The night before, I check the weather. I consider what I’ll need to wear; what’s clean, what would be the best choice for the temperature. I calculate what time I need to set the alarm to finish on time and stay on schedule. No alarm needed on weekends. In the morning, I drink coffee and go if the run is under five miles. Anything over five and there is another layer of planning needed: breakfast, water, salt, sports drink, snacks, whatever the temperature demands.

The first steps out the door into the hushed morning are like stepping out of myself and into the unknown. Even a short, routine run triggers excitement. Long runs are adventures, segmented by miles. What might happen? What will I discover? Feet hit the pavement in a regular rhythm, arms pump, lungs fill with air — the run has begun. Success is always measured by the same question, did I finish? Well done.

I’ve been thinking about beginnings — those first moments, days, and weeks when a project is new — when there is so much that is unknown. We do our best to prepare, rehearse, and really think through how something might go, but it is an adventure. Those first few moments in the kickoff meeting remind me of the that feeling when you step out the door about to start a run. You know the conditions and you’ve done what you can to prepare, now it’s just time to do it and accept that you will have to deal with whatever comes your way. I know what it is to realize a mile or two in that you should have worn shorts instead of running tights or that you needed the larger water bottle, not the small. You roll up the tights, calculate the distance to the water fountain, adjust the route, and keep going. Experience dictates my behavior; I know how to pace a long run, where and when to stop, what to bring, what to expect. I listen to what my body is telling me because I understand my goal. You can’t succeed if you don’t finish.

Unlike with my personal running, most projects I work on are team sports. Success shifts from the personal to the group, we depend on each other. Even if I do my best work and I feel personally satisfied, what does that mean if the team fails? If we are not cohesive, collaborative, communicative, if we fall into traps, silos, and hero/victim roles, how could we still claim success? Finishing isn’t enough if we don’t bring everyone along. So, back to the beginning, how do we ensure that we all get there together? How do I listen to the collective “body” and understand the wants and needs of the group so that we can all move together towards our ultimate goal?

Here, I would shift my previous definition of success, from finishing to clarity. If we can facilitate open and honest communication leading to productive collaboration, we can achieve the rarest of goals, clarity of vision and understanding that can radiate from the team through the project to the client or end-user. That does sound a lot like the sensation that floods through you mid-way through a run, when you’ve convinced yourself that you are a perpetual motion machine and your mind detaches from your body, adrift in new thoughts, new neural pathways, exploring, searching for something intangible to hold on to long after the run is over. Maybe they do have more in common than I thought.

Writer, researcher, observer