One muddy step closer: The trail as teacher

I think I might be lost. My plan had been to cross from the blue trail to the yellow trail but I was somehow on the frisbee golf course. My legs imitated running motion as I circled around in one spot, deciding where to go next. Retracing my steps back to the gravel roadway, I found the blue trailhead, and resumed my original course. The shade felt good. The leaves brushing against my arms felt good. The absence of human noise, which allowed the bird sounds to ring clearer, was better than good.


I finished the trail, ending up in the clearing next to the parking lot and checked my watch. I had been almost three miles. What? It felt like one. Time had flown and I wasn’t worn out. I decided to keep running, starting out on the orange trail and going until I felt like it was time to turn around.


This is so different from yesterday.


The day before, I had done a speed workout on the treadmill. For thirty minutes, a running coach spoke over hard rock music into my ear buds, guiding me through each segment. About halfway through each interval, which ranged in duration from thirty seconds to two minutes, the coach told me how much time was left and gave instructions for the next challenge.


“Almost done – just fifteen more seconds here and then we’ll sprint for thirty. You’re doing great!” Aside from the fact that this guy had no idea how I was doing, he focused entirely on the end and what was next. At one point he told me to work extra hard that interval so I could “earn my rest” that was coming.


On the trail run today, I ran more slowly. My pace was at least a minute longer per mile than usual because every two inches there is something that can trip you right into an ankle injury. A bug about to fly into your mouth. A tree limb right at face height. A biker about to speed past. The trail is hilly, curvy, full of hazards. You have to pay attention if you want to finish intact.


I ran fast on the treadmill. And time moved slowly.


I ran slowly on the trail. And time moved quickly.


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A curmudgeonly eye roll and lip twist-up is a predictable, automatic response when someone tells me to “trust the process.” No thank you, I’d prefer to trust the ending, the part when all is said and done, or better yet the beginning, when my hope is in full bloom.


People who tell me to trust (or even more annoying to enjoy) the process are either a.) my mental health professionals who don’t want me to run from the art therapy or the sluggish process of changing my old habits; or b.) the people I work with every day who suggest that I’m trying to push people a little too far, a little too hard, a little too fast. My spouse never tells me this because I married a smart person who understands life is more pleasant when we don’t say these things.


I want to get to the next interval. I want to get to the part where we know what’s wrong and fix it. I want to get to the part where it feels better. Where the plan is made and executed and the project announced to the world in all its glory. WHY IS EVERYONE MOVING SO SLOWLY? WHY AREN’T WE THERE YET?


Marty Linsky, leadership consultant, Harvard professor, and author whose books shaped the way I think about what it means to lead, came to a local university where I've studied, and my professor invited me to meet him. I brought him a leadership conundrum I was experiencing, and we talked through it together. Then we walked to the library together, him in his baseball cap, I in my awkward heels, so he could give a lecture. Twelve pages into my note-taking, he said: “If you want to go fast, go slow.”


I thought of those words, spoken eight years ago, on my run today. How I’ve repeated them to my team when they get frustrated with bringing our staff along on new practices. How I’ve quoted him when I give talks on leadership, acting like I totally embody the concept.

It is one thing to hear a lesson. It is another thing to teach the lesson. And it is an entirely different thing altogether to experience the lesson.


When I slowed down, it went by so fast.

When I savored the moments I was in, not thinking about when I would finish or where I’d go next, it was over before I knew it.


If you want to go fast, go slow.


Is this what it means to trust the process? To (gasp) enjoy it?

I saw my therapist’s face in my mind’s eye. I had rolled my eyes and twisted my lips at her pretty aggressively.

“You don’t have to like it, Amanda, but it’s how we’re going to do this. We will not rush it. This is not about achievement. This is about healing.”


Healing takes time.

So does building a culture. So does righting a wrong, reversing a complex financial trend, implementing a new vision.

It’s looking like pretty much anything that’s important takes time, and attention, that over-used word that also makes me roll my eyes: presence.


Being in the moment we are in right now.


It will end – all things do.


While we are in the middle part, between the hope-filled beginning and the satisfying end, we have this exquisite opportunity to really be there, in our environment, on the ground, aware of only the little bit we can see.


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Maybe I haven’t liked the process because it’s not smooth.

Maybe I haven’t liked the process because I’ve assumed it lacks the magical possibility of a beginning and the joyous accomplishment of an ending.


But you know what? On the trail today, I experienced both – right there, smack in the middle of the journey, even when I was lost.

And when it was over, I wanted more.


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Stretching before returning to my car, dirty, sweaty, and not smelling my best, I didn’t feel like I had earned my rest, I felt like I had already rested.


I had, perhaps for the first time in a very long time, enjoyed the process.


It may take me a while to break the eye-rolling and lip-twisting habits, but I think I’m one muddy step closer.


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*Also, if you are a poetry-lover, there’s a great poem by Marie Howe, called Hurry, which says all this much more artfully and succinctly.






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