loss. You forced us to stay at home and we didn’t know how to handle that. Work from home? Be at home? With the entire family? 24/7? Home-school our kids? In a world where everything has become social, offices have moved to blue-sky models, collaboration is king, companies have moved to face-to-face and personalization as the best ways to communicate…here we are, suddenly isolated.
What’s old was new again. Families started to eat dinner together, watch movies together, play board games, and do puzzles. As we began to social distance, institutions on the verge of going under, like drive in movie theaters, began to surge.
More importantly, we saw positivity and creativity. Communities supported each other with food and supplies. Businesses got creative about how to work and how to deliver to customers.
The whole world began to think differently, work differently, relate differently, and behave differently.
Then, the death of George Floyd happened. Suddenly, people came together in a different way—in a protective and resilient way. And while you did not cause that, you set the stage for it. You stoked a feeling that we must stand up and fight to survive. That if we can survive you, we can survive a lot. And that, when the racism reared its ugly head— again—it would not be ignored.
This time, we had already rallied around a cause. You reminded us that, standing together, we are more powerful. And that’s when something beautiful happens. We behave differently. We say “No more. Not on my watch.”
So while you continue to linger in our lives like a toxic cloud (and, in a cruel irony, attack people of color more savagely than the rest), you have revealed our power. You helped us realize that, while we can’t control you, we CAN control some things.
Dr. Martin Luther King wrote,
“Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”
You poured alcohol on the open wounds that need to heal. You’ve brought light to things that need to be more visible and voices to those who didn’t realize they could be so loud.
You showed us what it means to slow the day down, appreciate what we have, love each other, stand up for what we believe in, and maybe even restore our faith in humankind. You reminded me of the power of real change— transformational change. I still hate you. But how amazing it is to be part of that.
Finding BalanceI realized I was wasting part of my life by "relaxing" on the weekends. So I made a decision. Every weekend I would do at least one thing I enjoy.
Emerson’s Off-the-Clock series captures the personal thoughts of our consultants.
In December 2012, I flew home from another busy week of consulting. I convinced myself (again) that I should use the weekend to relax. I needed to relax because I had another busy week coming up.
So I sat at home and watched television, ate, slept, and did nothing…all weekend. When I thought about it, I realized this was not unusual. There were many weeks when I pushed myself to the limit to please my company and my clients and then convinced myself to “relax” all weekend so I could perform for them again the next week. As I headed back to the airport, I realized I was wasting part of my life by “relaxing” on the weekends. So I made a decision. Every weekend, going forward, I would do at least one thing I enjoy.
It did not have to take the entire weekend; it might only be half a day…or two hours…or one hour…but every weekend I would do something that brought me pleasure.
On January 1, 2013, I began my quest. I went hiking. I went kayaking. I snowshoed. I spent time on my road bike. I mountain biked. I camped. I went spelunking. I went to film festivals. I visited museums. I attended food festivals. I tried new restaurants. I ate exotic foods. I went to the cinema, opera, ballet and I enjoyed musicals. I ran 5Ks, 10Ks, half-marathons, marathons and even ultra-marathons. I swam. I went birding. I explored small towns and large cities and other countries. I read. I wrote. I learned. For the past 385 consecutive weeks, I have done at least one thing I enjoy every week. Yes, work, family and life continue, but I have been intentional about carving out that time. Sometimes I go on solo adventures. Sometimes I am with family or friends. That’s what’s been fun about it—the experiences can be as varied as I want them to be.
Many have followed me on this journey. Some have decided to try it for themselves. Others have done some variation—instead of every week, they do it once a month. Others have come up with tons of kid-friendly adventures to get the family out and about each week. After following me for a few years, one of my former colleagues remembered how much he enjoyed painting, so he started again. He painted every week. Eventually, he left his job and became a professional artist! Most of us probably won’t go that far but all of us could use a little boost when it comes to remembering the things we enjoy and getting some of those things back into our lives.
This year, we’ve all been impacted by COVID-19. In March, many of us found ourselves sheltering in place. Fortunately, I have a lot of great parks nearby, so I’ve been able to spend even more time running, hiking, biking and birding. I’ve also been doing a lot of backyard birding, creating my own film festivals and other things (like painting “happiness messages” on rocks and later leaving them in parks for others to find). And I’m not alone. During quarantine, lots of people have re-discovered simple pleasures. Many families have dusted off their bikes and gone on family rides or started hiking and exploring their local parks. Folks who haven’t been fishing in years (or who have never been fishing) have been out to their lakes and rivers to have a go at it.
When the shelter-in-place is lifted and things slowly go back to “normal” (or to whatever the “new normal” will be), will people slowly forget about these simple pleasures? Will they forget about these things they’ve been using to fill their days? Will they eventually get back to the hustle and bustle of family and work and work and family? Will we forget we need to do other things that bring pleasure and joy to our lives? I hope not. I hope everyone takes a few lessons from this slower time. I hope we all continue to spend quality time with our families, reconnect with our friends and classmates and former colleagues, and continue to incorporate the fun into our lives. Being a great consultant is important, but being a well-balanced person is even more important.
So work hard, but remember to get up, get out and enjoy your life!
Vieques Love: How Our Own Chris Harper Survived Maria and Ways to HelpRead Chris's first-person account of the storm and learn how you can join us in helping our fellow Americans recover.
Emerson’s Off-the-Clock series captures the personal thoughts of our consultants.
Our associate director Chris Harper lives with his husband, John, in Vieques, Puerto Rico. Vieques is an island just off the east coast of the main island. For those who don’t know Chris, he used to be a client, became a friend, and has been part of our Emerson team pretty much since we started the company. Many of you know and love Chris and have been worried about his and John’s well-being. I’m attaching a message from him below. If you want to be part of Vieques’ recovery, please check out ViequesLove. – Trish Emerson
Thank you to my family and friends for your thoughts and well wishes as I recover from a life uprooted. John and I were able to leave Vieques yesterday. Thankfully, I had a planned trip to Dallas for one of my clients and that flight was not cancelled. I rerouted to New York and am now here. John was able to make flight arrangements through our neighbor’s wife. So we are back on the mainland together.
Lacking communication with loved ones was one of the hardest things. We knew we were safe, our house was safe, we had plenty of food and water set aside, and that life on island was calm and orderly. And we could only surmise how the media was portraying the aftermath. Things were far worse on the main island, and that was the media coverage. Many houses in our neighborhood are made of concrete, like ours. So the structures remained intact. While in some cases windows or doors blew out, none of ours did, even though we didn’t have hurricane shutters. (Note to self: get hurricane shutters.) The majority of wooden structures were decimated: roofs torn off, walls blown in, belongings strewn about the neighborhood. Most of the people I spoke with had the attitude of “I’m alive.” Things can be replaced. People cannot.
This isn’t to say that infrastructure is OK. It isn’t. On our block alone, there are three downed power poles (of four). Two of them are in our yard and crushed our fence. There is a power cable spanning the two of them that is stuck on our balcony railing. AT&T cell service (and no other carrier) came on in one location on island a few days ago, but there is no data connection and voice calls were very difficult to get through; texting was fine. Water was out for 11 days, came back on for three and then went out the day before we left.
All purchases are cash-only and there are only two banks on island. If you don’t have an account at either bank, you can’t get any cash. We waited in line at our bank for two hours to get cash. Gasoline (at our three gas stations) comes once in a while and is rationed. Before the storm, I waited in line for a couple hours and filled four five-gallon tanks and the car. After the storm, I waited five hours one day, then two hours another day and got gas.
Food is coming over from the main island, but again it’s cash-only at the grocery stores. Most local residents are on food stamps and that runs through the credit card validation system. So many people are reliant on MRE packs and food they are receiving from various support agencies. One day, a relief organization gave us a box of “food” and water. Food is in quotes because it consisted of 12 bags of chips, 12 three-ounce envelopes of peanut butter, 12 pudding cups, and 12 cookie packets. It was like a 12-year-ld went to 7/11 to buy “supplies.”
Information from the municipality is non-existent and, when in place, is inaccurate. Three days before leaving, one official told me that the San Juan airport was a military base with no commercial flights. The next day, we went to the Vieques airport and one of the carriers said they had started running flights from San Juan two days prior. Misinformation is worse than “I don’t know.”
I gotta say that the hurricane itself was the most frightening thing I’ve experienced. At 3:30 am the day of, we got out of bed and sat in the middle of our house away from windows and doors. The wind was rattling our doors so much that we could feel the vibration in the center of the house. It shook our clothing. We have a ten-foot span of folding doors that will have to be replaced. Other doors also got damaged from the constant battering. The force of the wind pulled the water out of the toilets and they made a continuous sucking sound. We have a steel bar gate with wooden inserts; it now has a curved shape to it. The windows and doors leaked water and it flooded into the house. When the winds subsided around 7:00 am we started to sweep it and squeegee it out under the doors. By early afternoon, we were able to get outside, but the wind was still so strong, we felt a little off balance. Not a leaf was left on any tree. Downed limbs and trees everywhere. Did I mention the power poles?
I could go on for hours. But I will spare you.
There is a group with a gofundme set up that is directly supporting the people of Vieques. It’s called ViequesLove and is associated with a 501 c(3) charity organization on island. I know the people involved in it and they are very caring people. If you can spare a few bucks, it would help our island recover.
I’m looking forward to reintegrating myself into the real world and work life. Hope to connect with you all soon!