Five Lessons Learned in 2019

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I had been running for 90 minutes when the road curved near mile ten. I was greeted by a group of local motorcycle enthusiasts who shouted words of encouragement and handed out full cans of beer. They may have consumed more than they handed out, but I appreciated their enthusiasm. In fact, I thrived on it because my entire body was numb at this point, except for my left knee, which started barking at mile five. Thousands of people showed up to cheer us on, and many of them held signs -a mixed grill of poignancy and humor. Some of the most memorable were:

  • “2020: Make American Chafe Again,
  • “Smile. You Paid to do This”,
  • and “It’s Too Late to Trust a Fart.”

However, others reminded you of the importance of the day. They were posterboard memorials dedicated to loved ones lost to pediatric cancer. I can’t remember the exact words, but one is permanently tattoed in my brain. It was a blond-haired boy who looked to be about ten. He had a mischievous smile and piercing blue eyes. The dates below his picture let us know that while he was no longer with us, his loved ones still hung on to memories, pain, and a bedrock belief that no parent should have to make another sign.

Roughly two hours after starting, I crossed the finish line at the annual St. Jude’s Half-Marathon in Memphis, TN. My quadriceps burned, and my knee ached, but my spirit soared. It was the completion of a goal set on New Year’s Day, 2019. Since crossing the finish line, I’ve thought about the lessons I learned along the way.

Make a Plan of Action

I shared some of my goals for 2019 in a blog post at the start of the year. The central premise was to create a plan of action with specific goals, action steps, and deadlines to ensure follow-through. What gets measured gets done, and these strategies helped me accomplish almost all of my goals for 2019.

An unexpected benefit was it forced me to collaborate with others. (This is a fancy way of saying I had to be vulnerable and ask for help.) I was not a runner until this year, and I had many questions. I reached out to colleagues and acquaintances who are experienced runners. They helped me create a training plan, provided guidance on equipment and nutrition, and coached me through various injuries. When you are doing something difficult, especially something you’ve never done before, you need a community of support. I’m so grateful to everyone who helped me along the way because, while it’s essential to have a plan, it never goes as expected. This group helped me make adjustments along the way, and while it’s great to find your tribe, you should stop short of…

Comparing Yourself to Others.

While my spirits soared at the finish line, I was also slightly disappointed. My goal was to finish the race in two hours, but I finished at 2:08. It was bittersweet, but I gave everything I had. My legs were completely dead, and I barely had enough energy to descend the steps of Auto Zone Park to take a shower. I was thrilled to finish; however, I knew a lot of people who finished in under two hours. I started to go down the rabbit hole of self-flagellation, questioning what I did wrong. Then I remembered something I tell my own kids: Just do your best. Or, in the words of Lou Hotz, “All you can do is all you can do.”

No matter your goal, your experience level, or natural abilities, the struggle is real for all of us. I talked to a runner who wanted to finish a full marathon in three hours. They came up four minutes short. While they were disappointed, I was in awe because that is a fantastic time. This is the problem with continually comparing ourselves to others. It robs us of our joy. Unless you go to the Olympics and win a gold medal, there is always someone stronger, better, and faster than you. This doesn’t mean you are a failure, or that you can’t celebrate your own achievements. My goal wasn’t to finish first, it was to complete a half-marathon in 2019. In fact, I ran two half-marathons, two 5 K’s, and logged over 430 miles since January. For a guy that never seriously ran until this year, those are terrific numbers. While I didn’t hit my time goals, I took up a difficult challenge and learned a lot about myself along the way because…

Doing Difficult Things Builds Confidence. 

It’s tough to put into words, but doing difficult things and accomplishing goals you once thought unattainable builds self-confidence. Since running my first half-marathon in September, I rarely find myself intimidated. It’s not that I don’t have anxious moments, it’s just that when they arrive, I have a bedrock belief that I can handle whatever is placed in front of me.

I didn’t really understand this phenomenon until I read an article shared on Twitter.  Research confirms that those who have a serious hobby (not related to their job) develop increased confidence at work.  In my case, I experienced a boost in confidence as I accomplished new goals. The first time I ran nine miles, I was elated. In January, I never imagined that I could run nine continuous miles, yet in August, I did just that. You don’t compartmentalize that kind of energy, it’s infectious, and it follows you to work on Monday.

This is somewhat tangential, but the importance of being present, of living in the moment, is essential as well. The thought of running 12 miles on a Saturday morning, after a long work week, after getting back from a late football game, and on sore legs, was just overwhelming. Instead, I would just tell myself to run the first mile, then the next, and so on. I found that I couldn’t worry about the overall goal, I just set small, attainable goals along the way and worked toward them. A few hours later, the mission was accomplished, and I was on with the rest of my day. Whiles these strategies helped boost my self-confidence, 2019 reminded me that…

True Peace is Not of This World.

To me, real confidence is knowing you have a purpose on this earth. We were all put here for a reason. If you wake up each day believing in your heart and soul that your mission is to help others, it will give you immeasurable comfort. I personally embraced this philosophy after listening to a story about U2’s Bono. He shared a simple family prayer with a young fan:  I’m available for work.  Bono advised her to make herself available for work and to expect astonishing things to happen.

Since adopting this philosophy, I feel like I’m often carried by a jet stream of purpose. It’s not that each day is perfect, I’m just open to God’s daily work. There are times where I find myself mired in negativity, narcissism, and self-loathing. But when I make myself available for work, I shift from the trappings of self-centeredness to the needs of others and, in turn, find happiness, purpose, and peace. Even, and especially, during times of adversity. Believing there is a greater purpose for my life helps me learn from difficult moments and embrace the good ones. This year also reminded me that…

You Can’t Take Yourself too Seriously.

On my 41st birthday, I decided to go for a run. Two days earlier, I ran four miles in record time. My legs were light and strong, and I felt like a racehorse, built, and born to run. But I felt much different on my birthday.  It was a struggle from step one, and I labored throughout the workout. Finally, at the 3.5-mile mark, I felt a searing pain in my right knee. I immediately pulled up lame and dropped to the ground in agony. I crawled to the side of the running trail, writhing in pain as I tried to stretch out, with blatant disregard to the mud around me. (The mud seemed strange because it had not rained in several days, but I was in too much pain to rationalize.) Twilight turned to darkness as I rose to my feet and limped back to my car. Each step hurt like hell, and I was covered in sweat because late September was still holding the heat well. As I wiped the sweat from my face, I noticed an unusual smell. It was the smell of dog crap. There was no mud.  I had stretched out in a massive pile of canine poo, and it was stuck to my shoes and shorts. Happy Birthday, Matt! I found myself laughing with each pain-filled step.

Life is a paradox. I didn’t want dog dung cologne for my birthday, but I ended the day with a great laugh, and a fun story to tell. I also discovered if I didn’t stretch and roll my IT band, I would end up on the side of the trail in pain.

I had a great 2019, and I hope you did too. I’m eagerly awaiting 2020 armed with the knowledge that discomfort builds confidence, and purpose promotes peace. A New Year is symbolic of a fresh start, and I hope you embrace new opportunities for yourself, and more importantly, to help others.

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