So often, it’s in adversity that we learn and grow the most. That was certainly the case for me when I fractured a bone in my foot last week and ended up on crutches.
The timing could not have been much worse.
It was on the morning of a conference I had been looking forward to for months, and just 48 hours before my trip to China to attend a family ceremony, deliver several talks, and promote my book.
Here’s how it happened
It was early in the morning and I wanted to fit in a quick 12-minute burst of high intensity interval training (HIIT) before sitting all day at the conference.
To save time, I didn’t bother putting on my sneakers. First bad move.
I turned on the TV and flicked over to Good Morning America (since I live in England, it’s always interesting to see what fellow Americans are watching “back home”). I became engrossed in the story about the musician, Prince, who had died suddenly a week earlier. Second bad move.
As I got to the “running in place for a minute” part of the circuit, I was so absorbed by the segment that I failed to notice I was edging closer and closer to the edge of the thick rug I was on.
That’s when my foot came down just on the edge and I turned over the outside edge of my right foot. I heard a really loud crack as I fell to the ground. Disaster!
How bad was it?
Thanks to the great doctors and nurses at the HonorHealth Scottsdale Osborn Medical Center, I got a pretty quick diagnosis: a fractured 5th metatarsal. Apparently, this is quite common among soccer players. So I guess it’s me and David Beckham!
By lunchtime, I was waiting for an Uber, fully equipped with crutches, a protective boot, and ibuprofen to cut down the swelling.
What I learned
As the saying goes, when you get lemons, learn to make lemonade. And all you can do is step back and reflect on key learnings.
In fact, I learned at least 10 things from this experience. Here they are, and here’s how they can help you in your life too.
1. Be present
The reason I got hurt was that I simply wasn’t paying attention. I was distracted. My mind was on something completely different than what I was doing physically.
In this case, the person who got hurt was me. But when you don’t pay attention to your family, friends or colleagues, you’re hurting others. And the price you pay is higher.
The thing is, most of the time, there won’t be a loud bone cracking sound to alert you to the damage you’ve done to your relationships. So it’s up to each of us to pay attention.
So, stay “in the moment” and be present whether that’s focusing your attention on loved ones, doing something active, or simply enjoying the moment.
2. Be patient
When it takes twice as long to do normal things, like walk upstairs or take a shower, you learn to be patient with yourself… or else you’ll go crazy!
In fact, it will take 2-3 months for my foot to heal, during which time I won’t be able to go to the gym, which is my happy place. But time is a relative concept – those months are very short in the context of a lifetime, and it’s important to cut yourself some slack and, in my case, allow my bones to heal.
And this patience extends to others as well. For example, those times when you’re delegating, and your team member doesn’t do things the same way or as fast as you would.
I’m learning to reign myself in, breathe and accept that being patient in the near term will result in better outcomes longer term.
3. Slow down and let go
Even in a world that moves at warp speed, it turns out that not everything must be done right now. And the corollary is that you can’t always make things happen.
When I got to the airport, the wheel chair service kicked in and I was wheeled to the check in counter.
The person behind the counter, Robert, had put one of my bags onto the conveyor belt, and was holding the other one while having a chat with me.
I silently worried whether both suitcases would make it onto the plane in time. Should I say something, or would that piss him off and result in my luggage going to Chicago instead of China?
Finally, I broke down and asked, “Shouldn’t you be putting that second suitcase on the belt?”
Robert looked at me, raised his eyebrows and said, “Oh, I see. You’re sitting down there, and you’re still in control.”
Of course, I was NOT in control. In fact, I was reliant on others to help me do some pretty basic things. It dawned on me that I was going to have to let go and trust other people to do their jobs. I started laughing, and thanked Robert for the lesson.
As they wheeled me away, Robert said, “You’re going to have to go with the flow today, and go with the flight.” Precisely true.
And so it goes with much of life: go with the flow. It’s far more easeful to be more relaxed about everything. And things have a way of working out.
4. Plan ahead
I’m used to running from one place to another, but now I even have to plan my trips across the room to maximize efficiency.
Thanks to my wonderful assistant, Leanne, there were wheel chairs waiting and porters at the ready at each of the four cities during my travels.
I’ve learned that things go more smoothly when someone has thought through the entire end-to-end experience: getting from the car to the airline counter to the plane to baggage claim to taxi to hotel and so forth. This is a fundamental premise of “design thinking” – putting the customer at the center and creating a great experience for them.
Whether it’s your career or personal time, it pays to look ahead, have a plan and set yourself up for success.
5. Be kind
I’ve learned that people – even complete strangers – are basically kind. So many have offered to help me with luggage, getting food at a buffet, carrying that cup of tea I can’t seem to do without.
Their kindness has made me resolve to do more random acts of kindness and spread the wealth.
When you let go of expectations and any sense of entitlement, you likely will be surprised at the kindness of people around you.
6. You don’t need all that stuff
I’m the poster child of carrying everything with me. Like a turtle who carries its house on its back. But when I had to rely on others to carry my bag, every one of them remarked on how heavy it was.
Then I noticed that I only used 10% of what was in the bag. Now, I’m down to just my phone, pen, and room key tucked in the top of the boot, and a small notebook under my arm. Hard to believe.
Start asking yourself whether you really need all that stuff you’re carrying around. That applies to physical, emotional or mental baggage.
Speaking from recent experience, I can attest that it feels great to finally leave the stuff behind.
7. Get your story down
When you’re on crutches, people tend to ask what happened. I must have told the story 10 times during the coffee break alone.
That’s when I realized it pays to have your story down pat. In fact, you’ll want a short, medium and long version of it depending on the situation. (By the way, almost no one wants to stick around for the long version…)
The same is true for answering questions like, “what do you do?” or “how’s your business going?” It’s a great opportunity to convey your message and brand in a succinct and powerful way. So learn to tell your story.
8. It’s okay to accept help
At first, my independent streak led me to turn down offers of assistance. I kept saying, “No thanks, I’m fine.”
But then I’d be standing on the curb, on my crutches, with two suitcases and a handbag, without any clue as to how to get it all into the building.
The reality is that none of us succeeds alone, whether in life, career or simply getting from one place to another.
In fact, you can build some strong bonds when you accept help. People feel good about being helpful, so why deny them that opportunity?
9. It’s okay to ask for help
The corollary is that it’s perfectly great to ask someone for help. They can always say no.
Not everyone thinks of what they can do for others on a proactive basis, yet they are usually happy to help if asked. So ask! But ask without expectation, and without judging them if they say no.
10. Look for the silver lining
While I was upset at missing the morning of the conference, being on crutches turned out to be a great icebreaker. People I didn’t know felt perfectly comfortable asking me, “what happened?!” It also made my presence memorable to everyone who attended.
In the end, I met more people and had a higher profile than if I hadn’t hurt my foot. So, while I certainly wouldn’t choose to be on crutches, there was definitely a silver lining.
I’m sure the same is true for most situations. You may have to look for that silver lining, but it’s well worth doing. Optimism is free, and it might just help you achieve your fondest wishes more easily.
Less is more
I hope you won’t need to have a setback like mine to remind yourself that it’s not necessary to go through life at a frantic pace. To insist on controlling what happens. To be weighed down by excess baggage of any variety.
And I hope you will take time to be patient with yourself and kind to others. To know that there’s no shame in reaching out when you need help (and we all need help!). And to accept that help when it’s offered.
Being forced to live life at a more reasonable pace, at least for the time being, means I’m less busy and being more mindful of what I’m doing.
While I’m getting fewer things done, the good news is that I’m getting more of the important things done.
In fact, less is more. And that’s a lesson worth learning.
So, what takeaways have you had from setbacks you’ve had? Leave a comment and let me know.