By Renee Jensen
In past articles, I have shared about my (fairly new) love for running. Truth be told, though, I am not sure I actually love running itself as much as the escape that running offers me. I love the pure physical exhaustion that lets my mind be free of everything and present in the moment. I love the feeling of accomplishment when I reach a new milestone, but not necessarily running. For these reasons, I often say that I don’t consider myself a “real” runner. (Although, once a friend scolded me for saying that, reminding me: “You run; therefore, you are a real runner.”)
Motivation: Fight, flight, and slack tide
When I first started running, I felt as though I was running away from something: job stress and the demons in my own head. In a fight-or-flight response to this challenging time in my career, this was a season of flight, and running was a means of survival. Perhaps you have found yourself here as well over the course of your career. You want to get out of a situation you are in. You do not like the company you work for. Maybe you are unhappy with your boss, or you do not enjoy the community you live in. As I reflect on my career and my life, there have been many times when I was motivated by flight—protecting myself from hurt feelings, disappointment, or fear.
However, I also can identify times when I have been in pursuit of life, when I’ve been running toward something. In the face of challenges, I had strategy, drive, and a plan to achieve the next goal. This was my fight mode. For you, perhaps there have been times you were laser-focused on accomplishing the next goal, your next career move, or a promotion. There are many reasons to make a change in your life and career, but the motivation can come from different places.
In addition to times of fight or flight, I’ve also seen times in my life when I’d compare my response to challenges to a slack tide. Have you ever watched a river near the ocean? At high tide it will flood (or flow upstream), at low tide it will ebb (move toward the ocean) and in between it is slack (not moving). Slack tide, then, is that season between knowing what we are driving toward and the period where we are fleeing. It’s the quiet time where we are not in fight or flight and still trying to figure things out. We are still. For outside observers, it isn’t clear which direction we will go next, and maybe to some extent we may not even know ourselves.
Running from flight to fight
I started running because I was in survival mode. I was searching for something to give me an escape, something to help me flee my own mind and get me to the next phase, whatever life might bring, as long as it was different from where I was today. I set distance goals, time goals, pace goals, consistency goals. Whatever it was didn’t really matter, but I was super motivated just to accomplish my next goal. But these goals were merely an escape, a distraction from other problems. For me, though it may have seemed like I was working toward something, this was flight.
At some point, though, I wasn’t sure what my next goal should be. I didn’t want to give up running. In my flight process, I had worked really hard and developed my physical fitness and my running base. I couldn’t imagine losing that. Although it wasn’t my goal, it was a huge benefit and something I was proud of accomplishing. But what next? I wasn’t sure. This was my slack tide. I didn’t feel that need to escape and distract from my own thoughts any longer. I was peaceful, at rest, not driving, not pushing, and very present with life, my family, and my work.
But I love pushing my comfort zone and embracing new things. Adventure is part of my DNA, so when I have an opportunity to try something new or push my limits, I gather all of my courage and just say yes. I never stay in slack tide for long. I was ready to run toward something again.
Now, I have fallen in love with running itself—not just with the escape it offers— and running six to 10 miles when I have time is no big deal. So, the gal that couldn’t run a mile only months ago, and thought running a race was a waste of time if you couldn’t win, signed up for a half marathon (and just in case it wasn’t clear, that gal is me).
Come with me.
Training for a half marathon has been energizing, but the thought of putting it all on the line and declaring that I am a “real” runner by actually running an official race is a big deal. At first, I told no one except my husband and my friend that insisted I was a real runner. Throughout this process, she has encouraged me, supported me, and even gone on training runs with me, despite her running abilities far exceeding mine.
My friend taught me that when a runner passes another runner of similar skill, they say, “Come with me,” in a selfless way to support and encourage the other runner to push their limits and achieve goals together. It was the moment when she showed me the “runner’s grace,” as it’s called, saying “Come with me,” that I knew for the first time in a long time, I was finally running toward something again.
When was the last time you asked yourself: “Why am I doing _____?” You fill in the blank with whatever you want. What is your motivation for the activities that fill your life? I have experienced being motivated by fight and flight at different times in my career and life. I understand the challenges. As you keep moving closer to a season where you find yourself running toward something again, I hope you find encouragement from others along the way saying, “Come with me.”
About Renee Jensen
Renee Jensen is a healthcare executive leader with over 19 years of experience in public hospital district operations and integrated healthcare systems. She writes about leadership and building high-performing teams at jensen2solutions.com.