When I interview people for jobs in my company’s engineering department, the question always gets asked early in the conversation, “Tell us of a time when you really screwed up and how you addressed the situation.” It is, after all, adversity that defines us. Sometimes, candidates pause and share a story that we may or may not relate with, but we can see that they are reliving and reflecting the story as they tell it. Those are the people that we want to hire…the people who are still willing to admit that they are learning from their previous mistakes.
I have been reliving some of my mistakes lately and felt like I have been at one of my own job interviews last Friday. Over the last two weeks, I have been almost exclusively with my youngest son. Before ever qualifying for this event, I committed to traveling with him up to Minnesota to meet up with longtime friends to go canoeing and fishing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. This year, we committed to driving so we could visit the high point in 11 different states that we never would otherwise visit. While traveling on Route 53 in Wisconsin one morning, I pulled the van over and told my son, “We are going to do a 5K run!” He was less than excited, as it meant turning off his video game and going outside. “Where are we going to do it at, Dad?” he asked with a tone that sounded identical to what he might use what being asked, “why do I have to eat Broccoli?” I said, “Let’s just run down this road right over here,” and I pulled the van into a small dirt area at the intersection of a small side road and the highway. We put on our running shoes, opened the door and took off down a road in the middle of literally nowhere. I took my phone and turned on Runtastic to track our location, distance and speed. We ran together down this long straight road that had lots of hills till the 5K turn around point. At that point, I wanted to go faster. I turned to Alex and said, “I will meet you back at the car-you know where you are going, right?” He replied with a, “yeah, Dad.”
And I ran fast! I clocked a 6:18/mile pace all the way back to the car, and I was proud of myself. Alex arrived about 10 minutes later, huffing and puffing as if he was trying to blow down Goldilocks’ house. We drank some water and cooled down outside until the bugs overwhelmed us, then we got in the car and continued driving up to Minnesota. Sure, we both stank in the car for the next 3 hours, but we were both proud of our accomplishment. Once we arrived up in Ely, MN, we didn’t think or talk about it again.
As the canoe portion of our trip came to an end, we drove further north to Eagle Mtn, the highest point in the state of Minnesota. The trail to the summit was a 3.5 mile trail, each way. After ~ 2.5 miles or so, there was a small lake, right at the foot of the trail that leads to the summit. After scoping out the contours of the trail on a map, I suggested to Alex that we trail run to the lake and walk the remainder of the way to the summit. After our customary photos at the summit, we would reverse our path, walk down, and then run from the lake to the car. It was already late in the afternoon, and we needed to be in Duluth, MN, that evening for lodging and a hot meal. If we walked the entire trail, it would put us in Duluth after sunset.
As we trail ran, I found myself experiencing lots of gratitude. First off, my 12 year old can trail run for 2.5 miles. Trail running is harder than road running. Second, my “new found” core is strong enough AND stable enough to allow me to maintain balance as I run on rocks and muddy paths. Third, my entire body can run on trails again without consequence.
Alas, I was wrong on the last point. Before we finished the first 2.5 miles, by Plantar fascia on my right foot began to hurt. As we slowed to walk the last portion of the trail, I considered sitting at the lake shore and letting Alex finish the summit push without me. Just look at this view that I had at the lake shore.
Instead, I pondered my circumstance and what might happen if I bailed out on him. I felt like I was at the job interview, with role reversal going on. I knew that I was in pain and I could make things a lot worse if I continued running. In that glimpse of a moment, I saw that I was staring at a teachable moment where I was both the teacher and the student. What was I going to do?
“Alex, let’s walk up and down together, but I am not going to risk further damage to my foot. I am going to walk back to the car.” Alex didn’t say a word, and we proceeded to climb to the top of the mountain and come back down to the lake. As soon as we got to the lake on the return trip, we both took a big drink of water. Alex then turned to me and said, “Dad, I will meet you back at the car,” and he took off running. As I watched him head out ahead of me, it was tempting to run after him-my foot wasn’t hurting that bad, was it? However, my learnings from the last couple of months are that my Plantar fascia isn’t healing to 100%, and I can’t pretend that it is. So, I walked briskly back to the car.
When I finally made it back to the car, Alex was sitting on the rear bumper with a Gatorade in his hand. I asked, “how long have you been here?”
“I don’t know…about 10 minutes?”
About two hours later, we were at a restaurant on the shores of Lake Superior, eating dinner. The views driving along the shores of that massive lake were to die for. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and we could see no end to the lake as we drove on the shores of the lake for about an hour. We would have missed this experience had we taken our sweet time going up and down the mountain.
“So Dad, how is your foot?” Alex asked at dinner. “It could have been worse, but it will be OK,” I told him. I quickly asked, “what was it like to run ahead of me?” He said, “I don’t know-not that hard really.”
So it comes full circle. He watched me run ahead and wait for him…now, I am watching him run ahead and he is waiting for me.
My boy is turning out like me.