Little pleasures in life are important
In recent days, I have been thinking about the little pleasures in life. When we all are overwhelmed with momentous situations such as navigating the global pandemic or just day to day stresses of life, it is easy to forget how little things and little routines can be a source of not only much needed calm but also an uplifting of spirits. The little pleasures in life.
I hope you don’t mind if I share just a few of the seemingly little things that give me outsized pleasures. Not surprisingly for me running figures in a couple of these pleasures.
Every Saturday morning at 8 am ET, an email hits my inbox from Jen Miller who is a writer and a runner and writes a running blog for NY Times. It’s a simple short blog – her personal experiences with running as well as her commentary on running – but I eagerly await it and almost always read it as soon as it arrives. It gives me immense joy and this little predictable routine seems to be a perfect start of the weekend.
Then there are the evening walks – especially since the pandemic lockdown – with my daughter and son around my neighborhood that are so special. My son often takes us through his imaginary world in minute details where Marvel superheroes are doing entirely new and amazing things that no movies have depicted yet. Even more special is just listening to the two of them comparing their school experiences or various vacation and India trip experiences, or books they both read and like. On one recent walk, they discussed the book Sapiens from Yuval Noah Harari – a terrific read about the history of Homo sapiens. I wouldn’t want to trade these walks for anything else in the world.
Then there is our neighbor’s tiny Yorkshire terrier dog named Toto, who is out for a morning walk invariably at the same time as my run. Toto barks at me with full force every single time I pass him. I chuckle every time thinking that Toto must think how successfully he chased me away as I ran past.
Then there is the Emerging Technology Ventures class at University of Pennsylvania that I co-teach. Preparing for this class compels me to stay current and immersed in the world of emerging technologies and that process is filled with the joys of discovery and learning of new advances in technology. The Fall 2020 semester being fully virtual, one student attended the class from Tanzania at 1 AM, one student from India, and two students from China attended roughly at 6 AM – even when they had the option to watch the recorded lecture. Such dedication and engagement of the next generation of leaders and innovators is awe-inspiring.
Food, besides being a sustenance, is also a source of pleasure for us all. For me, to my own surprise, a humble hot oatmeal with peanut butter is that one very special treat and a joy most mornings.
I am thankful for big things in life – family, friends, health, a profession I enjoy etc. – but I am also very thankful for the little pleasures that running, work, and life in general brings to me.
I encourage you to take a moment to think about your own little pleasures that running, work, or life in general brings to you and savor them.
Happy running and happy living!
Capacity to be honest with oneself…
One of the joys of running is the opportunity to meet and run with some amazing people. And that opportunity gets even more special when a co-runner has the perspective and wisdom of someone like Dr. Stan Beecham. Stan is a trained psychologist who works with elite athletes and business leaders helping them do their best.
What started out as business interactions with Stan has evolved into treasured friendship. And our common interest in running just makes our friendship that much more special.
On the sidelines of one of the business events in Atlanta, I had the pleasure and privilege to run with Stan on and around the famous Peachtree Street and discuss a range of topics. First a bit about the Peachtree Street — it’s made famous by the namesake annual running event Peachtree Road Race that has grown to 60000 runners in recent years. All the spots sell out in a matter of days and the event attracts elite runners from all over the world. This street is also famous as a location for the classic novel Gone With the Wind and the namesake movie based on it.
As we ran, Stan, who is an Atlanta resident, shared bits of history about the street and the surrounding area, about the annual race run there, and loads of wisdom. As a psychologist and generally someone who closely observes human behaviour he has developed a deep perspective on human behaviour and in particular how these behaviours may hinder or may enhance one’s life — professionally as well as personally.
On our Peachtree street run he spoke passionately about the notion on how who we really are and who we want to be — better runner or better leader — are two different things and it is fundamental to tell the truth to ourselves about who we really are.
He explained how developing a capacity and commitment to be honest with oneself is critical to improve and evolve as a human being or as a leader. If you think about it, in running too, in order to achieve or surpass our performance goals, we must be honest with ourselves — honesty in following our training plans if we are after a specific goal — speed or distance — of a given race. Or being honest about our dietary, cross-training, and rest habits if we seem to get stuck on a particular performance plateau. Without that honesty, we cannot clearly diagnose the issue and do something concrete to address that issue. Similarly in our leadership roles, we must be honest with our strengths as well as weaknesses. Then learn to accentuate our strengths. And related to our weaknesses, be open to receiving help and developmental opportunities from our colleagues. Long after we wound up that run, I kept thinking about Stan’s lesson on having the capacity and commitment, to be honest with oneself is crucial to bettering oneself.
I hope you too find it a worthy lesson – as a person, as a leader, and of course as a runner.
Happy running and happy living!
Inspire and be inspired
One of the most important lessons I have from my running adventure is right from the beginning of the journey. I have to thank two colleagues, Kevin McCarthy and Larry Murphy, when we worked together at AT&T Labs in New Jersey in 2000.
It began with them wanting to train for and run the local E. Murray Todd Half Marathon in Lincroft, New Jersey, held annually in the honor of the local champion runner. Kevin and Larry collaborated to inspire other colleagues and created a running group that would train together and takes part in the half marathon.
They put in incredible labor of love to create training plans. This was well before all the running apps and plethora of online resources about running, training, and nutrition, so they had to put in hours to research, compile, and make 40+ binders full of information and customized schedules for the trainees. I distinctly remember there were many who were beginners, including me, who had never run beyond 3-4 miles, let alone a half marathon. I had not been running and was never thinking about getting into running. But they inspired many – including me – and coached the group even as they themselves were learning the ins and outs of the half marathon training. They shared regular motivational reminders, provided weekly technical training and nutritional tips, and painstakingly mapped out local running routes – remember this was also the time well before Google Maps – to keep us all engaged. Even more importantly, Kevin and Larry created truly supportive environments where group members with a range of abilities and experiences can feel at home and actually enjoy the training experience and the race itself.
Their inspiration not only took hold but the group went on to successfully train and complete the race. That was my first half marathon and the start of a long-lasting love for running. Many of the members of that group have gone on to keep running.
Everytime I think about that time, about the start of my running journey, my very first half marathon, I think about Kevin and Larry. The word inspiration immediately comes to mind. That’s the lesson of inspiration for me from two true servant leaders. It is a powerful reminder that we can draw inspiration from many around us at work and in our personal lives. And if you are like Kevin and Larry, you go on to inspire others around you. We just have to seize the opportunity.
Happy running and happy living!
Goals are easy to set, often hard to get, but still set them and go after them
A funny thing about goals is that they are easy to set, but not always easy to achieve. Sometimes a bit of luck and other external factors may play a role in the outcome of achieving or not achieving a goal. But more often than not, the most important factors still remain the hard work and maniacal focus to achieve the goals.
Running has lured me into setting all sorts of goals and humbled me trying to achieve those. I say “lured me in” because while reviewing my running log entries, reading my favourite running blog, or perusing articles from the Runner’s World magazine, I have been lured into setting some running goals for myself that turn out to be not so easy. But the whole process and the adventures that go with pursuing these goals is a wonderful and fulfilling experience. Isn’t life just that — full of wonderful and fulfilling experiences?
Reading the photo essays in the Runner’s World magazine of runners in interesting locales lured me into setting a goal of running at least a 5K distance in 100 unique places around the world. In order to make it challenging, I also decided that I can only do a total of 50 runs in the USA of which only 20 can be in New Jersey, where I live. Also, in order for the place to be counted as unique, it would have to have a local form of government or unique international jurisdiction. So for example, I cannot count runs in Brooklyn and Manhattan as two different runs, but only one run and that being a New York City run. I figured this algorithm would mean that the goal is not so easy and the pursuit would be interesting. Little did I know how challenging it would turn out to be.
Here is what happens — I travel to the same places for work. Even my vacations, at least for the time being, have almost always been to India to visit the family in some of the same cities on every visit. So once I ran London, Brussels, Tel Aviv, San Francisco, Orlando, Los Angeles, New York City in the US or Ahmedabad, Pune, Vallabh Vidhyanagar in India so many times they still count only as 10 unique places. I quickly realized this was a goal that will require some focused and determined effort and a bit of creativity. I thought about changing to a job such that the business travel destinations would be very different, but that’s not practical. I have been now trying all other crazy things in pursuit of that goal.
Once I took up a speaking engagement in Fort Lauderdale Florida so that I could run there. I took a morning flight and landed there at noon. I delivered my presentation at 1 PM, changed into running clothes at the convention center, and ran in the parking lot in cold, very windy conditions. After a shower in the convention center bathroom, I headed back to the airport to take the same day evening flight back home. Little did I anticipate that the winter storm in NJ meant all flights to NJ were getting cancelled. Quickly, all hotels in the airport vicinity filled up and as I was contemplating waiting out the night at the airport for the morning flight, luckily I found a flight out to Washington DC.
I thought that once I am closer to NJ I can always figure out other options — a train or even a four-hour taxi ride home. After landing at 3 AM in Washington DC airport, I took a taxi to the Amtrak train station, and to my luck, I got on the last scheduled train leaving early morning before what I later learned to be cancellations of all trains for almost a full day before the storm situation cleared in NJ. I made it home tired, cold, hungry, and sleep-deprived in the early hours of the day but felt I had taken one important step closer to achieving my goal of running in 100 unique places by checking off a run at the Fort Lauderdale convention center parking lot. The next adventure came during a drive to Providence, Rhode Island when driving my daughter to her high school summer camp at Brown University.
Checking off a run in Providence was easy and running through Brown University’s hilly campus with historic buildings with unique architecture nestled in the midst of majestic trees remains very memorable.
A nearly seven-hour drive back and forth meant passing through several big towns like Hartford, Connecticut and I salivated at the opportunities to run in at least two of them. And I did run them — circling around the gas station and a cafeteria at the rest stop while being looked on strangely by visitors, and another run at a seaside park of an idyllic town that you might see in postcards.
Two more unique places were checked and all these runs remain such fond memories.
My goal still remains unfinished at 56 out of 100 unique places. With no travels of any kind in 2020 due to the pandemic, I am not sure when and where the rest of the 44 places will come from. But I am determined to find a way.
Setting goals – or even being lured into setting goals – and in life in general is rewarding in many ways. Running has taught me that even when some goals turn out to be very hard to complete, you have to be persistent, be creative in finding new ways, and be maniacally focused. The rewards are truly worth savoring for life. I hope these lessons resonate with you too.
Happy running and happy living!
When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it
In one of my favorite books, The Alchemist, the celebrated writer Paulo Coelho writes “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” What an inspiring way of the universe! I have experienced this myself.
After a few years into my running journey and completing a couple of half marathons, it was bound to happen. I wanted to do the marathon. And what better ones to do than the iconic NYC and my home state NJ marathons! In December of 2013, I started training to run the NJ Marathon in 2014 that is held each year in early April with a hope to run the NYC Marathon same year in November. On Valentine’s day that year, a freak episode of dehydration and the flu had me faint, and I fell right in my home in a manner that caused a midfoot injury in my right foot. Every time I think about the manner of that injury I still can’t believe it could have happened that way. There is no adventure behind that injury.
A fainting episode and a fall at home. It didn’t hurt much, but all the swelling meant I was bedridden and my mom and my wife earnestly helped with all of the home remedies — from ice to hot turmeric and a salt paste to heal the swelling. Not seeing much improvement, three days later, I went to get it checked by the local podiatrist. His trained eyes immediately determined it was a fracture, but one that would have to be confirmed with a proper x-ray. And as he emerged back to the examination room with the x-ray he reported it as a Lisfranc injury with a face and a voice that seemed unusually ominous for someone who must have seen and diagnosed many broken feet. A Lisfranc, a midfoot injury, is named after Jacques Lisfranc de St. Martin, a surgeon in Napoleon’s army who treated a pattern of this injury in the cavalry soldiers who fell off their horses while their feet remained stuck in a stirrup and hence causing a midfoot break. Ouch!
And with that diagnosis my hopes of running the April NJ marathon were squashed. I still very naively asked the doctor how long it might take for this injury to heal and when would I be able to resume the running. He patiently explained that the extent of the injury meant I would need surgery, and though getting back to running would be possible, it was not guaranteed.
From those moments of sheer disappointment to the day I actually stepped up at the starting line of the first-ever marathon two years later in April of 2016, the universe did indeed conspire to help me achieve my dream of running a marathon including the iconic NYC Marathon.
It started with the podiatrist doctor and his staff as they swung into action to put a solid cast around my foot and gave me three references to local orthopedic surgeons in the area. His office staff even scheduled two very convenient appointments immediately so the injury wouldn’t go untreated too long. I was fortunate to be able to see one of the best orthopedic surgeons at Princeton University Medical Center who with x-rays from several angles confirmed the injury and recommended immediate surgery. All systems swung into action leading to a successful surgery with tiny plates and screws in my midfoot to help the joints heal properly. With a solid cast and set of crutches my healing and recovery began. I am fortunate to have a deeply caring family who looked after my every need and ensured every comfort for me. The injury being on the right foot meant I couldn’t drive. Two of my colleagues gave me door to door rides to work for several months until full healing. At work, they ensured safety as I navigated doors, conference rooms, and elevators. I am forever indebted to their selfless attention to my safety and convenience.
Every follow-up with the surgeon, I always asked about my running prognosis and seeing the progress he was cautiously optimistic. He advised that once the joints and bone structure heals sufficiently then the best course of action would be another surgery to take out the plates and screws otherwise repeated running motion would most likely result in them breaking inside the foot at some point. I was determined to run and decided in favor of the second surgery. Again the universe conspired to help me achieve a successful outcome in that phase as well. By the following year I was already trying out short runs — a mile or two at most and at a very slow pace. That first 1 mile run, that first 2 miles run, and that first 5K all felt so very special. But soon I developed a pain in my left knee that I had never experienced before. All the while, barring low but consistent burning sensation and extra sensitivity to touch in the area of injury and surgery, my right foot felt fairly good even after it had gone under two surgeries. So I was puzzled about the left knee pain. There again the universe came to rescue. I have been a long time reader of Runner’s World magazine and one of the articles about going to a local running shop to get fitted for a proper running shoes caught my attention. Up until then, I was just buying a particular brand of running shoes that seemed to have done the job for me and I just stayed with it.
Taking the advice from the running universe, I decided to visit the local running shop Runner’s High in Freehold, NJ. The proprietor of the shop, not surprisingly, was a runner himself and made me do few movements as well as short strides in the parking lot right outside the shop. He observed my running form and gait. We discussed how my running gait might have been influenced in a certain way after my right foot injury and subsequent healing. He recommended certain exercises and a particular stability running shoe and I trusted his advice. The shoe switch along with stability and balance exercises I picked up from him and the running community of coaches and runners profiled in Runner’s World magazine helped. I overcame that left knee pain and continued my training.
Finally the day came when I was at the starting line of the NJ Marathon – my first ever marathon. And there again from all the organizers, volunteers, and families from various towns along the racecourse who cheered on, the universe conspired again – to grant me the cherished dream of running a marathon. In the words of Paulo Coelho, When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.
I wish you all the same conspiracy of the universe in helping you achieve your goals.
Happy running and happy living!
A step, a stride…just take it
Have you struggled to start something? Something you want to or have to do but for some reason you can’t get started? Well, in running, that challenge of just starting the run can be there more often than runners may want to admit, whether that run is a part of a structured training for an upcoming race or just another day of running. Doubts based on a variety of factors — tiredness of your legs, feelings of low motivation or low energy, concerns of not having enough time before the next commitment, or worries of it being too cold, too hot, too windy, too rainy, or too humid out there — may just derail that run even before it starts. If running is not your thing but cycling, swimming, or for that matter even any other sports is your thing you likely have experienced similar challenges. Yet, how many times did you overcome those doubts and not only got the run going, and by the end, thoroughly enjoyed it?
Truth be told, there are so many runs in my log entry that almost didn’t happen. Looking back and examining what triggers ultimately got me going and finishing those runs, one theme seems obvious and consistent. Taking one first step — figuratively and many times just literally. There have been days even as I was contemplating skipping that run, I just opened the drawer and grabbed the first running shirt I could get hold off and put it on. And that one action led to a series of other small actions that progressed on to the first stride culminating into a full-fledged run. Some other day it was a text to a runner friend and asking if the friend wanted to meet up for the run and upon the affirmative answer there was no escaping for me.
In my 20 years of running, I have had this scenario come up more times than I could count. But looking back, it is fair to say that in most cases when I felt like canceling the run, one small action kick-started the subsequent steps and strides that ended up being rewarding. And therein lies an important lesson.
When struggling to start something, find one step and take it. Sounds simple, right? But is it not effective?
In business or in our personal lives, from time to time, we all encounter a situation or a phase where we feel we are stuck.
We contemplate options to get unstuck and none may seem promising.
And we feel like a paralysis of decision making is setting in through more analysis. In such times, just take one action — any action — related to the situation and see how that leads to the next action and the next one, ultimately giving you the start you need. Is it a difficult task of a strategic shift of resources from project A to project B that you are struggling to get going? Then maybe just ask yourself or your team a simple question — “How do you think we are doing with a project A or what do you think is working in our strategy B?” and see the dialogue or questions that unfold, which in turn, can help you crystalize your next steps. Or in life you may find yourself neglecting your friends due to work or other time demands. Maybe just drop a note — a short text or even a conventional email with just the subject line of “hope you are doing well – just wanted to say hello”. It very likely will start a series of short messages getting you two to reconnect, get caught up, and appreciate each other’s journey in life. And there you are – that’s the start of reconnecting with a friend, and you can build from there.
Running has taught me to take that one step and move forward. I hope you always find that one step to do the same for you too.
Happy running and happy living!