Several years ago, I asked a trusted mentor for advice on my resume. While strong in content and impeccably formatted, she found it a bit lacking in personality. Her advice was to add a ‘personal’ section to capture what made me unique. I thought long and hard about what I felt comfortable sharing and added the following bullet: “Avid reader, technology enthusiast, and reformed runner”.
I would wager that you have never seen the term ‘reformed runner’ on a resume. Running had been a big part of my life and I was not quite ready to give it up as part of my identity. I regularly logged fifty plus miles a week on the treadmill between 10pm and midnight. This was my thinking time – once I got in the rhythm between miles 5 and 10, my brain would generate amazing ideas to problems I had been trying to solve earlier in the day.
But the running started causing problems when I was 28, with limping, hip pain, and finally, severe back/leg pain. Many years, many specialists, and many diagnoses and treatments later, it culminated in back surgery. A failed back surgery. I tried several rounds of intensive physical therapy to get back to running, and each time ended with the same excruciating result. This was my first time confronting a limitation and it was quite jarring.
From ‘reformed runner’ to ‘occasional mountain climber’
Although I could no longer run, I could still walk. Therefore, I figured I should walk up a mountain. Obviously. In my defense, I was sensible in my mountain selection process. I looked for a mountain that did not require technical climbing skills or oxygen and had less than 10 climbing deaths per year. Enter Mt. Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa at 19,341 feet.
I utilized my master influencing skills to convince my husband that it was an amazing idea and booked a trip for three months out. We lived in Tampa at the time, which is all of 48 feet above sea level. Luckily, our apartment building was 30 stories high. Training consisted of trekking up and down the fire escape stairs decked out in hiking boots and packs.
The trip up the mountain was both challenging and rewarding. Challenging in that I discovered I could not sleep above 14,000 feet. Small detail. Rewarding in that I proved to myself that I could still do cool things despite my physical limitations. When I got back from Tanzania, I changed the phrase on my resume from ‘reformed runner’ to ‘occasional mountain climber’.
Time gives the gift of perspective
Fast forward to today. I have watched my mother deal with an unexpected leg amputation with grit, sheer will power and grace. Over the past two years, she was dealt a hand that included an amputation, multiple surgeries and setbacks, a stroke, and the death of her oldest child and mother. She has every reason to feel angry or sorry for herself, yet she doesn’t see any value in spending her time on that. Instead she focuses 100% of her efforts on getting back to a newly defined normal that includes the things she loves. In doing so, she has become my definition of strength and perseverance.
My back issue remains and I manage it daily, which means no high heels, no prolonged sitting, no lifting, and most importantly, no running. But I no longer feel the need to climb mountains to make up for my limitations. Instead, I am grateful each day for the opportunity to lace up my flat, sensible shoes and go for a walk. That doesn’t mean I am ready to get rid of my closet of high heels. Not just yet.
And now for the obligatory powerpoint: