When you’re younger you don’t think you need to do it. When you’re older, you wish you could do it better. Stretching can be likened to the “soft skills” of the physical fitness world. It often doesn’t get the proper attention from individuals as say, strength building or cardiovascular fitness. However, the lack of it negatively impacts your ability to achieve the greatest of physical feats.
David Nolan, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital once said on this topic, “A lot of people don’t understand that stretching has to happen on a regular basis. It should be daily.” This article by Harvard University went on to elaborate why this daily exercise is so important, “Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and we need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints. Without it, the muscles shorten and become tight. Then, when you call on the muscles for activity, they are weak and unable to extend all the way. That puts you at risk for joint pain, strains, and muscle damage.” Without stretching, you won’t perform at your optimal level.
It’s not too much of a stretch then – pun intended – to think this same philosophy would be applicable to skillsets we use for any and all aspects of life. So, the question becomes, are we stretching ourselves daily? Preparing ourselves for any type of opportunity or event that may present itself?
Make the Choice to Swim
We are all familiar with the idea of sinking or swimming when facing a challenging situation – often one where we feel inadequate. Sometimes we find ourselves forced to swim when/where we don’t want to; other times, we have the opportunity to decide whether or not we want to make the dive into waters that aren’t as comfortable as those we’re used to.
How many times do we pass up the uncertain waters of some situations because we’re afraid to sink? Or pass up chances because we aren’t comfortable being stretched? What if instead, the opportunity allowed us to experience something greater – even if it started out a little rough?
I took a dive that completely altered the course of my career. In the moment it was an uncomfortable stretch, but thankfully one I warmed into – quickly. It happened one day on the trading floor at Bloomberg in New York over 25 years ago. A colleague was heard screaming from the top of his lungs across the floor, “Anyone here speak Spanish? The Central bank of Mexico is on the line. I don’t understand this guy, but it sounds like he wants to buy with Bloomberg.” With 120 professionals on the floor, all of them college educated, not one raised their hand. My boss ran over to me and said, “Your last name is Garcia. Don’t you speak Spanish?” Nope. Born and bred in America. I had three years in high school and had not uttered a word in 10 years. Which prompted him to say, “That’s more than anyone else around here. Pick up line one. Congratulations Chuck, you’re now in charge of Latin American Sales. Oh, and good luck.”
I bumbled my way embarrassingly through that call, understood just enough to send the guy a brochure. What a nerve-wracking experience that was, but I made it through, and I was just promoted! It was a battlefield promotion; I was the only man left standing, an army of ONE in charge of a continent that stretched as far south as Argentina and Chile. I was not only unprepared for this, I was unqualified. I was faced with a decision about how to deal with it – would I stretch myself to achieve greater things? In order to do that, I would need to do some extra work and exercises. I subsequently hired a tutor, obsessively worked on Spanish for months until I took my first trip south of the border. The rest was history – we did great and I capitalized on an amazing opportunity. I certainly wasn’t a VICTIM of circumstance, but it sure felt that way at the time. I decided however, to take the bull by the horns and it paid off.
Commit to Some Discomfort
What if you approached life with a commitment to stretch as much as possible and to dive headfirst into unexpected chances and moments as they come? It is certainly easier to let these prospects pass you by. These opportunities are often uncomfortable, anxiety-inducing, and almost always feel like “not the right time/fit.” However, what if, like the scenario I shared with you, the next time you were called to step up – to stretch – you answered the call no matter how unqualified you felt?
I acknowledge there is fear and danger inherent in taking on these struggles – the unknown. And, it takes work to arrive to a place where you don’t feel like you are floundering. But, when you want to take that next big step in your career or pivot a new direction, take a moment to analyze the importance of taking a dive into the deep for the sake of personal development. Embrace it. You’ll appreciate that self-improvement pays off in unexpected ways.
I’ll tell you this, there’s no better teacher or motivator than being immersed in a situation where you need to quickly adapt – sink or swim. Be willing to jump into deeper opportunities – to be an interim director, to lead a meeting, coach associates, take over an account, try a new position, etc. They don’t come around often, so make them count when they do.
The truth is, you won’t always feel prepared for what’s to come, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to rise to the challenge. The stretching you do each day and the chances you take where possible lead you to opportunities you never could have planned for. Keep learning, keep trying, keep practicing at different skills and topics. It’s when we diligently stretch and take on things that make us uncomfortable that real progress is made, and opportunities are realized.