The Curious Case of Walking in Circles

circles“Why are you running up the stairs only to run back down again?”  A little boy, maybe four-years-old, just asked me this during my daily workout in the park.  Part of my routine is to run up and down the steps at the front of the Museum of Natural History.  I do several laps before moving on, and the little boy found it, understandably, odd.

It reminded me of a time many years ago, at home in Uganda, when I was speed-walking in laps around the eight acres of our main campus.  One of my Ugandan colleagues stopped me and asked with great sincerity, “Why are you rushing to walk in circles?”

That curious inquiry has returned to my thinking many times over the years, teaching me the following lessons:

  1. Exercise with the sole intent of wellness is a privilege and the result of privilege.  The everyday activities of a life of poverty are so rigorous that there is less need for, and less time for exercise.  Many times I have reached down to lift a basin filled with clothes fully wet in the process of being hand-laundered, for example, and I am always shocked at the weight.  The sheer grit that is required simply to navigate such a life consumes tremendous energy.
  2. The strain of struggle builds strength.  We know that running up stairs two at a time—and then down again and up again—will result in increased muscle capacity.  We forget, though, that cycles of trial in life can also build strength, wisdom and courage.  As I have been turning over more and more responsibility to members of my team in Uganda, I realize that they have not had the benefit of years and years of running-up the steps of leadership of this sort.  As a result, when a problem arises, their first response is often one of panic or concern—while mine is different—simply because I have been up and down those steps of management so very many times.

So if you’re facing a challenge today that is inducing panic, take heart, and ask someone who has been in your place before—many, many times.  And if you’re dreading your workout, remind yourself of your great privilege, and press on.

One Response to The Curious Case of Walking in Circles

  1. suzy from Africa
    May 7, 2013 at 11:50 am

    Thanks again dear friend. I will never again approach my daily exercise routine in the same mindset as before but rather realize the very need for this exercise stems from a LIFE OF PRIVILEDGE, as you so perfectly pointed out. Even more so, I will reach out to others when I feel the panic or confusion in daily challenges of management I face. You have HELPED me again today!

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Nathaniel is CEO of AidChild.org. He holds a Master's Degree in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard University where he was a Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship, and winner of the 2010 Harvard HDP Marshal Award. He also holds a PhD in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego where he was the Dammeyer Fellow in Global Education Leadership, and a Cordes Fellow at Opportunity Collaboration. Nathaniel is author of "We Are Not Mahogany: Three stories about the male African life." Prior to his move to Uganda in 2000, Nathaniel was Deputy Director of the Office of the Governor of Arizona, and Director of Education at Leadership, Inc.

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