I’m tired. The sore is starting to set in. It’s been a few hours since my first triathlon and the adrenaline high is long gone.
My smile isn’t.
While I’ve been training hard over the last few months to get my fitness level back, and confidently signed up for the triathlon as a symbolic gesture that I’ve returned to 100%, my anxiety level went through the roof as the event approached.
I couldn’t figure out what to do with my hair. I didn’t know what to wear. I started getting cranky (a sure sign I’m stressing out) because the idea of an open water swim scared me to death.
Last weekend, my husband saw past the freak out and talked me off the ledge. He put everything aside to do a mock triathlon with me. It was cold, windy and raining…absolutely miserable. At the finish, I knew what to expect. I tested out my hair, wetsuit, transitions, and clothing options. I was ready to go.
Or so I thought.
Then yesterday, I picked up our race packets and drove the routes. The bike had only one hill, nothing like I’ve done previously (we live in a hilly area). The run was basically flat. I was feeling good. Then I went out to the dock and saw the buoys in the lake. That’s when panic set in.
It looked huge. So much longer than our test tri last weekend. I wasn’t sure I could make it without exhausting myself for the bike and run.
I wanted to back out. Sometimes being a parent sometimes sucks. Everything is a teachable moment. What would it tell my son if I quit?
So this morning, I did my hair. I got proteined and caffeinated. We drove out to the course and had plenty of time to settle in (and panic).
It wasn’t the best hour and 40 minutes of my life, but it was pretty good. When you’re alone in your own head for that long, it’s a great opportunity to pay attention to what it tells you. Here are my learnings for the day:
Our perspective regarding our performance over time can be skewed, so have a measurement system.
The swim felt like it took forever, but it was only 24 minutes. The bike felt like I flew, but I was only going 16 mph. I thought I was crawling on the run, but it exceeded my target.
When we struggle, it may feel like we’re doing poorly. When we feel good, it may feel like we’re doing great. In reality, without some way to baseline and measure our performance over time, we have NO idea how we’re doing.
Deliver. Measure. Improve. Repeat.
Celebrate incremental wins to stay motivated over long efforts.
At the start of the swim, all I could see was the entire course and it felt overwhelming. In the water, I could no longer see it, so I focused on getting to the next buoy. I tracked landmarks on the bike, remembering the route from the night before. On the run, each mile was marked, telling me exactly how far I had left to go.
During training, I watched Creed on the bike trainer or the treadmill for motivation. Rocky tells Donnie “One step, one punch, one round at a time” rather than focusing on the entire match. It held with me throughout the race.
Along the route, I’d tell myself one buoy, one turn, one mile, or one transition. Any one of them was achievable. I had to keep going to the next one, rather than thinking about all that was ahead of me.
The feeling of achieving our goals stays with us longer than what we overcome to get there.
I think I was in denial until I hit the water. It was cold, but I was in it and it was too late to back out. The only thing I could do was finish.
At that point, it didn’t matter that I was tired. That I was scared. The hours I had put in. The tweaked knee or busted hip. It all faded. All that mattered was finishing and the feeling of accomplishment that came with it.
Fear is temporary. We can sleep later. Pain fades. No one can take away something we’ve earned through it all.
At this point, I’m not sure when or whether I’ll do another triathlon. I’m signing up for other running and biking events for the time being to stay on track with my health and fitness goals.
Even if I never do another one, I’ll always be able to say I did this one. That I overcame my fear of the swim and got it done. I’m not going to jump out of an airplane anytime soon or anything, but it reminds me that great things can lie on the other side of the things we fear.
Have you ever tackled a fear head-on? What did you learn about yourself? I’d love if you would share your experience in the comments or social media.
I was five when I was taught that perception, not truth, was reality.
The lesson was that it did not matter what I said, did or meant. It mattered how what I said or did was perceived by others.
That’s a young age to discover that my truth was not the TRUTH.
It took a while to sink in. To realize that facts and figures are likely absolutes, but thoughts and feelings – while they may have certainty in my own mind or that of others – are not.
Searching for the truth
In the last few weeks, after considering how easy it is to believe the bad things and reject the good, I’ve been paying more attention. To my words and others’. To what our words reveal about our perception, and whether or not that perception is real.
I have listened to friends criticize their intelligence, weight, beauty, capability and skills. I’m flabbergasted, as I tend to hold them in high regard in the areas where they think they fall short. They are equally perplexed by my own self-judgment.
Re-evalutaing my truth
I’ve been working diligently over the last three months to get back to my pre-surgery fitness levels.
Along the way, co-workers, friends and family have been very supportive. They share how healthy they think I look. For them, this is likely a huge improvement over the woman who could barely walk upright and who was regularly in visible pain.
They didn’t perceive me as overweight or frumpy as I struggled to find anything comfortable to wear. They didn’t see me as less effective because I was at the mercy of doctors’ visits and couldn’t control my own body. I did.
My perception is my reality. And my perception has been that the work I’ve done is not enough. That I’m not there yet. So I caveat my “thank you” with “but I still have more to go.”
In my head, I haven’t hit my goal. There are still flaws to fix. Challenges to overcome.
Is my truth the truth?
Which is the truth? For better or worse, they both are. To others, I look healthy and fit. To me, I still have work to do. Each perception is reality to someone. But it is our individual perception that drives our relationships, interactions and behaviors. Our perception of ourselves, and of those around us.
While having a high bar and setting challenging goals is a good thing – it’s what’s successfully driven me and endless others since forever – a negative perception can erode our self-confidence and the very success we aim to achieve.
To change our perception, we have two choices. Change our setting or change our perspective.
Reconsider the setting
Driving around in my ATV over the weekend, I saw a dandelion. It’s a weed and can be considered troublesome by many. However, in this moment, I saw beauty in the invasive object.
In the right setting, even a weed can be beautiful. Sometimes, an environment change may be all that’s needed to realize our potential gifts. A different role, team, desk…even small changes matter.
A co-worker recently shared that when her manager moved her desk to another floor, near the window, it was like she got a promotion. There was no other change, but it lifted her spirits and injected new life into how she perceived her job.
Putting ourselves in a different setting can change how we see ourselves.
Shift the perspective
The other opportunity is changing our perspective. Sometimes, we just need to decide something about ourselves or someone else and it may as well be true.
If we think someone has potential, our interactions with them will help reveal and realize that potential. The same can be said of ourselves. It was Henry Ford that said (loosely) – If we think we can or think we can’t, we’re right.
I often find myself in conversations where I offer a different take on the same situation. Having a second perspective suddenly opens up other possibilities. What was once black or white may now be grey.
If we think rigidly about ourselves or others, getting another perspective may provide us the space to consider an alternate truth.
Finding a new truth
The work I’ve done over the last few months has resulted in the joy of being able to “shop” my own closet…discovering items long-since forgotten. Rather than thinking that I’m falling short of my goal, I’m enjoying where I am, knowing I’ll get to where I want to be.
I may not be in the best shape of my life, but I’m healthier and fitter than I’ve been in a long time. I’m able to function without pain and am celebrating my return to 100% wellness by competing in my first triathlon this weekend.
I’m changing my setting – providing an opportunity to create an interim success. I’m also changing my perspective – seeing that interim success as the accomplishment it is.
How we talk about ourselves reveals our perception. Regardless of whether that perception is real, we make it real because we believe it.
If that talk isn’t positive, it’s time to find a new narrative, and create a new perception.
After all, life isn’t about being perfect. It’s about being perfectly human, as our flaws are what make us interesting. If a weed can have a moment of beauty, so can we all.
Last week was the first time in a long time that I didn’t post. I went on a road trip and did not write ahead of time, as is my normal practice.
I can’t remember the last time – if ever – I have gone away for a full week without my husband or son. A few days here or there, sure, but not for this long of a stretch.
The good news is, they got along just fine without me here. The better news is, so did I. An entire week where I wasn’t someone’s wife, mother, employee or manager. One where I didn’t have to be “on” for someone.
It may not be anyone else’s definition of a perfect vacation, but it came pretty close in my book.
The amazing part was, I still planned. I still problem solved. Road trips demand it, whether it’s knowing which way to point the car, anticipating traffic and weather challenges, or figuring out stops for food and gas.
By the end of the week, I felt refreshed. Not just my energy and spirit, but my leadership skills as well. An epic road trip can teach us more than any class.
Going someplace new highlights our imperfections.
When we are surrounded by what is familiar, including friends, family and co-workers that know us, we feel comfortable. Going someplace new, our habits, speech, and interactions may or may not fit in. Strangers aren’t used to us, and may blurt out or react to our quirks. It’s a great way to learn how we can be perceived by others.
In a small Wisconsin town, a waitress dropped everything to ring me out, rather than make me wait “because you are in such in hurry.” I wasn’t in any more of a hurry than normal, but it made me realize my demeanor and approach was putting out a sense of impatience in the laid back atmosphere. I’d like to say it didn’t happen again on the trip, but have you driven in small coastal towns on a warm weather day?
This week, my life changed. It’s all for the good, but with all growth, we must also leave something behind.
We may even be that someone, if it’s time for another’s growth.
Over the years, I have embraced all the change life and work has thrown at me. This time is no different. I have a mostly new team and look forward to learning more about their work and how to best help them in the coming months.
However, I must say goodbye to the team I’ve built over the last 2+ years.
It’s time for them to move on to the next step in their journey. Like kids going off to college, it’s time for them to leave the nest.
I didn’t expect it to be this difficult to let go. I didn’t expect to grieve.
It hit me hard. I worked from home one day, leading up to the announcement. With my head on the counter, I let it all consume me.
Brushing the tears away, I realized what a gift they have given me. Not the hard work and accomplishments. But how they have transformed me. Made me a better leader. More self-aware and compassionate.
While I grieve, I am also very proud. So proud of what we built. Most of it, the world will never see. It is something to be felt and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Over the years – of different homes, schools, friends, companies, roles, and mentors – I’ve taught myself to look forward so that I’m not reeling from what I’ve left behind.
What I’ve finally learned is that it’s okay to look back. To remember with fondness the relationships, the challenges, the triumphs. To cherish what was great, even when we have to let go and move on to the next step in our journey.
The next time change comes, don’t be sad what you have is over. Be grateful that it happened.
Have you ever been called difficult? Felt out of step with those around you?
Maybe you’ve been told that your results are awesome, but your delivery could use some work.
If you’ve been given the difficult label, with actionable feedback to address it, that’s wonderful. Not the difficult part, but that you have input to help you get past it.
However, what if you have the label, with no actionable feedback? Then welcome home.
What it means to be labeled “difficult”
For the better part of forty years, I’ve been on the see-saw of being a highly talented “difficult person.”
I call it a see-saw because of the ups and downs. On one end, many managers (teachers, friends, family…the list is endless) love the performance. They love knowing someone that can solve difficult problems.
On the other end, they may be uncomfortable engaging with you. Or they may get the occasional feedback of someone else’s discomfort.
Depending on the person, they may think the risk is worth the reward. That whatever “difficult” interactions you have, it’s nothing in comparison to the work that is getting done.
Or, they may want to address it, but are unsure how to get the behavior to change. You may hear a lot of “You’re awesome, but…”
Hearing “but” enough times begins to kill your engagement. It makes you feel as though your output is worthy, but the package it comes in…not so much.
That was my life.
The benefits of difficulty
I’m the one friends and family would call on to solve their challenging problems. I was the “911” project manager at work, tackling any project that was over budget, behind schedule or otherwise couldn’t get done.
I also made folks uncomfortable. It was nothing overt – I didn’t walk on people or treat them poorly. Over time, once folks got to know me, we would connect. Early on, however, I’d get that difficult label thrown at me.
It was frustrating. I was honest (maybe too honest). Hard-working. I treated my teams well. I delivered.
Yet, there was always a “but.”
Leading difficult employees
Leaders get plenty of advice on dealing with difficult employees. I think the advice is mostly wrong.
Late last year, I participated in a tweetchat through #LeadwithGiants, on “Dealing with Difficult Employees.”
Was I such a chore that people needed to “deal” with me? I’m sure I was to some. Maybe too many along the way.
On the chat, I admitted to being a “Recovering Difficult Person”. I tried to share my experience, hoping to influence the perception of what makes a difficult person.
I watched the tweets fly as many leaders provided input on what they thought drove “difficult behaviors.”
None of it fit my experience.
Others provided input on how to handle those same behaviors. Too many responded that after a while, it’s time to move on.
How many of my former managers felt that way? That maybe my output wasn’t worth the effort of managing me?
The right feedback makes all the difference
I’d implore all leaders, please don’t give up on your difficult people. Especially the difficult people.
It took me many years of meaning well and trying to do the right thing. Of wanting feedback – any actionable insight – and receiving nothing but “buts.”
Until one manager was told he had to help me. He had no idea how, so he hired an executive coach.
At first I resisted. I thought she was a developmental coach, and I didn’t need one more person giving me “buts.”
Instead, she changed my life.
I used to feel like people wanted what I could do, but not who I am. Pick pick pick. But but but.
So much of what I do is tied up in who I am – my passion, my work ethic, etc. I did not know how to do what I do and be someone else. I didn’t want to be someone else.
I didn’t think I should have to be someone else.
My coach helped me see that I could be me and still deliver if I added one thing – compassion.
After so many years, I perceived that my value was in my work, but that otherwise others didn’t value me as a person.
I had stopped being human in my interactions. I was a machine – work work work. Deliver deliver deliver.
Once folks interacted with me enough, and I got the sense it was safe, a connection was established and people swore by me. But early on, I’m sure they wanted to swear at me.
Compassion as a tool to transform
Compassion has allowed me to step back and see how others perceive my messages and my delivery. It has allowed me to connect with friends, family, coworkers and customers in a way I didn’t know was possible.
The most wonderful part of this experience has been assisting other difficult people. I can help them understand how they are being perceived, as well as why. They walk away with actionable steps to transform their interactions with others, while staying true to who they are.
Unfortunately, I have met many – too many – individuals who want to do well, and are not receiving feedback to help them better connect with those around them. They are highly talented, and with a little direction, could perform even better…shedding that “difficult” label for good.
I’d like for all leaders who are losing patience with a difficult employee to consider one thing: no difficult employee is a lost cause.
If he or she is generally a good human being that means well, there is hope.
It took me many decades of struggling through work and home. Working with a coach really did change my life. Her actionable input gave me a path to transform from difficult to powerful. From machine to human.
My journey isn’t complete. Unlearning decades of behavior isn’t easy. I not only have to have compassion for others, but compassion for myself.
I try to remember that everyone starts out wanting to add value and do the right thing. Maybe they are lost. As leaders, let’s commit to helping them find their way home.