2018 Boston Marathon-Always Have Choices-And Other Lessons Learned


Valerie Hartman, Career Development/Life Coach, Motivational Speaker, Connector
shiftintofifth.com (www.shiftintofifth.com)

May 5, 2018

I’m standing on a veranda over looking the iconic Boston Marathon Finish Line.  Invited to a Race watching party directly over the Finish Line, I am filled with such excitement. The wind is howling, over 30 miles per hour. Yes, the calendar may say mid-April (spring), but the temps are hovering in the upper 30’s. And sheets of rain are pounding down from all directions.  The midday Race watching party at this warm, fabulous penthouse apartment is in full swing inside-and I am standing alone outside in this crazy weather trying to get a glimpse of the finishers. My umbrella has blown inside out multiple times, and my pants and feet are soaked through my boots.  I am intent to spot my sweet friend complete her journey amongst the throngs of weary runners below. Dressed in layers of clothing, I am shivering and my teeth are chattering as I watch hundreds of drenched, exhausted and disoriented runners make it over the finish line of the 122nd running of the Boston Marathon. Truly inspiring! How did I get here?

As I have shared with my Shift Into Fifth family, almost a year ago, I decided to take my own coaching advice.  That advice? To embrace the choice of change-to see it as a gift and an invaluable tool to shift energy, strengthen different muscles and create new possibilities.

I decided after 25 plus years of living in Atlanta, Georgia, that it was time to shake things up.  And so I did.  I picked a totally new city, Boston, and moved there to start a new chapter of my life.  And haven’t looked back.

So lots of firsts for me as I explore this charming, historic and vibrant New England city.  One of the firsts that I most looked forward to is the running of the Boston Marathon (as a spectator:-). I love running and have seen first hand the power of a great road race to galvanize and to bring out the very best in a city/community.  Personally, I have never run a full marathon (on my bucket list) but have run countless 5 and 10k races (including almost 10 midnight New Year’s Eve runs in Central Park (NYC) and 14 Peachtree Road Races in Atlanta on July 4th) as well as a 1/2 marathon and a few sprint triathlons.

I have complete admiration for those who do run marathons. The training is grueling and the race itself is a true test of physical and mental strength. The Boston Marathon, with its heartbreak hill and major undulations, is known as one of the toughest tests of stamina and endurance.  And this year, definitely did not disappoint. 

With 30 mile an hour winds in the faces of the runners almost the entire race, driving sheets of rain throughout and temps in the upper 30’s to lower 40’s, it was truly brutal...actually, borderline, insane.  The crowds are normally thick, boisterous and supportive.  And this year, marking the 5th anniversary of the tragic bombing at the Boston Marathon finish line, the emotions and intensity throughout the Boston, especially along the Marathon route, were palpable. 

While I was excited to cheer on the runners and experience first hand the energy of the Race, I was even more pumped as I had a dear new friend running in the race.  An elite runner and mother of 5, she is my first full-fledged new Boston friend that I met during this new chapter in my life.  A native and proud Bostonian, this was to be her 17th running of the Race.  Running with the mighty warriors of the Stepping Strong Marathon Team, a group founded by a survivor of the 2014 Boston Marathon Bombing dedicated to raising money (over $2 million dollars to date) and awareness for the Stepping Strong Trauma Innovation Center at Brigham And Women’s Hospital, she was racing and raising thousands of dollars for an important cause.  And having suffered a completely torn ACL a bit more than 12 months before, this was also her major comeback. 

Throughout the days/weeks/months, I witnessed her steadfast dedication to her training schedule. 5 miles, 10 miles runs, 15 mile runs and a few 20 mile runs thrown in for good measure.  Rain or shine-below freezing temps and sometimes even ice and/or snow. On the weekend before the race, as the weather forecasters locked in on their predictions of the awful conditions expected for Race Day, it became painfully obvious that this was going to be a particularly challenging Race. There was chatter throughout the city about who would even show up to race under such horrific conditions. There was real concern that these were downright dangerous conditions.

On that Saturday before the Race, I could see the worry in my friend’s face and feel that same energy. The Boston Marathon under perfect conditions is a major test. Under these conditions-hard to fathom.  We spent time visualizing, talking through the various scenarios, doing the “what if” game.  We focused on super positive thoughts and actively connected with her inner core belief in herself and tapped into her confidence.  And we framed the overall “success” of this endeavor as the bigger journey-the training, the showing up, the giving it her best, the raising money for charity, the coming back from a major injury...and understanding that if stopping along the way was the prudent thing to do, it might be disappointing BUT not in anyway a failure!

Monday morning of the Race was worse than predicted.  As I watched the runners on tv at the start, you could see how miserable they were-totally drenched and shivering before it even started. I was excited to go see my friend at the finish line but definitely worried how her tiny frame with almost zero body fat and newly rehabilitated knee would fare in the Race.  The one thing I never doubted was her physical readiness and her mental toughness.  With 16 Boston Marathons behind her, watching her rigor and discipline as well as her steely focus in training, I was certain that she had all she needed mentally to endure. I just had no idea whether hypothermia or the slippery conditions might be insurmountable obstacles.  I am happy to report that I watched her cross the finish line in 3 hours and 21 minutes (well off her pace-like ALL the racers-including the elite runners-but still truly amazing).  A truly astonishing accomplishment under brutal conditions. 

As we all met up later that afternoon, and raised a glass of champagne to celebrate her wonderful completion of the Race, I was struck by her candor and self awareness in reflecting on the Race.  She talked about the brutal conditions, particularly the cold temps and the relentless headwinds.  The most striking thing she shared was how many times during the race she almost gave up...BUT made the conscious decision to keep going.  And it is this choice, made multiple times throughout the course of a 26.2 mile race, as in life in general, to keep going, to push through, to dig deeper, to adjust, to endure the intense discomfort and pain, to stay laser focused on the goal, that made all the difference  

I love sports-both as a participant and spectator.  And I especially love sports as it serves as a perfect metaphor for life.  I have listed some of the keys of my friend enduring and completing the Race-as they are keys to enduring and completing so many tasks in life:

Key Lessons:

1.     Proper, Consistent and Strategic Preparation and Training (conditioning, nutrition, sleep, hydrating, stretching):  No matter how mentally tough you are, if you’re not putting in the hours and properly training for the race, as in life, you’re not as likely to complete the task.  This takes planning, discipline, intentionality and a can do attitude.  There will be times when it will seem totally not worth it, and you will ask what’s the point.  And many times you simply won’t feel like it. But you’ll manage to push through it and just do it, day in and day out. Under terribly difficult circumstances, brutal in fact, it was the solid and consistent physical preparation that helped make the difference between trying to finish and actually having enough in the tank to get it done.

2.     Non-Attachment/Loosening the Grip/Focus and Visualize the Journey, Not the Outcome: As I discussed above, I spent time with my friend visualizing the race.  Positing different scenarios and ultimately asking the “what if” questions. She had put in the training time, eaten right, hydrated, slept and was physically ready. But the stream of negative thoughts and clenching onto what “it” had to look like was not serving her well.  Loosening her grip on the outcome and staying focused on the process of the journey helped shift her thoughts and energy to a more positive and energetic place. It also allowed for her to be more open to adapting to the conditions along the way and in the end, completing the task-crossing the finish line-a victory in and of itself.

3.    Adaptability, Staying Present, Defining Success and Self Compassion: The conditions were brutal. Thoughts of disaster and catastrophe were flooding my friend’s mind-What if I get hypothermia? What if I slip and injure my knee again?  What if I have to run the entire race with a 30 mile an hour headwind? And on and on.  Truth is, all of those things were possible BUT fixating on them and worrying was not going to change anything.  Staying present in the moment and not allowing her mind to wander off to all of the catastrophic possibilities was essential.  Defining success as showing up, starting the race, taking each new step gave her a sense of accomplishment at every turn.  Having self compassion, understanding at each moment that she was doing her best and giving it her all allowed her to stay fluid and not get stuck in the negative energy of resistance.  With such self compassion, she could stay open to the possibilities in the moment and adapt accordingly- and saving up, harnessing and accessing essential energy for the last push to finish.

4.    You ALWAYS Have a Choice: At every juncture, one has the choice to keep trying and to stay in it.  As my friend said quite candidly, there were multiple times during the Race where quitting seemed a very viable option.  And at each turn, she had to make an affirmative choice to keep going.  That’s powerful on multiple levels.  As in life, it is all a matter of tiny and grand choices that we make (even the choice to not make a choice, is in fact, a choice).  Understanding that at each moment, we actually have a choice in how we will handle a situation (with attitude and effort always in our control).  Understanding that we get to choose is a potent realization in allowing us to take back our own power and direct our path forward.

5.     Pain is Absolutely Part of the Process-the Suffering is Optional: This is a Buddhist precept, and it pertains to the fact that pain is indeed a normal part of life.  We cannot nor should we expect to be happy every moment. Some (including me) posit that pain/discomfort is the price of growth and a core element of a well-lived life.  The suffering?  Well that is optional-a choice. It comes from the expectation that there should never be pain.  It also comes from a grasping/attachment to specific outcomes. A rigidity that takes us away from the present moment and puts unrealistic expectations on things we have no control over-the end result.  My friend experienced pain-quite a bit as a matter of fact.  She also experienced great joy and satisfaction as she loosened the grip on the outcome.  And through her choices and actions, she opted out of the suffering.

Sharing Some Gems-Quotes/Thoughts That Inspire!

Valerie Hartman, Career Development/Life Coach, Motivational Speaker, Connector
shiftintofifth.com (www.shiftintofifth.com)


April 26, 2018    

Not long ago, my oldest son asked me to send him one of his favorite books (now in college, he has always been a lover of books and treats his collection like a group of dear old and valued friends). The book he requested?  Frederick by Leo Lionni (one of my absolute favorites!). He had rediscovered it, just like a long lost friend, and was experiencing it from a whole new vantage point, with its meaning resonating that much more deeply. That’s sort of the beauty of books, as with everything-change/evolve/tweak/adjust your aperture-perspective just a little bit and voila, just like magic, you have a whole new understanding and appreciation of seemingly the same old thing.

The book tells the story of Frederick the Field Mouse.  We meet Frederick just as his other mouse friends are preparing for the long cold winter.  These mice are furiously collecting supplies-nuts, grains, fruits-any kind of sustenance that will help them survive the long cold winter under the stone fence.  As they frantically run around gathering their goods, they notice that Frederick is staring off into the sky, annoyingly not pulling his weight.  When they angrily confront him, asking what in the world he is doing, he calmly replies that he is gathering colors, words and thoughts.  Disgusted, the other field mice shrug, roll their eyes and return to the task of collecting and storing their food supplies.

As the cold sweeps in and the mice are hunkered under the stone fence, they rapidly eat through all of their supplies.  Now, they settle into the reality that they have nothing more to get them through the rest of the long, cold winter.  Suddenly, one of the field mice looks over to Frederick, and sarcastically asks, “what about your supplies Frederick?”  And at that moment, Frederick stands tall and begins to recite those words, describe those colors and thoughts that he had collected to tell stories of warm sunshine, green grass covered fields and bright blue skies.  As Frederick shared his supplies to weave his stories, the mice felt the warmth.  They were literally transformed.  Now filled with gratitude, they could not stop thanking Frederick for his gathered supplies.  For It was those words/thoughts/colors that lifted their spirits, shifted their energy and fed them with hope.

And just like Frederick, I have spent this last bunch of months gathering my new supplies- collecting words, quotes, ideas and stories from books, lectures, webinars, conferences and workshops.  They are my sustenance that help fuel my growth. And now it’s my turn to share some of these with you- to help lift your spirits, shift your energy and give you inspiration and hope. Enjoy!

1.     “Gratitude is a miracle…that shifts your perception to such an extent that it changes the world you see.” Robert Holden

2.     “What is done in the dark must be brought to the light if it is to be changed.” Michael J. Sorell

3.     “Choose the harder right over the easier wrong.” Michael J. Sorell

4.     “In times of darkness, we need to generate more light.” Dr. Beverly Tatum

5.     “No one has the power to hurt me….that’s my job.” (we cause our own suffering) Byron Katie

6.     “Self realization without action is meaningless.”  Byron Katie

7.     “When you grow a tree, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the tree. You look into the reasons it is not doing well. You never blame the tree. If we know how to take care of it, it will grow well.”  Thich Nhat Hanh

8.     “You don’t get what you hope for, you don’t get what you wish for, you get what you believe in.” Oprah Winfrey

9.     “Surrender to the bigger dream that life has for you.” Oprah Winfrey

10.  “The question and challenge for us is how can we, in the midst of life’s hardship, turn one’s woundedness and limitations into aliveness and mastery.” Ganesh

11.  “I will bear my loneliness like a planet that cannot deny its orbit around the pull of what is true.” Mark Nepo

12.  “I have no special talent; I am just exceptionally curious.” Albert Einstein

13.  "If you can drive safely while you are kissing, you are not adequately paying attention to your kiss." Albert Einstein

14.  “You have to pay attention to your oneness and you have to know your social security number.” Ram Das

15.  “The quality of your life depends on the seeds you water. Thich Nhat Hanh

16.  “Pain is a part of life, suffering is optional.” Pema Chodron discussing Budha’s teachings

17.  “Judgment/attachment-It’s no exaggeration to say that they are a chronic, viral-like toxicity that prevents us from seeing things as they actually are and mobilizing our true potential.” Jon Kabat Zinn

18.  “Lead with a hard back and a soft front.”  Roshi Joan Halifax

19.   “If you really want to be a rebel, practice kindness.” Sharon Salzberg

20.   “If you’re searching for that one person who will change your life, look in the mirror.” Mel Robbins

21.   “We can always begin again.” Sharon Salzberg

22.   “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” Henry Ford

23.    “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Eleanor Roosevelt

24.   “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” E.E. Cummings

25.   “Pressure is a privilege.”  Billie Jean King

26.   “Nothing will work unless you do.”  Maya Angelou

27.   “True success is attained only through the satisfaction of knowing you did everything within the limits of your ability to become the very best that you are capable of being.”   Coach John Wooden

28.  “You are responsible for the energy you bring into this space.” Jill Bolte Taylor

29.   “May I meet each moment fully and meet it as a friend.” Sylvia Boorstein

30.    “Make each day your masterpiece.” George Mumford quoting Coach John Wooden

All rights reserved. April 2018  www.shiftintofifth.com

Super Bowl LI-One for the Ages-Magnificent Example of Essential Tools in Life

Super Bowl LI-One for the Ages-Magnificent Example of Essential Tools for Life

Valerie Hartman, Career Development/Life Coach, Motivational Speaker, Connector
shiftintofifth.com (www.shiftintofifth.com)

February 7, 2017

WOW!  What a game on Sunday night.  If you are a Falcon's fan, you are likely still in shock and incredibly disappointed that your team, on the brink of it's first Super Bowl championship, lost. If you are a Patriot's fan, you may also be in shock but likely floating on air and beyond thrilled that your team just won its fifth national title in just 7 years.

It was one for the ages.  The Falcons, a young scrappy team, a 3 point underdog against the mighty seasoned Patriots, came out on fire.  They executed their game plan flawlessly, both offense and defense meticulously dismantling the seemingly invincible Patriots.  During the first half, the Falcons so dominated the Patriots-basically shutting down both the offense and the defense of a proven winning machine-that they ran into the locker room at half time with a 25 point lead (almost unheard of in football-a lead so great that no team had ever overcome such a deficit in Super Bowl history).  Brady, his teammates, Belichick and the Pat's coaching staff looked dazed and completely out of sorts throughout the first half and ran into their locker room at half time with only 3 points on the board. 

What happened in that second half was nothing short of a master class in the application of life skills that transform lives and support transformation and success.  While I have no idea what those coaches actually said to their players (although as a former competitive/college varsity tennis player having experienced the wrath of a coach in my face when down a set in various major competitions, I am pretty sure I have some idea of the general tenor and language involved:-), I do know what I observed and it was a career development/life coach's idea of a master class in execution and failure of execution of essential life skills.

1.     Begin Again-The second half of the game was truly a whole new ball game.  Yes, the first half put 28 points on the board for Atlanta.  But the Patriots came out a "new" team.  They brushed off that first half and walked on the field with fresh eyes and a sense that whatever happened before was just that-before.  Instead of judging themselves and dwelling on the past, they embraced that second half as a whole new beginning.  As in life, if we are open and aware, every minute presents a new opportunity to "begin again".  With self-compassion and fresh "eyes", in each moment we can recommit ourselves to moving forward with the task at hand.

2.     Living Fully In the Moment-The Patriots walked out on that field totally present for this new half-not encumbered by the last 30 minutes.  No sense of doom/gloom-no ruminating on the mistakes of the first half or the dominate play of the Falcons-no obsession with what might happen in the future-no fixation on a possible defeat, each player committed to be the very best version of himself each minute of the second half.  As Brady commented after the game, they were told by Belichick to just focus on every single play because you never know which play will be the play that makes the difference in the game. As in life, we are invited to live fully/mindfully in the present moment.  Resisting the tendency to fixate on the past or obsess on the future, we are given the opportunity, the gift, to live fully immersed in the present.  And with that gift of living fully in the present moment, we can focus on the task at hand, giving the task at hand all of our attention and energy.

3.     Willingness and Ability to Adjust-Coach Belichick and his staff as well as the players realized that the Falcons had their number the first half (and kudos to the Falcons for figuring out how to shut down the Pats those first 30 minutes).  Did the Pats come out and continue to do the same thing in the second half?  NO WAY!  They adjusted, tinkered, changed their game plan-moving from a predominant running game to a series of short passes.  And it worked-it worked in a big way.  The Falcons defense was understandably exhausted from a stellar first half.  And their failure to adjust under mounting pressure allowed New England to put a winning 31 points on the board in the second half resulting in victory. In life, the very definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result.  We are invited to change, adjust, tinker, every moment.  And if open and aware, that change, adjustment, tinkering creates new energy and new outcomes in big, small and wonderful ways.

4.     Jettison that Inner Critic and Believe!-From the moment the Patriots, lead by notoriously stoic Belichick and understandably super confident Brady, stepped on the field in the second half of the game, you could feel the can do, we are not out of this, let's get this done energy.  While we human beings are wired for vigilance and negative self-doubt (thanks to the amygdala's flight or flight response), we have the capacity, with tools like meditation and MBSR (mindfulness based stress reduction) to rewire our brains toward more positive, self-affirming and sustaining thoughts.  And it is clear that the Patriots were having none of that negative self-doubt inner critic pity party.  As the energy and the momentum began to shift, quite literally, you could see the growing doubt (and exhaustion) on the faces of the Falcon players.  Whether it was the Patriots experience (4 prior Super Bowl wins and a ton of late game comebacks-been there/done that/confident we'll do it again) or a coaching staff and player roster equipped with tools to silence any inner critic and recognize and reward that inner stream of positive, self-affirming thoughts, it paid off big time.

5.     Shifting, Harnessing and Optimizing Energy-The Pats were way down and their "down" energy was palpable in the first half.  The Falcons blazing play literally shut down Brady and his teammates-and their energy was one of defeated, almost paralyzed. They looked dazed and disoriented.  But as they came out the second half with new, fresh eyes and perspective, they managed to shift their energy. Gone was the catabolic, negative, self-defeating energy of the first half. They were pumped and ready to go-part fired up, artfully using the energy of anger and renewed possibilities as grist for fresh, new possibilities.  As the second half went on, the Falcons looked like the Patriots in the first half-stuck, dazed and in disbelief.  Their energy palpably deflated.  In life, energy is our tool.  Understood--harnessed-- shifted and used wisely-- it can be the ultimate secret weapon in our arsenal of life skills.

Once again, sports providing a magnificent and vivid example of valuable lessons for all of us in our everyday life.  Grateful!

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Then it happened-she got called into the hiring partners office.  She had heard that they were planning to thin the ranks of a bloated associate class.  Her reviews had been great -- stellar as a matter of fact.  She went to a top-notch law firm (and undergraduate as well).  She got along with everyone and often did pro-bono work for the managing partner of the firm (a big deal for a junior associate).  So, she walked into the hiring partners office with a mix of trepidation and confidence.  And then he spoke the words:  “You are valued here.  Thank you for your service to the firm and the clients BUT, your skills and assets will be better utilized at your next employer.”

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