I feel uncomfortable in the space between the tried-and-true way something has been historically done, and the risk and uncertainty associated with finding a better way to do it…
The conversations about what is not working, knowledge of the outcomes that are not being achieved and the belief that there is a better way (that is often already being practiced or imagined by a small number of courageous souls) is exciting and full of possibility and potential… I am naturally drawn to what is on the horizon, the potential of a brighter future…
And it is unsettling and downright scary as I put at risk the “way I’ve always done it” and lean into something that is uncertain, unclear and without guarantee.
It is uncomfortable to both yearn for something better and deal with the private tension that not changing is often easier and less risky than changing… And yet I know, deep down in my bones and from my own life experiences, that much of what I enjoy today is because I took a risk to walk away from the past, took a risk to try something new and let go of something that wasn’t working based on a promise or a belief of a better, brighter more value/principle aligned future…
The phrase “the tension of the and” comes to mind in this uncomfortable space. Easy enough words to say, and yet, for me, uncomfortable to practice and bring to life both personally and professionally.
A mentor of mine reminds me that unless I now have elastic arms… I need to let go of what I am holding onto to reach what I’m trying to grab…
A crude analogy perhaps but the root of my discomfort is the uncertainty in the space between these two states… the known and the unknown.
The actions associated with change are uncomfortable.
And, knowing and sharing this does not make it any easier but it does make the journey more enjoyable.
It is more enjoyable because it is easier for me to articulate what is happening, easier to recognize and appreciate the feelings (my own and those around me), easier in some ways to craft and share the narrative of the why behind the change and the hope for a better future and easier to seek out support, advice and help from those around me as we journey forward and change.
I’m comfortable being uncomfortable.
I recently used Robert Frost’s poem “The Secret Sits” as a blog writing prompt…
“We dance round in a ring and suppose,
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.”
In the blog I suggest that much of what we do as leaders in healthcare (the dance) and what we measure in healthcare are disconnected from what our patients and staff really want and need (the secret sitting in the middle).
I was recently in a hospital conference room preparing for a leadership meeting; the walls were papered from floor to ceiling with graphs, tables and charts… a “loud” visual statement that a myriad aspect of operations was being measured and reported. During our meetings I dug a little deeper, listened to the leaders, caregivers and patients, and then looked a little closer at the “scores” on the walls.
Outcomes, as measured and reported, apparently hadn’t changed much over the past two-years… It was not lost on me either that this conference room that is billed as the “control-center” of operations felt lifeless and soulless… For an organization committed to ‘health’ and ‘care’, this felt like a disconnect.
And I’ve seen hospitals that are listening to the “secret”. They are measuring, reacting and acting differently. They are breathing life into their data and working on ways to make it as real-time as the work and care that it is intended to measure. Outcomes are improving, care is safer and the experience of those caring and being cared for is markedly improved; so I am optimistic and incredibly hopeful that we can rethink what we measure and how we act. How we lead.
Check out my blog “Improving the Experience of Care” (first in a two-part series) on our company’s site. I’d love your thoughts, comments and ideas:
- Are we measuring the right things in healthcare?
- Is chasing an improved CAHPS score, or a better CMS Star Rating, the right way to drive change?
- Can we measure everything that matters?
- How do you measure a healthy, effective and respectful culture?
- What’s the secret that you’re dancing around?
My wife and I recently watched as our eldest child headed off to college for the first time, as he read this letter the night before he left he commented that these were good “life” reminders, I agreed, and so share the letter here:
August 28, 2015
My dear sweet Harrison,
I’ve noticed that the mornings stay darker a little later and that the evenings are drawing in, and I am reminded that this is nature’s nod to the fact that everything has a season, and that everything must end and begin again. Just as I know that the seasons change, I’ve known since the day we brought you home from the hospital, that this season of you being a daily constant in our home and our lives would end and that your new beginning, in college, would start.
The time has come my love – the freedom that has excited you and that you are so ready for is here, and yet this same freedom is one that I have very mixed emotions about.
I have both dreaded this moment and been incredibly excited for it.
I think I’ve privately dreaded this day since I first held you almost nineteen years ago. As a parent you learn the difficult lesson that raising children is in fact to embrace a love that is built on the reality of constantly having to let go of things, of constantly having to let go of you. Letting go of you as your learned to crawl, saying goodbye to your little clothes, dropping you off at pre-school, waving the bus goodbye, watching you go out with your friends, and watching you drive away from the house with your brand new license.
Your mom and I have also learned that the deep love that we have for you has changed us as people. You have added an indescribable richness to who we are as you have grown, challenged, tried, failed, argued, agreed, laughed, cried and blossomed as our “beautiful boy”
And so here we are, on the verge of this next chapter of your life, and as the page turns we are as excited to watch you embrace it, as you are likely to go grab it.
And yet I have this mix of stuff going on… I know you won’t be very far away, but emotionally I’m going to miss having my “little man” around. It’s going to hurt because I know we have to say goodbye to a chapter of our lives that is closing; leaving us with the memories, the mementos, the pictures and the stories; but it is over, it is done, it is closed, it is time.
While I will work hard not to cry tomorrow Harrison, you know me as well as anyone and you know that I’m proud of my emotions and share them unconditionally with you. I will work hard not to cry because this is an exciting happy time (the mix of stuff…) and yet as I write this I have become overwhelmed with tears and the desire to hold you so tightly, to remember all that we did together, the adventures we had, the plans we made and even the things that we never quite got to…
I remember you in the hospital in Beverly, hiding in the dryer in Manchester, building walls in Rockport, sailing up to Maine, treehouses in Amherst, snakes in the kitchen, tongues on lamp-posts, your bravery leaving Amherst, a wooden boat project in the backyard, running in Chicago, and fishing in Ipswich, and I remember laughing, crying, running, playing, learning and living with you as you grew up to be the college bound adult that stands before us, and I miss you Harrison. I miss you so very much.
Watching you learn and grow continues to be one of the greatest blessings and experiences of my life, so as I reflect back on all that you have given us, the lessons you have taught us and the example you will continue to be for all those blessed to be a part of your life, I wanted to share with you some guidance as you navigate this next chapter, some choices and some reminders…
Some choices – remember they’re exactly that, choices:
- Smiling OVER scowling
- Working for it OVER wishing for it
- Optimism OVER pessimism
- Owning it OVER making excuses, blaming others, complaining or gossiping
- Being kind OVER being unkind or rude
- Believing in your abilities OVER believing in your insecurities
- Hugs OVER handshakes
- Loving yourself OVER beating yourself up
- Being your own hero OVER waiting for a hero
- Doing what’s necessary OVER doing what’s easy
- Living for today OVER living for someday
- Being vulnerable OVER being perfect
- Living with purpose OVER sleepwalking through life
- Talking to people OVER talking about people
- Being happy OVER being right
- Have goals and review them
- Use logic and reason AND listen to your gut and your heart
- Admit when you’re wrong
- Praise others – privately and publicly
- Be appreciative – say “thank you”, even better, write “thank you”
- Ask for help, remember that you are a work in progress
- Love life and let it show – be honest with your emotions and bring them with you
- There are no limits to what you can do – remember: “if it is to be it is up to me”
- You are empowered – take a risk, speak up, be brave. It’s OK if your hands shake and your voice quivers. Be brave, speak your heart.
- Take time for you – rest, relax, restore, and exercise
- People and relationships are everything – stay in touch, reach out, lift others up, help people succeed, pick people up
- Be mindful and take action – if you see something, say or do something.
- Strive for purpose, find your passion. Do what you do with love, energy, audacity and proof
- Remember that the small things are the big things
- Above all, remember that you are a work in progress, you are blessed and you are forgiven.
Harrison – you will find your own guides, reflect on your own words of wisdom, and learn your own lessons (you already have many of them under your belt…) and I know you’ll be searching for your own answers along the way at Emmanuel, but please also know that if you ever need help, advice, a shoulder to cry on, or an ear to listen, that I am always, always, always here for you.
What I have shared with you is what guides me. I work hard to live up to it every day, and every day I fall short, but that’s OK. Reaching out for advice, help and inspiration is not a sign of weakness my love, it is a sign of strength.
Time will slip by, the next chapter will end I suspect more quickly than the last.
This time is yours, you’ve earned it, give it as much as it will give you. And remember, as a wiser person than me once shared, “There is no grand prize at the end of your life, no all-expense paid trip to utopia. This is your final destination, this is your life. The prize is here, now, in every breath you take, every new friend you make, every kiss, every hug, every challenge, and every exciting piece of information you discover.”
Godspeed little man! Breathe it in, savor every sip, enjoy every moment! Oh the places you’ll go!
I love you,
Reflecting on our first day of the Academy for Emerging Leaders in Patient Safety and I am feeling blessed for the insights, the lessons and for the reminders.
Yesterday morning we watched the Lewis Blackman Story – we were fortunate to have Helen Haskell with us, Lewis’ mother, who graciously and bravely answered our questions, provided more insights and shared the reminder that this November marks the fifteen-year anniversary of the death of Lewis.
I’ve seen this video more than a few times and to be honest was thinking to myself that there was not much more to “learn”. How wrong was I?
Re-watching this emotional story I was abruptly reminded that the stories of communication failure, mis-diagnosis and poor communication are as real and relevant today as they were fifteen years ago, and that being reminded of the work ahead is critical to this effort of making patient care safer, more just, and more transparent.
I watched the video again, took new notes, re-read those notes, and listened to the story and the discussion. I heard things I hadn’t heard before, heard perspectives that I hadn’t paid attention to in the past, learned new lessons, and was left with a re-galvanized commitment to this difficult, rewarding, and necessary work.
In the work that I do with healthcare leaders to change culture, I hear and see a lot of conversations, interactions and exchanges. Having the ability to reflect on what I have heard or seen, either from reading my own notes, re-remembering my experiences, or having the story interpreted by someone with a different perspective, provides me renewed energy, fresh insights and ideas about alternate solutions.
Day 1 reminded me that re-visiting the stories, notes, videos, conversations and perspectives are some of the most powerful reminders of the work still ahead to change the world of patient safety.
Thank you Helen for the reminder.
Change and personal accountability in health and care!
Standing on the shoulders of the rebels, the crazy ones, the trouble makers and the boat rockers – these are the folks that I am blessed to call my friends and my colleagues; these are the people that push the envelope for change, that embrace the hard work and the ones I love!
Here’s to Colin Hung, Linda Galindo, Helen Bevan, Tracy Granzyk, Dave Mayer, Michael Bennick, Paul Westbrook, Paul Levy, Katy Schuler, Steve Farber, Jake Poore, Diana Christiansen, Jason Wolf, Coleen Sweeney, Carol Santalcuia, Jason Gottlieb, Chris McCarthy, Kip Durney, Jim Rawson, Debra Barrath, and many, many more.
Changing the culture of healthcare takes a village of the committed, personally accountable, energetic, loving and audacious. I love these change agents!
Please join us on March 24th 20:30 EST (8:30 pm) on Twitter for a tweetchat #hcldr
Last speaker of the day
Several years ago I found myself in the audience of a quality and safety conference at Harvard University. The last speaker of the day took the podium with little fanfare and no slides. What a welcome change…
With his very generous permission I’d like to share my memories and notes from that day, the lessons and leadership “keys” he shared then, ring true now, and continue to resonate with me.
And now for something completely different…
Mike Dowling is the President and CEO of the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System (NSLIJHS). Prior to becoming president and CEO on January 1, 2002, Dowling was the health system’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.
Mike served in New York State government for 12 years, including seven years as state director of Health, Education and Human Services and deputy secretary to former governor Mario Cuomo. He was also commissioner of the New York State Department of Social Services. Before his public service career, Dowling was a professor of social policy and assistant dean at the Fordham University Graduate School of Social Services and director of the Fordham campus in Westchester County.
Mike presented at the Eleventh Quality and Safety Colloquium (Cambridge MA – August 14-16, 2012) – my notes summarize his comments. Without any slides, Mike shared “7 Keys” to creating a “Premiere Healthcare Organization” by stating, “NSLIJ is not there yet, but we are on a journey toward this, and I’d like to share it with you…
Have a coherent idea of where you want to end up – a clear VISION
- Not just the “what” but the “why”
- You must be able to engage EVERYONE’S head and heart in the VISION – in the “why…”
Have a positive attitude
- Be optimistic and believe that it is possible – a “can do” attitude
- Be responsible for outcomes and model personal accountability – “if it is to be it is up to me”
Have a complete commitment to transformation
- Be ready to think differently – we CANNOT be risk averse
- Be open minded – healthcare is NOT unique – exceptional, high-quality organizations are NOT industry specific
Engage and develop EVERYONE
- Lead a continuous culture of learning
- Be mindful of who you hire, who you promote, who you let go
- Remember: People + Values + Behaviors = SUCCESS
- Use simulation
- Make a core part of your curriculum mandatory
- Break down silos and train people across disciplines
- Manage your board and medical staff
- Change how we do medical school training
Become deeply consumer focused
- Everyone you serve is more educated and informed than ever
- Expectations are constantly changing
- Constant communication of the “why” from #1
- Top down, bottom up, side to side
- Face to face, electronic, multi-media, print, etc. etc.
- You CANNOT over-communicate
Most of all – remember that:
- we do great work every day in healthcare!
- we have much to be proud of!
- we do make a difference!
Mike closed his remarks with the words of Sir Winston Churchill, “Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm…”
Thank you Mike, you continue to inspire and encourage!
An Impressive Group
Full disclosure here – this is a story about my son, this is the guy that pushed his father to run a marathon this past fall, this is my little boy that is growing up, and (if all goes to plan) is headed off to college this fall. This is his story and I have to admit, my wife and I are bursting with pride!
This is a story of love, commitment, leadership and humility.
Our son has been bitten by a bug so to speak. Not the bug of lethargy and complacency, that I think I feared might befall a high school senior, nor the bug of curfew breaking, and late night calls that could have accompanied a spirited, strong-willed eighteen year old. No, this is the bug of hard work, service, and a deep commitment to the welfare and happiness of others.
This however is not just his story, in fact, this is the remarkable part; this is the story of a group of high school aged “kids” that belong to the youth group at our church. Last summer, as they have in the past, this group gathered together (with support from the church and the community), to head to a place that was in need. Real need.
Fifteen strong, with adult chaperones, they boarded a flight to Glendora, Mississippi.
With each person’s luggage being kept to a minimum (carry-ons only), this allowed their checked bags to be filled with needed supplies: clothes, books, tools, dry foods and toys.
They committed to a deeply held belief that they are the accountable entities, and that if change was going to happen, they would have to act differently.
A Small Group
A small group of citizens, making a difference.
This, I figure, is living proof that Margaret Mead got it right when she stated “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
These children left their hometown of Ipswich, MA with a view of the world that likely didn’t stray far from three square meals a day, a warm bed at night, a school packed with supplies and resources, and summer vacations spent at the local beach.
They came home changed.
They came home sad, thoughtful, melancholy, inspired, committed and well and truly changed for the better.
They came home believing that with privilege comes responsibility, they came home with a strong commitment to want to use their talents to help those with less, they came home committed to go back!
This is a community with very few of the amenities and services that we take for granted. This is a community where the median household income is about $17,000 a year. Many of the children of Glendora found it difficult to believe that these 17 and 18 year olds were not parents and had not yet been incarcerated.
As our son told me, “Dad, I need to work with these people, alongside them, so that we learn from each other and share what we can. We have so much to share Dad, I don’t need all this, and I have to give back…”
This group spent a week building playgrounds, setting-up a library for local children, and crafted a summer camp curriculum that lives on. They spent their down-time walking the one-road town picking up trash, they cleaned up a neighborhood that remains grateful to this day.
They are living proof that change only happens when we embody it, act differently, and lead by example.
So this is their story, and they want to go back and do more. They believe in the power of a small group of committed citizens. They do not have the resources from their church or town and yet they remain committed to going back to their friends in Glendora, who believe in them.
I believe in them, we believe in our son.
Thank you for considering and supporting their efforts to raise funds for this trip. Herewith a link to their story and their fund raising effort.
Culture and Love – a story from 2014
As 2014 drew to a close last week many a news outlet spent time reflecting back on the highs and the lows of the past year. Whether framed as a “top 10 list” or presented more as the best and the worst, here in northeastern Massachusetts one particular story caught my ear.
This was the Market Basket Story, a tale of unparalleled employee unity and pride, and living proof that a small group of committed people can in fact make a difference.
If you’re unfamiliar with this particular tale, there was a real cast of characters; long-time feuding, wealthy family members, unfairly (some would argue) fired senior executives, passionate, committed employees, and deeply loyal customers.
Bottom line: local grocery-store chain CEO fired by cousin (hate each other) board member, employees (loyal is an understatement) outraged and walk off the job, stand-off ensues, employees rally for the fired CEO to be reinstated, customers stay away at the request of employees (and there are no supplies on the shelves) and eventually the fired CEO buys enough shares to take control of the company and is reinstated – celebrations all around and bonus checks for employees!
The news story that I heard a few days ago was celebrating the fact that the entire body of employees has been recognized as the Boston Globe’s “2014 Business Person of the Year”, and reflecting on the leadership of Arthur T. Demoulas, the reinstated CEO, making the statement “… he was reinstated along with his culture of generosity, kindness and caring.”
I love this statement! His Culture!
Think about the words, his culture. This is not an abstract, difficult to grasp concept – this is his, the way he leads, the way he works.
In our work to improve safety in healthcare the word ‘culture’ gets tossed around all too easily. It’s easy to blame the culture, almost as if doing so excuses the behavior. It rolls off the tongue as part of our standard vernacular, and is often the response to much of what ails us:
Q: “Why are some of your operating rooms using surgical checklists and others not?”
A: “That’s just the way we do things here, it’s our culture…”
Q: “What stopped you from speaking up when you saw your senior colleague acting in that rude, disrespectful manner?”
A: “That’s the culture on this team, keep your mouth shut and your head down…”
It strikes me that we cite or state culture as the root-cause of the problem because it creates the impression that fixing or changing it is nigh on impossible. That to tackle, change or create a new culture is a myth so complicated that we best not even try…
The Market Basket story annihilates this myth.
Health and care leaders listen up
Culture is the way we act as leaders. It is the tone we set, the expectations we communicate, and the behavior, language and performance that we tolerate.
Culture is the way we (you and I) do things. Do you want a communicative, fair, safe culture? Then communicate openly about the good, the bad and the ugly. Be fair with the people that choose to work in your organization, and with the way you make decisions (don’t interpret as treating everyone the same…), and model an environment where speaking up about your mistakes and owning them is celebrated not frowned upon.
Remember, if it is to be it is up to me.
“His culture of generosity, caring and kindness.” The reporter goes on to interview Arthur T. (reinstated CEO) and he describes some additional tenets by which he runs his company, with fairness, justice, and connection to the human soul.
They’re running supermarkets people, and he’s talking about connecting to the human soul…
He nails it when he shares that the secret to this incredible story is to remember that they are, “… in the people business first, and the food business second.”
Health and care safety in 2015
People business first, medicine business second.
People is where our focus needs to be. Caring and healing our patients and their families, absolutely, it’s the calling that many of us responded to that finds us doing the work we do. But it needs to be more than this…
I propose that in 2015 we need our focus to be more on the people that provide this care – as leaders we need to make these people ‘the business that we are in.’ They will take care of their patients.
Commit to being in the people business first. The care givers; the nurses, the technicians, the physicians, the patient care attendants, the unit secretaries, the managers, the supervisors, the housekeepers, the pharmacists, the social workers and each other.
Provide the generosity, kindness, love, fairness and justice that connects them to their purpose, reminds them of their calling, and creates a safe environment for them to deliver the best care possible.
The reporter for the piece on Market Basket closed out the segment by suggesting that the Market Basket employee’s actions have presented other companies throughout the Commonwealth and around the world with a challenge of sorts – loyalty is one thing, these folks though clearly love where they work, and who they work for…
From loyalty to love!
Perhaps for 2016…
A conversation with Chuck Lauer
Last year I had the wonderful opportunity to be introduced to Chuck Lauer, the former publisher of Modern Healthcare, by my good friend and colleague Kristi Peterson. Chuck and I spent considerable time talking and emailing about a subject of mutual interest and something we are both passionate about, accountability, specifically about the idea and concept of ‘personal accountability’.
This concept of personal accountability, and the choice to change the words I use when I think about accountability, are in part lessons from the leadership, writings, and friendship of Linda Galindo.
Chuck went on to pen a piece that appeared in Beckers Hospital Review on August 17th 2013. I just re-read it, and thought I’d share it here again. Enjoy…
We hear a lot about “accountability” in healthcare — from the boardroom, to the workplace, to new payment methodologies like “accountable care organizations” — but most people don’t have a clue about what the word really means.
Everyone knows the basic definition: Accountability is a kind of answerability. The word derives from having to give an account — to clearly explain what you are doing. But the actual definition goes much deeper than that.
Richard Corder, assistant vice president of CRICO, a Harvard-affiliated malpractice and patient safety organization, has thought a lot about what accountability is — including what it is not. It is not, he told me recently in an email, about saying “yes” whenever your approval is sought. “In healthcare, we have fallen for the belief that good service means saying yes to everything,” he said to me. “Saying no — and being clear about why, and when you may be able to meet, chat, review, discuss — is a liberating, time-saving, accountable action.”
One of the things often missing in today’s workplace, he said, is a lack of clarity about what accountability really means. “Treating everyone the same is disrespectful to our high performers and excuses (rewards) our middle and low performers,” he said. Fairness is not about treating everyone the same. As leaders, we understand that we have to treat, manage, coach and lead people differently — based upon performance and needs.
“In healthcare, we are currently spending a lot of time (and money) talking about and pondering the ‘accountable entity,'” he told me. “We wax and wane poetically about the who, what, why, when and where, when all the time it’s staring back from the mirror. We are the accountable entities.”
That gets us to the heart of the matter: Accountability has to start with you! If you are ever going to be successful and fulfilled in your life, you have to be accountable to yourself. Sure, you can kid yourself about how good you are, and you can even fool other people by what you say and how you behave. But do not forget that the hardest person to satisfy is you! You have to judge yourself and live with it every day!
Each of us is an accountable entity. That’s why, when leaders lead with clarity and conviction, honesty and transparency, they bring with them inspiration and determination. They have become accountable to themselves! It’s a contagious enthusiasm that permeates their organizations. Talented people are attracted to institutions where leaders are dedicated to innovation, creativity and risk-taking. They fully accept that answering to oneself is the key to success.
I have had the honor of meeting a lot of great people — people who have made a difference and achieved unparalleled success in sports, business and other pursuits. None of them really caught fire until they took stock of themselves and became accountable. Some did this when they were young. Others didn’t face up to themselves until they were older. But in all cases they look back and say that being accountable to themselves is what changed their lives.
Richard Corder said personal accountability means always trying to be clear. When confronted with a problem, you can say, “I tried, but they wouldn’t let me,” he said, or you can say, “Can you help me figure this out? I need to get some clarity.”
It’s important to put some effort into establishing clarity, he said, offering me a quote from the inspirational speaker, Mark Victor Hansen: “By recording your dreams and goals on paper, you set in motion the process of becoming the person you most want to be.”
Listening to yourself can help you put your plan into action. I don’t know about you, but I have conversations with myself all the time, and from what I can gather from colleagues and friends, they do the same thing. This enables us to begin to develop a sense of our own accountability.
With accountability comes additional responsibility. For instance, in your job, do you speak up when you feel something could be improved? Or are you so concerned about the risk of falling out of favor that you don’t say anything?
In healthcare, we too often delude ourselves into accepting the status quo and are unwilling to try new things that just may be more efficient and guarantee a better experience for the patient. Accountability has to start with people who are willing to hold themselves to a higher standard and be answerable to themselves at all times. The goal is to never deviate from your dedication to excellence.
The road ahead is paved with uncertainty, and you will probably have to drive over many potholes along the way. The whole industry needs leaders who have the courage to look into the future with clear eyes and to inspire their people to do the same. We need to be willing to bring about the changes that healthcare so critically needs. It isn’t going to be easy. Those who hold themselves personally accountable to mission and vision and to themselves will be the stars that inspire all of us with their courage.
Richard Corder gave me a kind of motto for personal accountability. It’s all simple, two-letter words that go like this: “If it is to be, it is up to me.”
I have already put them up on my office wall.
Thanks again Chuck for the friendship, mentorship, interest, and support.
Leadership lessons from training to run a marathon with my teenager.
I just finished read Richard Branson’s recent blog – Leadership Lessons Begin at Home. #thevirginway
Richard talks about watching and learning from the tenacious spirit, and limitless energy, of his mother Eve. I have a leadership lesson that I am currently learning at home, not from my mum, but from (and with) my seventeen-year-old son.
After running what I thought was my first and last marathon in 2004, my then seven-year old asked if we could run a marathon before he heads off for college. At the time I quickly agreed, and secretly hoped that he’d forget…
In the pre-dawn hours of a New England winter, the thought of running 26.2 miles was daunting, distant and in my opinion; impossible. So we crafted a plan and the lessons began…
Establish the goal
Run a marathon in seven months’ time… this was a stretch to say the least. After some discussion and research we got clear about our goal, and then both committed to it. Get to the start line injury free on October 12, 2014. We figured that if we could do that with all the necessary preparation and training, the running of the race, would be the icing on the cake. Clarity of expectations, getting on the same page, and clearly articulating the goal (with a date) was critical.
Change is personal
I hadn’t run for several years and I was carrying what my doctor referred to as “too much weight for my height”. Early efforts were small, and required changes to diet and a commitment to exercising at least four days a week. The lesson was that the changes necessary to achieve this goal were a personal choice, and not an easy one. If I was serious about achieving the goal I needed to stick to the plan and learn some new habits. We chose a different mind-set from the past to achieve the desired outcome in the future.
Break the plan down
Thinking about running for over four hours to finish a marathon, was incomprehensible at some level. The lesson here is that the biggest, most intimidating goal required a plan, an approach, and a way to eat the proverbial ‘elephant’. We used a spreadsheet to set out the miles that we would run for every single day until October 12, 2014. It became easy to understand, realistic to imagine, and allowed us to take every day one at a time.
We had a plan, we also had lives, and reality happens. The plan had us committed to specific miles that we needed to run every day, “long runs” on the weekends, cross-training days, and rest days.
My son is a senior in high school and I travel quite frequently for work. So we’ve had to get really good about communicating changes to the schedule, adjustments to the miles, and really good about sharing how each of us was feeling in any given week. We also found that communicating during the run was incredibly valuable. Asking for help, sharing what hurts and when, and being clear about our own needs made it easy to learn from each other and adjust the plan in real-time.
Achieving a different outcome (losing weight, running a marathon) has required different habits and choices. Early morning runs have had an impact on family, work, and school, and have required choices that have meant giving some things up. Fewer carbohydrates and fewer late nights are relatively easy sacrifices. The burden that training places on family has been a lesson in open communication, clarity of expectations and forgiveness…
Having a passion or a sense of purpose
Early in our commitment and decision, we decided to do the race in honor of my late mother, the grandmother that my son never met. We joined the team for the American Cancer Society. Knowing that our effort directly related to something that was bigger than us, that we have a passion for, and that we had a belief in, has buoyed us along the way.
Through five months of training we have learned that rest, relaxation and cross training (exercise that is not running) have been as important as the running. While the “work” has required discipline and a plan, so to have the activities that have kept us “whole” as people. This focus on our resiliency has ensured that we have enjoyed this experience, and has set us up to be the best that we can be. Taking care of ourselves and those we work with as whole human beings is something that I am now, more than ever, astutely aware of.
There are other lessons that I continue to learn from my running partner and my all too soon “off to college” son. The lessons of tenacity, perseverance, hard work, sacrifice, good humor at all times, listening, laughing, tradition, and family, to name a few.
Rudyard Kipling’s final sentence of “If” captures some of this sentiment for me:
“If you can fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance, run, yours is the earth and everything that’s in it, and — which is more — you’ll be a man, my son”
Every time we lace up, stretch out, and get ready to run, I realize that we are also creating special memories that will stay with us both for many years to come. Thanks for the lessons my son, I’ve loved every mile of them. I love you!
24 days; 20 hours and 31 minutes to the start line! We’ve got this!