Thursday, September 17, 2009

Key professional lessons from a Long distance run

The title of this blog may sound intriguing for a blog focused primarily on Software testing. I hope that by the time i reach the end of this post, i would have justified the inclusion of it here. For close to around 2 years now, i have quite actively taken up running. The prime reason that attracted me towards running was experiencing the feeling of reaching the finish line after persevering a long distance run. Before i started running, i used to think of it as quite a magical feeling but after crossing the finish line close to a dozen times now, it only substantiate my original perception of crossing a finish line. Its not just magical, its simply unbelievable.
I participated in Kaveri Trail Marathon last weekend. It was a 10 Km run on a day of sweltering heat and very rough, uneven terrain. While the run was pretty challenging and as i crossed various milestones, there were quite a few valuable life lessons that i learnt. Please read ahead to know more (the points below are not necessarily in order of importance)-

When your body says "Give up"- Just don’t give up. When a random thought in your mind says "You can’t do it", Just laugh it off.
The start of every run is always full of energy and optimism. The initial moments of a long distance run pass on with ease as legs and mind are fresh and usually (if it starts early in morning) the weather is favorable. It’s only after one has travelled a few kilometers especially near the half way point, the mind start playing games. It is often surrounded with casual thoughts that tend to discourage the runner from competing further. It is at this time, the body starts getting tired as well and tends to listen more to easy thoughts that prevent you from completing the run. The key here lies in being mentally strong and laugh off the negative energies and persevere till you reach the end. Infact, in my experience, one cannot reach the finish line carrying negative, confused thoughts.
Quite similarly, in the professional world, there are often the difficult projects/situations that bring an individual out of his/her comfort zone. There is always such time in these projects/situations when one starts doubting their abilities. The key here like in a marathon is to believe in yourself and shun all the negative thoughts and keep moving forward. Just remember- "When your body says "Give up"- Just don’t give up. When a random thought in your mind says "You cant do it", Just laugh it off."

Every small step towards the goal counts
The key principle in running a long distance run is that Each and every single step adds up in you completing the run successfully. Long distance runs cannot be completed in one step. Likewise in professional life, each project decomposes in to various steps that need to done right to attain the success. One cannot achieve the end goal without performing the smaller goals to perfection. Irrespective of conditions, Always put your best foot forward.

Key to success lies in staying in present
Our mind's ways are never static and even the well trained Long distance runners often face this dilemma i.e. while on the run, the mind tend to always think ahead i.e. picture of the runner reaching the Finish line starts framing up and all this makes the runner believe that he/she has already achieved the goal whereas the runner would not have even reached the half way mark. Or it may even happen that mind takes you back to thinking about ease and freshness at the start of a run. These are the biggest distractions for a runner and has a potential to distract the runner from reaching the summit. What is important in given context is to think only about the next step and not worry about the Finish line because if the next step is taken in the right direction in a right way, you are going to reach the finish line sooner or later. So, the key lies training your mind to stay in present and be there only. In the professional life, there is a great deal of importance in Staying in present. I have tried to capture the essence of it in my post- Software Testing and art of Staying in present .

If you fall down, thats not the end of the race- there is always a better option to get up and run
It happened in the most recent long distance run i took part in. It can happen in any long distance run that gets organized. People stop either because of minor accidents or because they suffer from cramps or they get tired or any other reason. Whatever may be the reason, Falling down is the part of the game. Its not an ideal world that we live in, things usually do not always go as we plan or as intended and Failures are a part of life. The idea here is to treat failures as a minor speed bumps that slow you down but not knock you off completely. Failures should be treated as learning opportunities and not the reasons to drift away from your goals. Any one who faces failure, ideally has 2 choices- either quit or continue. The ones who have strong conviction in their goals never quit. Failing faster holds the key. Remember- If you fall down, that’s not the end of the race- there is always a better option to get up and run.

Cheering your peers gives you momentum
Long distance running usually constitute of people from different backgrounds, age groups, gender etc. There can be a 70 year old participating as against a 14 year old boy or 25 year old female or anyone running alongside you. The diversity of participation makes the run even more wonderful. It happened in my recent run also. The fun lies in treating the running participants as your peers and continually cheering and encouraging them. In the entire run, there will be many phases where you face difficult time and the thought of giving up starts to play around. If in this situation, your fellow runner comes, pats your back and says "Good job", it just helps one defeat the negative emotions and just helps you regain back the momentum. In the real life also, professionally there are tough situations which may pull you down mentally and when someone acknowledge your efforts, it does gives a great sense of assurance to move forward. This act just spreads positive energy.

Taking a break and rethinking your strategy helps more than you expect
Well organized Long distance running events have the break points where in the participants can take very short water, energy breaks to refresh the participants. The refreshment time is very vital for the participants to successfully complete the run. This not only give the opportunity to the participants to hydrate themselves but also rethink strategy to complete the remaining part (thinking about speed, moving with long steps or short steps etc.). Without these breaks, it would really be hard to complete the run. Similar analogy in our professional lives- Generally people who work very hard to attain their and organization's objectives forget about the importance of taking sufficient breaks and this leaves them at a risk of a burnout leading to shortage of problem solving ideas. This situation neither helps them nor their organizations. The key here lies in realizing that you are getting in a rut and need to slow down. The focus and overall output after a well thought out break is far enriched.

I think being out of your comfort zone helps one learn quite a bit and the above write-up is a result of many such running experiences. Do share what you think and share your experiences!


Parimala Hariprasad said...

Good Writeup. Its the courage to get out of the comfort zone that can teach new lessons in many unthinkable ways.

Happy Running and Testing :-)
Parimala Shankaraiah,

Anuj Magazine said...

Yes, it does take quite a bit of courage to push self out of the comfort zone usually because one tends to be get statisfied with status quo naturally.

Thanks for visiting and sharing your comnents, Parimala.