April 30, 2013 / GROWTH IS OXYGEN
April 30, 2013
Oftentimes, people don’t know what they are capable of until they are truly pushed beyond their limits. If one swims to the bottom of a pool and holds their breath, odds are good that they’ll come for air after just thirty seconds—but diving under water as a 15-foot wave crashes overhead, they would most likely be able to hold their breath for much longer than they ever thought possible. Life is just the same—extreme personal and professional growth comes during the most difficult times through challenges that push us further than we’ve ever been before. These moments of weathering the storm are what truly define who we are as a person.
I was lucky to have one weathered one such storm in my life. A few years ago, I went on a training ride to prepare for a half Ironman. In one moment, I was riding my bike and in the next, I was waking up on the side of the road coughing up blood. By virtue of a driver’s ill-timed and illegal u-turn, I had crashed into the side of a car going 24 MPH. Over the course of the next month, I discovered the extent of my injuries and underwent several invasive surgeries, and eventually learned to stand up straight again. The many months after that accident were some of the most difficult, yet formative days of my life as I learned exactly how long I could hold my breath—and push myself as a person.
The first step is to acknowledge that you are in storm—surfers, sailors, and anyone who lives near the water constantly monitor the weather and look at what’s ahead so they don’t get caught off guard. Personally, it took a while to admit how difficult things were, but once I did, I was able to realize that my situation could get infinitely better. When you are taking on a major challenge, if you can recognize that it’s going to be a tough road ahead, you’re already ahead of the game. As G.I. Joe famously said, “”Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.”
It’s important to admire the beauty amongst the chaos and celebrate what seems to be the small stuff. While in the midst of a major challenge, people find it’s easy to become so wrapped up in their personal storms, they forget to stop and look around. When driving under 20-foot surf, it’s easy to miss the beautiful channels of turbulence. Sometimes we forget to admire the pelting mist blowing off the back of a wave, or the pelicans soaring just feet above the water. But all these moments of beauty are incredibly important to recognize even in the midst of the storm.
I found great joy when I hit small moments and realized they were, in fact, major accomplishments. For months I couldn’t lift my arm high enough to brush or floss my teeth, and I celebrated the day I finally could. Similarly, while in the midst of a professional storm, take time to acknowledge the small successes—an elegant solution to a complex problem, a truly remarkable meeting or even a well-crafted response to a challenging question can be a small victory in what will be a much larger war. These simple moments should be acknowledged and celebrated, as they provide motivation for the long journey ahead.
One of the hardest aspects to accept is that we can navigate through a storm, but we can’t control the ocean. We need to learn to control what we can in our own lives, and let everything else go. I suddenly possessed a body that wasn’t healing nearly as quickly as I’d like and was entirely reliant on a team of doctors, nurses, and physical therapists. Although frustrated, I was determined to take control of what I could to get my body and my life back, which meant spending six hours every day in rehabilitation, acupuncture, and massage therapy. There are many times in our professional life when we are also at the mercy of others—macroeconomic factors or even elements within our industries or companies. What we can do is control our own business and focus on what is in our power and sphere of influence.
But, it’s also essential to recognize that growth of any kind can be painful and scary. Acknowledging my fear enabled me to channel this energy into a positive direction. As a longtime athlete, I was inspired by a quote about Laird Hamilton, one of the greatest big wave surfers, that says, “What’s so interesting about Laird and athletes like Laird, they are just as afraid, but they deal with it differently.” The ability to work through fear is not unique to athletes, and the ability to channel this fear and charge ahead can be utilized in all areas of life.
The classic line from Stan Lee’s Spider Man says, “With great power comes great responsibility,” and a professional challenge is very similar. You have been entrusted with a company, business, role, or campaign and are expected to be successful. Whenever put in such a situation, you have great power within that storm and a great opportunity for incredible growth. Never let any storm pass you by without taking the chance to ride it as far as you can.