Sometimes, things just don’t turn out the way you planned. Not that the end result is necessarily bad; in fact, most unexpected outcomes are merely learning experiences that we can use to help us grow.
Let me share with you my recent “whoops!” moment and the wisdom that I gained.
On Feb. 11, I had the pleasure of participating in the Sasquatch Trail Run, a charity race held at the T. Mabry Carlton, Jr. Reserve in Sarasota. It was a beautiful course but a tough one—most of the route was a single-file dirt track with tree roots, potholes and moguls to maneuver. At registration, each runner was asked to select from a 5K, 10K, 15K or 30K course. I put myself down for the 5K.
The starting line was clearly marked, but then we found ourselves in the woods with practically no signs to guide us. At one critical fork perhaps 3 kilometers along, there was a water stop, as well as a race coordinator directing runners towards either the 5K or 15K trail. As I approached, I thought that the coordinator said 5K to the right and 15K to the left. Several runners appeared to take the right turn and I decided to follow them, believing that more people would be running the shorter course.
I must have misheard, though I didn’t realize my critical mistake until quite a bit later. You see, my internal body clock told me that I should have finished a 5K. Yet I was still deep in the Florida bush, still headed away from the finish line, and still without any other people in sight. At the time, my first reaction was panic—I was lost, didn’t have enough water and hadn’t planned for a run three times longer than the one I was expecting. The growth was so thick that I couldn’t see more than about 10 feet into the brush, and I wasn’t happy about my situation.
I slowed down and eventually another runner came up from behind. He confirmed we were on the 15K course, and he urged me to continue. One part of me wanted to quit—but the rest of me was too proud to do so. I kept going. In all, I had 1 hour and 40 minutes to think about life during this race—that was the time it took me to finish the full 15K. (To those not on the metric system, that is about 9.5 miles.)
What are some of the things that I learned? Most times, you are stronger and more capable than you think you are, especially in cases of adversity. I was overheated, dehydrated, and my feet had painful blisters. But these things, while potentially serious, were hardships that could be overcome to achieve a greater goal. Further, self-doubt can almost always be countered by positive self-talk. Even when the finish line seemed impossibly far away, I kept telling myself that I was fit and capable, and that I would reach it eventually. Additionally, a little encouragement from those around you can make a huge difference.
The runner who urged me on helped me to believe in myself.
I realized something else that day, too: That even a minor mistake in communication—like misunderstanding whether to turn right or left—can have serious consequences. In cases where you are unsure, always ask to confirm. Otherwise, you may end up taking the long way. Of course, if you do that, you may well end up with a good story to tell!
Rob Wardlaw is the associate publisher of Gulfshore Business magazine, firstname.lastname@example.org.