For those of you who know me, you know I am a slow and steady marathon maniac. For the past decade, I run a couple of marathons a year trying to someday run a marathon in all 50 states. For me marathoning is a metaphor for my life: committing to audacious adventures and figuring out how to get there step by step, finding dedicated partners to jog along with me, and riding the adrenaline rush when crossing the finish line. The other metaphor, which has been a focus of my year, is mile 17.
At mile 17, I lose hope. I am a long way in with a long way to go. My feet feel like someone is setting a torch to them, my stomach is doing back flips, and my brain is shutting down lobe by lobe. I go into a very dark place inside myself, put my head down and shuffle along, talking myself into one more mile. And then another. I hate this part of the race. For me, this year – with all of the accomplishments and celebrating – has had many 17th miles.
It started last February when a series of experiences brought me to my knees. First, I had dental surgery that left me unable to eat anything but mush for over a month. The lack of food made me irritable, and I started losing weight. Then I had to let go of an employee I cared about, and the transition filled me with worry – for her safety and for the organization. My computer crashed slowly over about four weeks, and I lost the ability to communicate effectively and could no longer rely on this key instrument in critical moments like public presentations. Then my dog suffered a spinal cord stroke that left him completely paralyzed from the rib cage to the hindquarters. We considered putting him down, but decided to rehabilitate him instead – a costly decision with a very uncertain outcome.
Then two things happened. My doctor give me some medication to sleep and control my anxiety, and I went to the American Association of Suicidology annual conference where I was able to get a better sense of perspective on what I brought to the world that had value. I felt love from my colleagues, valued for my expertise, and connected to something bigger than myself. The tide of the depression started to ebb out of my experience, and now, I am humbled to acknowledge that like so many I have worked to help, I too have a mental illness.
“When someone with passion and commitment creates and builds a strong association, members and society benefit. But these founders can turn into their own worst enemies when they refuse to recognize that their organization has “outgrown” them, needing leadership skills the founder does not have or refuses to develop. The result? A nasty case of “founder’s syndrome” or “founderitis.” The cure? A tricky mixture of growth opportunities, board involvement, and a firm delivery method.” ~Maryll Kleibrink, The Center for Association Leadership, December 2004 from http://www.asaecenter.org/Resources/euarticle.cfm?itemnumber=11531
This week I started something new: Executive Coaching. I am excited about facing these deficits and becoming a better me. I know the weeks ahead will have me taking a long look at difficult things, and I am ready.