How could I say no?
It was for a cause I cared about…and if she could do it, so could I. At least that was my reasoning.
I had never been a runner. I had never experienced the euphoria that many of my friends described in their regular, long distance sojourns on trails and roadways. I couldn’t even imagine it. But I had always enjoyed riding my bike and swimming.
So how hard could it be? It wasn’t an Ironman, after all, it was only a sprint distance triathlon in a very supportive, noncompetitive (mostly) environment. I wasn’t in very good shape, but I wasn’t in terrible shape either.
I figured there was hope. I would be fundraising to support ovarian cancer research. And since those in the know say 51 is the new 35, really, how hard could it be?
Hitting the Road
My best friend, Alana*, agreed to participate with me. She was clearly more enthused about the training, the event itself, and the benefits to ovarian cancer research than she was about asking for money. So that became mostly my job.
Alana was a Colonel in the Marine Corps Reserves, which suited her perfectly. She is disciplined. She works well within pre-established structures and is good at creating her own structures for whatever task is at hand.
And she gets results...in anything she decides to take on.
I should mention that at that time she also did some form of PT (physical training) nearly every day. So she took on the job of making sure that we actually trained. Multiple times every week. My only saving grace was that she had bad feet.
In spite of that, she nearly killed me on our first run.
I hadn’t done any running since high school (what’s that, 32 years!?). And I think the longest distance I had ever run was about two miles at a time. (Did I mention I wasn’t a runner?) Our first run was three miles, with a steep hill at the halfway point. And her rule was no walking. I was allowed to run as slowly as I wanted, but walking was not an option.
When we started climbing that hill I felt like I was inhaling flames with every breath. It seemed as though my lungs stopped taking in air, in spite of my gasping attempts to empty and refill them. My legs felt like they were made of lead, and the road like wet sand. And the top of that hill represented only the halfway mark…not the finish line.
It was not my best moment.
The only thing that kept me going was some semblance of pride…and determination not to quit. Although it was very, very tempting. I previewed a variety of scenarios through my head during that ‘run.’ Scenarios that might enable me to bow out of the whole experience and still retain some sense of personal dignity.
* Name changed to hold off the paparazzi
Discipline AND Determination...and Delight
It wasn’t too long before we were able to run three, four, or five miles relatively easily. Well, ‘easily’ compared to that first run. And we did this often after riding our bikes for 20-30 miles. Huh, who knew!?
Not only did we improve our skills, stamina, and speed; we were actually having fun.
Alana’s discipline got us out the door on a regular basis. She made sure we had time scheduled and she laid out a specific plan for our training. My determination pushed us to go faster in all three legs (swimming, biking and running), and to play with new strategies on how to make it all more enjoyable. The process of blending our differing styles so easily and naturally is a bit surprising as I look back on it. It seemed to happen without any conscious effort on our part. But it is what enabled us to be successful.
I think about this example often as I work with leaders and teams because it’s probably the best and most memorable partnership I’ve ever had when trying to accomplish something so personally challenging (for both of us). Even though Alana’s style and mine are pretty much polar opposites, we unintentionally did some things that worked well. Neither of us ever felt like we had to 'walk on eggshells' or be less of ourselves to accommodate the other. We were both totally engaged…and loving what we were accomplishing.
Ours is obviously a simple example—there were only two of us, we were close friends to start with, we were focused on a very clearly defined, short-term goal, and we had total freedom to define success for ourselves. But it is also a clear and powerful example, one that I have leveraged many times in both my personal and professional life.
Here is some of what I learned:
- Define success right away—define what it is and what it isn’t. For Alana and I success was completing the race, not hurting ourselves (or anyone else), not walking (that was Alana’s addition), raising several thousand dollars for ovarian cancer research, and enjoying the process along the way. We were intentional about reigning in the competitive side of our natures and not focusing on our times or ranking with the other participants. Raise money and have fun. That was our mantra.
- Inventory your assets--rabidly seek out the different perspectives, approaches, and styles and then to dig in to learn more about them. Observe people’s natural tendencies: toward what do they gravitate; what do they innately and easily bring to the group or partnership. Ask truly open, curious questions about their ideas and conclusions--from where they came, to where they might lead, what else they considered.
- Assign owners—given what you learned (from the above observations and explorations), decide who will own what…and then let them do it. Alana owned our training and I owned our fund raising. We both played active roles in all of the activities, but we knew who was primarily responsible for what. We did an unconscious version of a responsibility matrix (like a simple RASCI).
- Fill the gaps—identify what you need or want and don’t have. Figure out where to get it…in a way that fits into your overall definition of success. As part of our training, we decided to join a group of women at our local athletic club who were also preparing for triathlons. It was a friendly group with a wide range of fitness levels and skill and led by women who had experience. we intentionally did not train with the groups of hard core triathletes.
- Check-in continually--regularly ask each of the members how they're doing...how they're feeling, what's working well for them, what could make things better. Then adapt the process accordingly.
- Do your best, learn, and move on—doing the military version of an AAR (After Action Review) is always helpful. We did ours over mimosas and brunch following the event. And then we pulled out our calendars and scheduled our training for the next one.
The Rest of the Story
Alana and I participated in four triathlons that summer. And we completed the event to support ovarian cancer research every year for the following few years, even though she had moved to the other side of the country.
Our experience the following years was not nearly as enjoyable as that first year. We continued to train, but we did so separately, without a lot of coordination. It was certainly much less enjoyable and we didn't perform nearly as well, athletically or financially. No great surprise, I suppose. Lesson learned...
Most of us have numerous opportunities to build better partnerships in our lives...both personally and professionally. With intention, and by following the steps above, I know it's doable.
Image Credit: Lexi Ruskell
- QUESTION ONE:
Where, in your current partnerships, could you better define success--what it is and what it isn't?
- QUESTION TWO:
Most of our best traits have aspects of them that are irritating to those who partner with us...and vice versa. What is one trait, in one of your partners, that could be better leveraged? How could that trait be used more fully to benefit your collective work?
- QUESTION THREE:
How might you infuse more joy into your work with partners? What might make your combined efforts more enjoyable for both of you?
May you go forth, do good work with your partners, and enjoy the process!!