Zengo Leader

"Push it! You can do it!" I pedaled faster and faster as my Zengo instructor, barely visible in the dark, got off her bike, hopped down from her dais, and bounced towards the front row of bikers, chanting and cheering at us the whole way, until she was standing in front of me. I added two turns to my bike's resistance and picked up the pace, and as quickly as she was there, she was back on her bike, leading us on a long, slow climb. How many others had done the same when she materialized in front of them?

At the end of class, sweaty and exhausted, high on endorphins, I was talking with my friends about how much harder you work when you have a trainer or instructor inspiring you. This was my second time attending a Zengo class. The first time I had no idea it would be pitch black and had not planned on the whole body workout I was about to get. Now that the shock of the format had worn off, I could focus more on the experience. It is so clear how important a leader is, not just in fitness, but in every organization. While the Zengo organization made sure I had the resources I needed to be successful going in, including shoes and a water, the Zengo leader made sure I was set up for success on the journey, with my seat and handlebars properly set, my shoes clipped in, and a rocking play list. The Zengo leader then inspired me to follow her, to push myself, to strive for better and my best.

As a leader, you have to focus every single day on communicating and connecting with people in order to inspire them to give their best. Your job is to keep the goals in focus and lead the way, giving them the support they need to reach their goals.

"Leadership is lifting a person's vision to high heights, the raising of a person's performance to higher standards, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations." Peter Drucker

Data Feeds My Ego

Shifting from being invisible to feeling comfortable being seen seemed undeniably positive until I really stopped to think about it.

I have always tracked my runs using one of the many apps that shows all of your run stats. The only measure I had been paying any attention to was distance, and I felt really good about doing mostly shorter runs, with an occasional longer run thrown in on the weekends.

The more I ran, the farther I could go, and the better I felt, but I never had any interest in running long distances and, unlike many others, running a marathon is not on my bucket list. I have been focused solely on the delight of running. With all of Rock Creek Park as my oyster, every run is exhilarating. It feels like something is missing in my day if I don't get my run in.

Then one day I realized I could be fast.

The app voice that announces my split times had always been background noise until this day. I heard a split time, and then another, and another, that were all almost 2 full minutes faster than I had been running on the treadmill at the gym. And I was keeping that pace up for multiple miles, outside, with hills.

All of a sudden data had wormed its way in and I became fixated on running THAT fast every time. I would have a couple of great days in a row, but invariably I was slower the next. I felt let down, disappointed in myself, sure I was not living up to my potential. I asked myself if I had eaten right that day. Had I gotten enough sleep? Why wasn't I fast anymore?

It took me a few weeks to realize what had happened. Data had sucked the joy out of running.

Fast forward one month. I woke up with a terrible pain in my lower back and knew I couldn't run. I didn't really even want to get out of bed (I did get out of bed--I had promised my 7-year-old daughter a walk in the woods). But after we got back I snuggled up in bed with a heating pad and a book I had been wanting to read.

The next day dawned with the same squeezing pain, but I decided to try a light run. I figured I'd stop and walk if I needed to or turn around and walk up to the gym to stretch. I started out slow. The first few steps didn't feel great, but I loosened up quickly. I kept my pace slow and felt relieved that I could continue without pain. I didn't try to be fast today, and what came of it?

Joy is back.
Creativity is back.

Invisible

What do you do when you're a high achiever and you don't feel good at something? You hide until you do or you don't do it at all. This thought has been nibbling at my subconscious since I wrote my first blog post about trail running. At the time, I told myself I loved trail running purely for the meditative state it put me in, but I have to admit there is another reason. In the woods I can be invisible. I can hide until I'm good enough to be seen.

My first instinct when I started digging deeper into this insight was to berate myself for being afraid. But then my inner mentor went to battle against my inner critic and I tried giving myself a break. Maybe I'm being my authentic self when I train alone and then emerge fully formed. If that's how I'm most comfortable, why shouldn't I embrace it? As long as the tendency to hide doesn't hold me back from trying, and as long as I eventually emerge, I will be me.

I'm a butterfly who has emerged from her chrysalis. I know that sounds cheesy, but I am now running everywhere and anywhere I can. All of a sudden I can run like the wind and it feels easy. I still get lost in a meditative state, but I feel a momentary rush of pride every mile when my reverie is broken by the voice from my running app announcing my split times. I admit I'm so loving the feeling of being good that I have taken to telling people, "I'm a runner" when I tell them about my weekend or about what I did after work the day before.

As usual, realizations about myself that come up related to running almost always have a parallel with my work world. I recently had a similar awakening at work, but in this case I had been hiding in the woods for way too long. My awakening on the path made me realize that it was time to emerge as my authentic self at work. I am a leader and strong communicator and it's time to be her.

The Journey

I can't tell you how many times I have daydreamed about buying multiple copies of "my" books and delivering them to the women in my life.

Sometimes the books are tied together with twine, sometimes they arrive in a box, but in every imagined scene they elicit a curious smile as she picks up the book on top and scans the jacket. I can picture her settling in to read, maybe even grabbing her journal, and my heart swells as I sense her moving down her own path to self-discovery, wherever she is on her journey.

While I call the books mine, I didn't write them. They are mine because they so neatly summarize a chapter of my own journey to self confidence, creativity, and fulfillment. I understand intuitively that each woman will connect very differently with my books, or maybe not at all. What has resonated with me may not hold meaning for another. Still I feel called to share, to facilitate a transformative process for other women so each can find her own confidence and creativity, or whatever else she may be searching for.

Books were an escape for me growing up. The shift to using books and writing for self-reflection didn't come until I was an adult with kids of my own and became intrigued by the big topic of leadership.

At the time I had a busy job and two young kids, so the fact that I started devouring books on leadership was a testament to the excitement and passion I was feeling. For the first time in my life, I was often reading multiple books at once, and sometimes not finishing a book when I felt I had gotten what I needed. 

A few years later, the only female executive at a growing firm, I needed insight into the leadership challenges faced by women. That is how, one weekend in the fall, I found myself sitting in the bookstore poring over leadership books for women. I came home with a stack of books, and started with How Women Lead by Sharon Hadary and Laura Henderson.

If you work as a stay-at-home mom or in some other role outside corporate America, you may be thinking that what I learned from How Women Lead won't apply to you. Please keep reading.

I looked back at my journal from when I was reading Hadary and Henderson's book, and the first thing I wrote down was, "Identify the boundaries holding you back." That statement is followed by five lists--how I see myself, how I think others see me, my values, my passions, and my strengths and weaknesses--all of which have helped me define success on my terms and create my own path. 

Staying confidently true to who I am is an iterative process that will ebb and flow, which is why re-reading my journal musings has been critical for me. Whether you are a leader at work, at home, in your community, or all of the above, knowing yourself is an important step towards defining and achieving your goals.

My journey didn't start with books and it won't end there. I have also had supportive conversations with family and friends, felt the encouragement of an amazing therapist, gotten advice from accomplished mentors and peers, and attended training sessions and networked with exceptionally smart professionals. I have found inspiration through running, meaning in music, and I have tried and failed, and tried again. In writing, I have found my voice.

As mythologist and author Joseph Campbell said, "The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are." I am getting there. How about you?

 

The Core Of It All

Success in Pilates depends on engaging the right core muscles as you move. Lower back muscles often pick up the slack for the lazier abdominal muscles. Lifting up your kids? Your back does that. Running? Your back. Sit-ups? Your neck and hip flexors are working overtime. Back pain, sciatica, neck strain, and other complaints are not an inevitable part of aging, and a strong core can help.

Wikipedia defines your core as your body minus your arms and legs. Without training, even when you KNOW which muscles should be working, you still can't use them.

I studied exercise physiology in graduate school, and was a personal trainer for many years. I have a relatively strong core, yet I have still caused myself a lifetime of pain from moving, sitting, and sleeping the wrong way. Until last year, when I opened one last Christmas gift from my husband to find a gift certificate for a Pilates reformer session. One session and I was hooked.

For those of you not familiar with the reformer, it looks like a cross between a medieval torture device and a bowflex machine. A ballet dancer on a reformer does full splits while standing on a moving platform, flowing down and back up with ease. I'm positive I didn't look as graceful as I started my first Pilates session, but I'm proud to say that I wasn't too shabby either.

I have been practicing Pilates for about a year, and I can feel the difference, even sitting here writing. My posture is strong, my core muscles are working, and my back doesn't hurt! I can also run. Uphill. Without causing myself three days of back pain, because my "running uphill" muscles are doing their job. It just goes to show, when you focus on the core everything else gets easier.

This also holds true for the "personal" core, the essence of who you are and how you interact with the world around you. There are many parallels between physical core strength and personal core strength. Both require intentional focus and training.

Working parents have a lot to balance, with priorities shifting daily. My personal core is who I am and how I communicate as a leader, wife, and parent. Just as I train my physical core in weekly Pilates sessions, I continuously set goals, learn, and grow in my leadership abilities. I ask for feedback. I think about the kind of parent and leader I want to be, communicate that to those around me, and while I don't always succeed, each failure is a learning experience. When I need my "running uphill" muscles during a challenging situation at work or at home, I know they are getting stronger every day. 

A Run In The Woods

I used to hate running. I have been dabbling for years anyway because, after all, it’s great exercise, and I can basically do it anywhere I happen to be. The only equipment I need is sneakers and a play list with good beats. But in those days even the music didn’t drive the sensation of boredom from my muscles, or the voice from my head telling me to take the shorter route back.

I prefer a loop rather than an out and back route when I run. In my search for good loops, one day shortly after my husband and I and our two girls moved into our new house, I found myself in the woods, the fresh green of the new spring carpet in stark contrast to the brown meandering trail. My aversion to running started to fade as I navigated the curves and undulations of the trail, ducking under branches and hopping fallen logs.

Trail running feels like meditation, only better. From the first time I ran the trails in Rock Creek Park, it was cathartic. My overloaded brain quieted as I let my mind roam. Even with my eclectic mix of pop, hip hop, jazz, rock, and oldies playing, I found myself able to drift and sift through my thoughts to arrive at a heightened level of attention, like peeling off the leafy layers of an artichoke to find the heart. In spite of this drifting, I felt very aware and alert–-you have to be to run in the woods. The roots will trip you, the branches will scratch, and the mud needs to be traversed carefully or you will find yourself up to your laces. By the time the end of the trail appeared in front of me that first time, I had become a runner.

The more time I have spent in the woods, the more exhilarating the contradiction of alertness and freeness has become. It is like every neuron in my body is firing, but in slow motion. My body is slogging while my mind is soaring. Every time I return from a trail run I am ready to re-engage and focus on what’s next. I feel strong and am overflowing with insights about myself and my life. If I can feel strong when I’m running–if I can go farther than I think I can–imagine what I can do in the rest of my life.