Take a Break, Before the Break Takes You (Exhibit A: X-Ray)
Scene: 12 workaholic jurors in a stuffy courthouse. The defendant, having not fully learned his lesson, sits on the stand anxiously checking his iphone for facebook status updates every time the prosecutor pauses for dramatic effect. The questioning continues...
Prosecutor: Your honor, I present to the court Exhibit A. Here we find the defendant's foot with 6 screws holding together what used to be a complex series of ligaments called the Lisfranc complex. Well my fellow citizens, this complex is no more. In his reckless abandonment and neglect for his personal health, the defendant took it upon himself to push his body beyond his threshold by competing in an sporting activity that he didn't adequately prepare for. The result: a completely ruptured joint that could have permanently disabled this young gentleman for the rest of his adult life. Yes, the marvels of modern medicine was able to bring his foot up to an operational level. Yes he can walk and yes he can run, but he can no longer play. And the off-the-shelf hardware, which you and I can purchase at home depot for 10 cents a screw, may have to stay in his foot permanently.
And so I put it to the jury: did this man willingly and knowingly place himself in harms way by refusing to listen to his body? And could this travesty been avoided simply by taking a breaking, before the break took him.
A True Story
"I need a break". I actually said those words approximately two weeks before this accident (so watch out, ye who doubt the power of the word!). I was trying to balance a PhD dissertation, a coaching gig, and a RA position at a fraternity that was going through some serious internal disputes at the time. I was tense, I was tired, I wasn't thinking right, and yet I felt invincible. I was competing in my alumni track and field meet at MIT and I had just broken my own 55 High Hurdle personal best by a full 0.1s and set a new alumni meet record. Having only practiced 4 times in the previous several months, I was pretty proud of that accomplishment because it proved to me that one can improve one's own performance by coaching others (e.g. teaching to learn).
Coming off that huge high, I decided to try and make it through the tripe jump, one of the most physically demanding events in track and field because of the amount of impact it places on one's joints. I should have listened to my body, now cramping up with muscles tightening. I'll spare you the details from here, but my life changed forever in an instant.
A Paradigm Shift
6 months on crutches will definitely shift your perspective of the world around you. You begin to notice all the handicap buttons to open doors. You begin to feel the distances to the nearest place to get food. And you certainly appreciate how easy it used to be to go up and down 5 flights of stairs everyday to get to work (on the plus side, I got pretty buff in my arms).
It also slows you down, a lot. You simply can't do a million things anymore because you physically can't do them. Therefore, you truly get a break. A forced break, mind you, but still a break.
A Wonderful Experience and Life Lesson
I'm not going to lie and say that I wouldn't enjoy having the full capabilities of my foot back. That would be false humility or self-delusion talking. But I will say that it's been a blessing in my life. It forced me to revaluate my life, my values, and my future. It forced me to look inward when I was frantically running to deal with the outer world. It proved to myself that I could keep a positive attitude through a situation most would deem negative (I always got a kick out of making the doctors and nurses laugh).
In short, it was a blessing. But was it a necessary experience? Couldn't I have just taken a break in the beginning and skipped this hard life lesson? Possibly. But I started to get overwhelmed again and then remembered this part of my life, and have since scaled back my work load so I could better stay in balance and recover. It's a lesson I'll never forget, so in that sense, I'll always be very grateful for having lived it.
Do You Need a Break?
Is your body, mind, soul, spirit, environment giving you messages that you're about to cross a tipping point? Are you really prepared to cross a tipping point instead of simply scaling back?
Trust me, I know what it's like to have obligations, responsibilities, and commitments that can take up and enormous amount of time and energy. But at the end of the day, you can't help anyone if you're laid up in bed for 6 months!
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About Rick Manelius
Quick Stats: CTO of Contact Mapping. Author of Winning the Lottery Within. Graduated from MIT in '03 (BS) and '09 (PhD). Life hacker and peak performance enthusiast. This blog is my experiment in creative writing, self-expression, and sharing what I've learned along my journey. For more information, read my full bio here or contact me.