Saturday, October 1, 2016

Turning Point

I'm writing this post in our room at the Radisson Hotel in Corning, NY. I'm here with Meghan, Geoffrey, and his daughter Aria. Which, among other things, means I have to sleep on the floor. I thought I would have two cushions available, but one of the cushions doesn't detach from the chair. I made up for it with cookies.

We met up with a large number of amazing LUNAR (Lace Up Now And Run) runners downstairs. I was easily recognizable as the dork in a kilt. It was especially inspiring to get to see Shawn again. He's only just recently regained his ability to walk on his own after going through brain surgery for the third time. The fact that he and his awesome wife drove up to see us was amazing.

Shawn is awesome!

After that we got to hear Bart Yasso speak! Bart! He showed us a slide show of all the places around the world that he's run: South Africa, Antarctica, Death Valley, Mount Freakin' Everest.... Just, I can't even remember. His stories were unbelievable. At some point he had to run away from a rhinoceros. And cross a river with crocodiles. I can't even remember everything. His stories were colossal.

Bart is awesome!

But being in the presence of so many amazing people that inspire me was just the cap of a long week of developing relationships with folks who, on the street I may pass by without a second glance, but who turned out to have incredible stories and an incredible capacity to teach me.

You see, I participated in a week long leadership program called Turning Point. Usually when you find out you're taking a program like that, it illicits groans. But it turned to be a truly singular experience. I can honestly say I was surprised by how much I learned about myself along the way. I wish I could thank the facilitators and individuals who made the program so great, but I'll maintain their anonymity here.

I got up at 5am every day to work out in the dark. Then I drove an hour to a lodge to spend each day with 25 strangers. The days were very mentally and emotionally draining (but in a good way). Then I drove home and worked out more. Then I went to bed too late. Rinse, repeat. Exhausting.

Running in the daaaaaark.

What amazed me on the first day was how quickly the 25 of us came together and developed comfort and trust with one another. This usually involved exercises that threw us right into the deep end, forcing us to communicate and work together. We quickly developed the trust, teamwork, and leadership to guide one another through various challenges. In order to avoid making this post overlong, I'll try to focus on what I learned.

On the first day I learned how people perceive one another, and how easy it is to get a false or skewed perception. If I'm focused on something, my communication may be very short. This can cause folks to see me as being rude or dismissive. And I realized how often I have perceived others this way, and how often they likely perceive me in the same way. I realized how critical communication is. Even regarding seemingly trivial things. Something as simple as putting a smiley at the end of an email can make a big difference.

On the second day, one of the exercises we did was called Lifeline. Each of us drew a historical line graph of our entire life. It was a deeply personal experience. But what I was blown away is just how much $hit folks have suffered through in each of their lives. Some of the stories I heard were just.... unbelievable. And each of these people, these folks who seemed totally cool and normal, have gone through some massive - and downright brutal - challenges and come out the other side.

I have written before about suffering. Your friends on Facebook will just post the highlights of their lives online. And it's easy to believe that everyone else has an amazing life, and you're the only person who sucks. But after hearing everyone's tales, I realized this is simply not true. I am not alone. You are not alone. And it's easy to write that. The extent to which other people suffer.... I honestly have lived a blessed life. I really have no room to complain about running a bad race.

Nothing to do with this post. I just like fish.

On day three, we learned about trust. For most of my life I've lived as a "lone wolf." And I realized it was a defense mechanism. I was putting myself in a position where I wouldn't have to lean on anyone. And that's a huge detriment to me. When you trust someone, and they trust you, the things you can accomplish together are astounding. A lot of the isolation I experience is self-imposed. And it's foolish. If I open myself to others, we can build trust, and improve many lives along the way. It's very scary, but very worth it.

Powerful lesson for me.

On the fourth day, we talked about dealing with conflict. And I learned a hard lesson about myself: I'm an avoider. I hate conflict. Most folks probably think that I face conflict head on, handle it, and move on. I don't fear conflict. But I actively avoid it. Largely because I don't like to hurt others. I've hurt so many people, that at this point I just prefer for others to have their way. But you can't move forward in a relationship if you just ignore things and never work through those conflicts. It's painful, but accepting conflict and working through it greatly strengthens your relationships.

It's important to discuss issues in relationships. Because if you don't, resentment builds. And just letting others always have their way doesn't work. Trust me it doesn't work. And it's not about "compromise". It's about collaboration. You can come out of a conflict with both of you feeling richer as a result. But it takes open and honest communication, without anger (that's the hard part).

Without going into too many details, at the end of day four we did an exercise that taught me my most personal lesson. I'm very competitive. When I succeed, I feel super great. But when I fail, it doesn't just make me feel bad.... It destroys me. And right after the exercise, I was really upset. And then I said to myself, wow, it's not the facilitator's fault I feel this way. It's my fault. I took things extremely personally. I allowed a setback to smash me directly at the core of my being.

I was blown away. I always knew that I pushed myself too hard. That I expected too much of myself. That I punished myself for even minor failures (as exemplified by the bad bout of overtraining syndrome I had very recently). That I take, just, everything, right to my soul. But this one exercise.... I was giddy with joy when I was doing well, and then 100% the opposite at the end. I was utterly crushed.

And I learned an extremely powerful lesson.

On day five we wrote down promises to ourselves. Goals we would work towards, with steps to pursue those goals. I made sure to write down the lessons I learned. It would be such a loss if I simply forgot and moved on. That would be easy to do. And it would be a huge waste. In just five days, I learned things that about myself that I've been struggling to figure out and work through over many years. I will never again have such a fantastic opportunity for self-improvement.

The above barely scratches the surface. There was lots of fun. Lots of laughing. Lots of emotional intimacy. Many many lessons. Everyone came away with different things. Shy folks gained the confidence to express themselves. Analytical folks learned to empathize with other people better. Followers became leaders. I had no problem expressing myself; I was the most boisterous of the bunch. My lesson was this: I have to stop hating myself every day, and start appreciating myself.

That's hard for me. It's vital for me.

Tomorrow morning I will run Wineglass marathon. I don't have a goal. I'm just running for fun with a bunch of awesome folks. It's been a long time since I've run simply for the joy of running. The last couple of weeks have been like that though. After the awfulness that was Via Marathon, I've simply let go of expectations. And as soon as I did that, running became fun again. I felt good again. Tomorrow will be a good day as well.

It took me forever to find this pond just 5 minutes from the lodge.

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