Lessons From an Injured Back
I will be the first to admit that I am not one to slow down or take a break even when injured or sick. I have no patience with my own frailties, yet the first to implore others to rest and heal. Sometimes, my body just forces me to stop ~ a debilitating migraine will shut me down after a stressful event. But often, I tough out the migraines, the sinus infections, the arthritis pain. I have learned how to cope with the regular discomforts. However, the sudden, unexpected and uncommon pains can stop me cold.
Thursday afternoon I was pedaling my ElliptiGO (http://www.elliptigo.com/) having a blast and getting an incredible workout. When the stoplight turned green, I pushed into the pedal and stood up at the same time to maintain my balance (there is no seat on this machine, so core muscles must engage). As I pushed down on the pedal, I realized it was in a higher gear than I was expecting. Either my force on the pedal would move me forward enough to keep my balance, or I would tip over in the middle of the very busy street! I pushed very hard and got rolling, but felt something in my back pull enough for me to think, “Uh-oh.”
As soon as I got off the ElliptiGO and began my cool-down walk, I knew it would be a painful few days. Friday was miserable and I went to the chiropractor for some relief. An adjustment, some ice, and a day off from exercising helped a little. But of course I decided on Saturday that I would try the ElliptiGO to see if I could get a little exercise. I knew I had to be prepared to stop if the pain dictated that because I didn’t really wish to be disabled for a long haul. I tentatively took my first few pedals and thought, “Okay, I can do this slowly.” I kept a consistent pace by using my gears and concentrated on going slowly, focusing on the various parts of my body that could be used to compensate for my painful back. I learned a few lessons that I think I can apply to leadership!
1) Sometimes it is okay to coast: Instead of pedaling fast on the downhills, I allowed myself to coast, stretching my back and legs out as I did. Instead of letting my mind take over, I paid attention to the moment ~ the birds, a grasshopper, a lifeless butterfly’s orange against the black asphalt. I caught some subtle details that might otherwise have been missed. I enjoyed the moment and all that it offered me. If leaders take a moment every day to “coast” and just BE with and in their organizations, the frenetic energy to pedal faster and harder ceases briefly. S/he can appreciate the work that others do around them. Leaders can take time to enjoy the fruits of others’ work AND their own work, recognizing how much each small slice contributes to the wellbeing of the whole.
2) It is important to gather support from different areas: Focusing on the actions my body took that wrenched my back, I began to experiment with other muscles and areas of my body that could support the activity AND take the stress off my injury. I found relief in altering my stance just a little, using the front muscles of my thighs to push, leaning differently on my arms. If a leader always counts on the same support systems, s/he loses the subtler but worthy support of a lesser used system. That lesser used system will atrophy and can lead to more injury later. Allowing a different support system to step up strengthens and balances the entire system to provide more growth and opportunity. It gives recognition to parts of the structure that are always working but may not be as noticeable.
3) When there is discord in one area it affects the function of the whole: As I focused on more of my body than just the spot that was painful, I realized that I held other areas differently. This would skew the rest of me and throw it out of whack, thus causing more injury. It affected my appetite, sleep, ability to get in and out of the car comfortably, etc. Finding the pockets of “injury” or discord in a system and working with that element to strengthen it, take the pressure off, or provide support and appreciation of will allow the rest of the system to find its equilibrium and recalibrate thus providing the renewed energy to grow. With added focus and guided encouragement, the spark of motivation and inspiration will light other segments in new dimensions.
Leaders look for their inspiration in everything: pain, joy, exercise, rest, beauty, nature, a moment of peace or of grief. Sharing those bits of inspiration by applying them to the system they lead is important. What small action, thought, event, natural gift has inspired you lately? What lesson can you take from that inspiration and pass on to your organization? How can you tweak your system to gain the most pain free benefit?