MY FIRST DISAPPOINTMENT AS A RUNNER

I didn’t think I would make it home. I clutched my phone, ready to call for back-up in case I collapsed. The ache in my legs was tear-worthy, matched only by the disappointment I felt in myself–in my body for letting me down.

It was a perfect night for running. Clear skies, bright moon, upper 60s, low humidity. My heart was set on achieving the milestone I had been racing toward (see what I did there?) for the past few weeks: my first 5k.

I didn’t get very far. About a mile in, I decided nabbing my first 5k on this particular night just wasn’t worth the injury my legs were warning me about. And let me tell you, they were screaming. It wasn’t an unfamiliar feeling, but it was one of maybe three times I’ve ever experienced it in public (and the first when running).

Ten years ago, I broke my back in a fall*. The EMTs were certain I had broken my left leg, too, but x-rays didn’t show anything. While my mobility has never suffered as a result of the accident, I do get these weird, very painful shooting spasms in my legs–mostly the left one. Sometimes, it’s like a white hot lightning rod coursing from my hip to my toes. Others, it’s centered mostly behind the knee with a sensation like a charley horse. I can’t predict when they will happen or how long they will last. As I’ve gotten older, they’ve gotten worse, but they are still quite sporadic so I just soldier through.

There was no soldiering through on this night. I had invested too much to ignore my body and push it too far, risking major injury. I had read the warnings from seasoned runners: it’s better to cut your run short if you suspect something isn’t right rather than sideline yourself for weeks as you nurse an injury. Lesson number 5 in my “I’m not a runner” diary.

I hobbled home, nearly in tears (of pain? disappointment? both?). As I stewed in my angry juices, I realized that the reason I was so pissed off was because not only did I pine for the 5k milestone, I believed I could achieve it. Me–the girl who struggled just a couple of months ago to run a mile. The anger cooled, turning into a renewed, icy resolve. Though I conceded this particular run, I haven’t given up my goal. I’ll get that 5k before the end of June.

* Full story on my accident to come in September.

I DON’T HAVE A BIG IDEA, AND THAT’S OK

Preface: This post is part one of two. Kit Kieser wrote a guest post on this blog for the second piece of the discussion. She talks about reforming the way we think about, present, and implement ideas. You can read that post here. Additionally, this specific post is not an attack on TED, TEDx, or any other idea symposium. Rather, it is a personal reflection on the idea industry society has constructed in response to these forums. My assertions here do not necessarily represent Kit Kieser’s beliefs and vice versa.

I paced back and forth in my head, wearing circular paths in the mush. The pressure was mounting. Our local TEDx had just wrapped up, and a big-deal marketing summit was soliciting submissions for talks. I picked up my brain and shook it fiercely like a child trying to wrestle a shiny piece of change free from a piggy bank. As I throttled it in the hopes that some grand idea might jiggle loose, I wondered to myself, “What if there’s just nothing in there? What does that mean?”

Everywhere we look today, people are presenting on this and talking about that. TED/TEDx talks, conferences, symposiums, ad nauseum (henceforth known as Idea Conference, Inc. in this blog post). We’re lured in by the premise that these ideas will be shiny and new, offering some value we did not have previously. And, often, there’s the rub: the product does not live up to the hype.

I struggle to take away anything more than a confirmation of my own values or beliefs (tinged with a slight air of self congratulation for being “right” in the first place, because, after all, this really smart person on a stage just agreed with me) or a message that gets me high on feelgood vibes for a few hours but fails to make a lasting impact. For me, it’s the equivalent of Pinterest syndrome: people pin things to make themselves feel good, and the very act of pinning produces the same effect as doing/making/buying whatever the pin is (without the effort or investment).

For Idea Conference, Inc., spectating is as good as doing.

Research has shown that it’s even better because idea forums like TED give us a false sense of confidence in ourselves–our understanding of the ideas presented and our ability to execute those ideas. But are the folks sitting in the audience really there to change the world (on a bigger or personal scale) anyway? If you’ve been to an Idea Conference, Inc. event, count on your hands the number of concepts that changed your life for longer than a week. Be honest with yourself: not concepts you enjoyed learning about or agreed with–the ones that truly impacted you and how you interact with the world. I’m betting you have few, if any, fingers extended right now.

What is an idea worth without execution?

What is an idea worth without execution?

Further down the rabbit hole, there’s this expectation that we all have (or should at least want to have) a great idea within us–one that we can neatly package for consumption by the masses. Ideas have become social currency for inclusion/exclusion in a room full of people all saying the same thing and then applauding each other for it. With so much pressure to be labeled an inspiring speaker at Idea Conference Inc., people scramble to present just for the sake of it rather than waiting for that really great idea. Ability supersedes quality. Instead of letting that great idea ferment into something uniquely theirs, they imitate past ideas in a rush to “just get it done.” And so the cycle of lackluster ideas begins anew.

Or, as Nathan Jurgenson said in his essay against TED:

What began as something spontaneous and unique has today become a parody of itself. What was exceptional and emergent in the realm of ideas has been bottled, packaged, and sold back to us over and over again.

Idea Conference, Inc. has given birth to the “Idea Industry.” The word “industry” implies that we’re manufacturing ideas, churning them out like widgets. This mindset dictates an immediate usefulness of these idea-widgets, which Umair Haque speaks against: “The idea of our age is that Great Ideas can be simplified, reduced, made into convenient, disposable nuggets of infotainment — be they 18-minute talks, 800-word blog posts, or 140 character bursts. But can they — really?” Ideas are to be nurtured over time, to be experienced–not consumed in 10-20 minute talks resulting in a “climactic epiphany,” as Haque calls it.

photo credit: tubagooba via photopin cc

photo credit: tubagooba via photopin cc

If we are, indeed, manufacturing ideas, perhaps this provides insight into why they are so formulaic–so cookie-cutter. This is ironic in that Idea Conference, Inc. typically promotes “outside-the-box” thinking. These forums have become the box. And what is a box but a containment unit–walls that include and exclude, neatly compartmentalizing what’s inside?

Reject the box. Blow up the walls. Don’t fall into the trap that only “ideas worth spreading” are shared via these types of forums. Don’t let these things constrain you, your way of thinking, or the impact you make.

After combing every lobe in my brain for an idea that fits the mold, I realized the system itself is the issue. Am I less intelligent for not having a concept worthy of a TEDx submission? Is my idea less valid if not presented at Idea Conference, Inc.? Is my self-worth compromised if I don’t feel I have any novel topics or lenses through which to view them for the next big idea symposium? Absolutely not. But in a world of “everyone else is doing it,” it’s easy to get sucked into that trap of misplaced self-efficacy.

And this isn’t to say that just because I don’t have that great idea today I’ll never have it. I could be experiencing that idea right now, only to see it for what it really is after the experience is finished. But for today, I don’t have a big idea, and that’s ok.

I’VE GOT TWO DRAGON WINGS AND A MICROPHONE

Does this anyone else feel anxious looking at this? photo credit: bionicteaching via photopin cc

Does this anyone else feel anxious looking at this? (photo credit: bionicteaching via photopin cc)

There’s one dragon that has plagued me for decades. The very thought of it incited fear, nausea, and knee-knocking so loud, I’m sure everyone in the tri-state area could hear it. The dragon in question is any kind of public speaking: panels, radio, TV, speeches, presentations, ad nauseum (no, really). Shoot, just calling up the local pizza place to order a pie made my tongue feel thick and inarticulate.

I’ve heard that the vast majority of people detest public speaking, but our own fears seem much realer than a generalized blanket statement about the faceless “everyone else.” Convinced my trepidation was uniquely mine, I made up countless excuses to avoid the dragon–sometimes at great cost.

The terror boiled down to a bunch of eyes on me with the possibility to stick my foot in my mouth. Because I didn’t have my presentation skills perfected, this fear of the unknown–fear of all the things that could go wrong–loomed over me. This, of course, positioned me in a catch-22 situation: how else can one perfect her public speaking skills other than by practicing them?

“Too many people spend too much time trying to perfect something before they actually do it. Instead of waiting for perfection, run with what you’ve got, and fix it as you go…” Paul Arden

At some point, I decided I’d had enough. Perhaps it was my pep squad whispering in my ear. Maybe I got tired of missing out on opportunities. Whatever the new-found source of courage, I started saying “yes” to speaking engagements, even if they scared the shit out of me at the time.

The crusade to slay the dragon started with Anthony Juliano who asked me to guest speak in his IPFW social media certificate class in spring of 2012. I’m sure I made a fool of myself several times before then in front of a crowd or microphone, but that was when this movement really began.

I soon discovered what I suspected all along: I rely on “uh”s and “uhm”s as verbal pauses and talk entirely way too fast when I am nervous. But hey, no one’s perfect, right? I made a mental note to slow down my speech when speaking to others during nerve-wracking situations (I deliberately chose not to focus on both pace and verbal pauses because I didn’t want to overwhelm myself). Fine. Good.

Then something magical happened when I was invited to speak at Social Media Breakfast Fort Wayne: I discovered the ease of being on a discussion panel. This remains my preferred method of public speaking–especially if I’m on a panel with smart people I trust, which was the case at SMBFW. As we recapped 2012 Blog Indiana (now Mixwest), the conversation among panelists flowed effortlessly. And the panel format afforded me time to formulate my answers, leading to fewer verbal pauses. Progress!

In February of 2013, I faced my most daunting foe yet: public radio. You’d think radio would be easier. It’s just you, some headphones, and a microphone. Visions of “Schweddy balls… It’s good times… good times…” filled my head in the days leading up to the gig. But once in the studio, I could feel that microphone taunting me. I could hear my own voice in my headphones on a slight delay, like that of a stranger ready to betray me at any moment. Fortunately, the NIPR Midday Matters crew were patient with me, and my show cohort Kevin Mullett was kind. I could hear the fear quivering in my voice, but others said it was stellar. I must have done something right since they asked me back in April.

And in about a week, I’m keynoting the Chamber’s Media and Marketing Summit. Key. Noting. If you would have told me two years ago, “Hey, you’re going to keynote this big deal marketing summit one of these days!” I would have thought you were nuts. Yet here we are. And writing about it, I’m wondering if I’m nuts.

The truth is very few people really enjoy public speaking. It’s something you just sort of grow into, if you allow yourself to. And you can roll your eyes all you want (like I did) when people say that the only way to get better is to actually do it, but it’s true. Eventually, you get to a point where you’re kind of ok with it, which turns into complacent comfort, which leads to being rather good (see my aforementioned friends Anthony and Kevin for examples of really good public speakers). You learn to roll with the punches, concede that you won’t have all the answers on the spot, and get comfortable in your own skin. And, as Arden so eloquently put it above, you go with what you’ve got and fix it along the way.

Then you can stare that dragon in the eye, stick your tongue out with a little “neener neener,” and flash your sword as you take the podium.

For the record, I still hate calling in an order for pizza.

PROPELLED FORWARD BY WILL ALONE

Last night was my first night “running.” At its best, my pace was a clunky, awkward jog. At its most comfortable, it was a very brisk walk. At its worst, it was me fumbling with my gadgets to mask the embarrassment of catching my breath. I went 1.15 miles before I gave in to quitting.

Sunshine + good tunes + sneakers = AJ's first run

sunshine + good tunes + sneakers

My first run taught me a few things:

  1. I really need to find a way to “batten down the hatches” when engaging in high impact sports. Curvy women will know what I mean. Everything that gives me my feminine shape hurt last night. I knew the impact would be killer, but I was not fully prepared. I blame the elliptical and stationary bike for spoiling me over the winter. Time to get some compression wear! Some toning exercises probably wouldn’t hurt either.
  2. Just as I had to figure out a good pace on the bike, I need to find a groove for running. It will take time, but it’s there somewhere. My heart rate monitor coupled with some beginner runner training programs will likely help.
  3. I need to get over my own vanity. Honestly, who looks sexy when they’re running? My paranoia that everyone was watching me did nothing to help my first foray into the sport. My messy, sweaty running > lazy couch potato-ing.
  4. Training on my indoor equipment still has a relevant place in all of this. I had thought once the weather broke I could just transition straight to jogging outside. This first run laughed in my face with a, “Oh, you think you’re a hot shot just because you can do 13 miles on your bike in an hour? PFFFT! Think again, lady!” Endurance on an elliptical or stationary bike is completely different from endurance running outside. That said, my indoor equipment can still help me improve my endurance on days when I can’t get outside to run.

As I’ve said before, I am not a runner. I never have been. My body just doesn’t seem to be built for the sport. But that’s not going to stop me.

Even without pushing myself, I wasn’t too far off from my mile times in high school. That alone is encouraging to me, especially given all the sedentary years in between now and then. And the trails behind our house don’t know it yet, but I’m one stubborn woman. What my body lacks my tenacity will more than make up for. That’s right, trails: I’m gonna whoop your butt! It may not be the fastest ass kicking you’ve ever received, but it will be an ass kicking nonetheless.

SPREADING LIKE DRAGONSFIRE

When I set out on my journey to conquer dragons last year, something happened that I didn’t expect.

the cool kids clubIn The Hobbit, Bilbo is quite content to meander around the Shire as he always has, enjoying the familiar comforts of home. He protests as he is whisked away on an adventure. But the longer Bilbo is in the company of the thirteen courageous dwarves, the more they start to rub off on him. He finds himself instilled with an audacious fortitude he never contemplated possible.

That’s what happens when you keep company with sword-wielding dragonslayers: you’re likely to become one yourself.

As I’ve waved my sword around at my own dragons, the people around me have been inspired to take on their own. Running a 5k, starting up (regular) blogs, joining a gym, going back to school–the adventures abound. It’s thrilling to see the sense of accomplishment these folks are getting from conquering their own dragons. All it took was a little nudge out of the door.

Thus I am making an addendum to my original post: Conquering dragons is contagious. All the more reason to take up the sword, right? Who knows what adventures you’ll inspire with your dragonslaying! And let me tell you, there are few things that cement the bonds of friendship like slaying dragons together.

What have I got in my pocket? A bit of moxie and sass. Careful, though! If you stand close enough, you just might find them in your own pocket.