“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:
- 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.
- 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.