Two Legs, Three Speeds – Tips On Pacing Yourself
Two Legs, Three Speeds – Tips On Pacing Yourself
June 20, 2013
Winston Wayne Wilson
I am always rushing – partly due to my perpetually jammed-packed schedule and partly due to my impatience. For the majority of my life, the pace settings on my legs were perennially stuck at Flash Gordon speeds. I was just like Will Smith’s character, Chris Gardner, in the movie “The Pursuit of Happyness”, who was constantly rushing. I have little cartilage left in my knees because I grinded them down from constantly running around. Even when I was early, I was running. When travelling through subway stations, I used to dart past people as if there was a prize for the first person to get outside. Even though life showed me many subtle as well as overt signs, to stop rushing, I mostly ignored them. In early 2012, as I was literally sprinting towards the Wall Street train station in Manhattan, my right foot bucked against a slightly raised piece of concrete and I tripped and fell flat on my face, scraping my kneecaps as well as my hands, which I used as landing gears. At six feet, eight inches tall, onlookers could have aptly yelled, “Timber!” Thankfully, no one did.
Ironically, the first person at the scene was an older woman who was strolling along. She yelled frantically, “Oh my God, are you all right?”, as she helped me to get up. I was embarrassed but I was fine. Life, once again, was sending me a message about my pace. This time, I heard the message loud and clear – in front of several witnesses. I got up and crawled like a turtle into the subway. Even though I rush every now and again, I have obliterated the Usain Bolt Olympic gold medal sprint from my repertoire of paces.
I know some of us are superman wannabes and would like to fly like the guy in the picture but flying is not a pace for humans. As it relates to us humans, there are basically three paces that we can adopt in the race of life: walking, running, and standing still. I will describe each pace in more details later.
Life is comprised of several simultaneous races – similar to the Olympics, where one can participate in multiple races over a two-week period. That gives us a chance, like Michael Phelps, to win numerous medals for different races. So, then, every day we are running a race. Sometimes, a race starts and ends in one day. Other times, one race can go on for days, months or even years. Given the varied duration of the races, it is critical that we are applying the right pace to the respective races. Here’s more insight on the different paces:
Walking is a well-paced stroll. The scenery changes, but very slowly. Walking engages us at a philosophical level because it is while walking that our minds are at ease and we can establish our value systems and ponder life. Walking is focused on endurance rather than speed. Hence, sometimes the slower we walk, the better results we might achieve – particularly since the purpose of walking is to observe our surroundings during a particular race. It is while walking that we gain experience. Life will test us, at a later date, about the things that we should have observed during that particular race. Life becomes a circle when we have to constantly start over a race because we either ran during a race when we should have walked or we managed to walk during the race but we were distracted, perhaps from gossiping, diatribing, or flirting with another runner, and wound up missing the lessons. Sometimes, as was the case when I fell while running, life can send you a signal that you have selected the wrong pace. When that occurs, it is important to immediately correct your speed.
Here are scenarios where walking works well: when you are on vacation; when you are outside of work; when you are at work and you feel overwhelmed; during your alone time; and when you are spending quality time with your kids, family, friends and community. All of these examples represent moments in which you might need to rest, recover, recalibrate, learn from your mistakes, read, write, engage your passion, and connect meaningfully with people, yourself and the universe. When we rush through these moments, we miss out on everything that we are supposed to learn. In short, we become “inexperienced” in life. When there are no boundaries between our work and personal lives, we oftentimes bring the frenetic rush from our jobs to our homes and we speed through the obligations in our personal lives. Worse yet, some of us are so busy running the high speed corporate race that we never get home in time to run the family race, the friend race, the community race or the self-actualization race. Even when we win the corporate race, our lives still feel empty because our family and friends are not at the coronation ceremony to share the victory with.
Running is a fast-paced motion. The scenery changes very rapidly. Running challenges us physically because it is while running that the fire in our bellies drive us to compete and win. Running is more focused on speed rather than endurance. The purpose of running is to take advantage of a transient opportunity. Hence, sometimes the faster you run, the better results you might achieve – particularly since the purpose of running is to win a prize or gain the first mover’s advantage. It is while running that we test our mettle, get in shape and improve our cardio-vascular strength. Regret will haunt us, at a later date, about the opportunities that we forfeited during a particular race. Life passes us by when we are walking during a race rather than running. Sometimes, life can send us a signal that we have selected the wrong pace, example when others keep getting a promotion over us or when they are constantly executing on their plans and getting their dreams fulfilled while we sit and talk about our dreams and anxiously wait for them to come true. When that occurs, it is important to immediately correct your speed, move with more alacrity and exude greater fire in the belly. Here are scenarios where running works well: when you are working in a fast-paced competitive environment; when there is a shelf life affixed to an opportunity; when you are serving clients and there are hoops that you must run through; and when you are chasing a dream. All these examples represent moments when we are required to pick up the pace in order to grow, adapt to the changes occurring in our lives and to increase our chances of winning.
Standing still is a lack of any motion at all. The scenery does not change. Standing still challenges us mentally because it is while standing still that our minds must filter out every last bit of distraction so that it can absorb the highest level of wisdom. Standing still is focused on strategy rather than speed or endurance. The purposes of standing still are: to listen to specific instructions about course corrections; catalyze paradigmatic shifts in our mindsets in order to enhance our performances; and to heighten our awareness of red flags and warning signs of dangers in the race. Hence, sometimes the more motionless you are, the more wisdom you will absorb. It is while standing still that we are handed the bottle of secret sauce to help us do better in the race. Failure will plague us, at a later date, because of the wisdom we forfeited during a particular race. Here are scenarios where standing still works well: when you are burned out from running too long or too hard; when you cannot see the forest from the trees; when you have important decisions to make; and when your gut tells you to stop.
The standing still phase of a race reminds me of a quote about “good art” that, Varda Yaron, a renowned sculptor and past neighbor of mine, shared with me. The definition of “good art”, she said, is art that “....stops me when I am walking and moves me when I am standing.” Wisdom is like “good art”. It requires you to stop and stand still so you can be moved by it. In order to become wise, we must stop everything and listen to the exquisite voice of wisdom.
In the early 1990s, I participated in a team building session where teams had to play a board game called Gold of the Desert King. As part of the game, teams had to make various decisions while travelling safely across the desert into the mountains to mine for gold and then safely return home. The stated objective of the game was to mine as much gold as possible. Whichever team mined the most gold, would be declared the winner. The teams had to make decisions about how much food, as well as which protective gears and navigational instruments, to load into their caravans. They had to bring just the right amount of food to last the entire journey because, if they ran out, it was game over. Conversely, if they packed too many things in their caravans, they would not have enough space to put the gold. Also, the right navigational instruments and protective gears would help them to safely navigate the unknown elements in the desert; accordingly, they had to be judicious with their selections. The teams also had to decide if, rather than rushing along, they wanted to spend time talking to the old man of the desert. The teams were told that if they spoke to the old man of the desert, they would lose about two days and there was no assurance that he knew what he was talking about as it related to the trek across the desert.
The exercise started and, of course, just about every team immediately snapped into race mode and, trying to win the race with speed, rushed to get to and from the mountains first. Other than one team, everyone declined to spend any time with the old man of the desert. Losing two days did not make sense to the other teams who were trying to speedily win the race. Some teams faltered and never made it to the mountains because they miscalculated how much food they needed. Those who packed too much food wound up making it to the mountains but had very little space left for gold. They were afraid to toss out the food for fear that they would not make it back if they miscalculated how much food they needed to return. Other teams simply died of starvation because they wanted their caravans to be as empty as possible to get as much gold as possible but they either never made it to the mountains or they died afterwards. Other teams succumbed to inclement weather because they did not have the right navigational tools and protective gears.
There was, of course, one team that made it to and from the mountains in record speed. Proudly, they dashed up to the front of the conference hall to claim the winning prize from the instructor. The instructor told the team members that he could not declare them the winners until every team arrived back from the mountains. So the team that finished first had to wait it out for at least another hour or more until the entire game was finished. That team was not the winner. Not even close.
The winner was the team that took a chance, stood still, and spent two days with the old man of the desert. The old man of the desert was like an owner’s manual. It turned out that he did in fact know everything about the desert, including the weather patterns, how much food was required for the journey, the location of the gold in the mountains, which navigational tools worked best, and the path to take to avoid destruction. He knew everything. Armed with that wisdom, the team was able to go to the mountains and focus on the task at hand, which was simply to mine as much gold as possible. They took their time on the journey and they were the last team to return; however, they had the most gold so they won the prize.
My challenge for you today is to be mindful of the race you are running and the speed that you are applying. It’s kind of like playing golf. You can use a wood driver throughout the entire 18-hole course but you probably shouldn’t do that. You have to vary the club you use to hit the golf ball. Don’t tee off with a putter and don’t putt with a driver. Similarly, you have to vary your speed to match the race. And don’t forget that there are times in life when we need to press pause and just stand still for our own safety. There are very wise “old men of the desert” who are ahead of us in the race and can give us insights that are valuable. Learn to stand still long enough to hear what these wise men have to say. If we continue to walk or run, then we risk injury or we will run into traffic or do something harmful to ourselves. The acronym I use to remind me to stop and stand still is “SAFETY” which means “stay away from everything tiring you” or “stay away from everyone troubling you”. Either one works. Good luck with the race. Enjoy your day.