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Using My Strengths to Cross the Finish Line

Later this month I will turn 50. I’m good with it, I think. None of us are getting any younger, and if the only other option is death, I think aging is much preferable.

There are good years and not-so-good years. My 49th year has been very, very mixed. Personally and professionally it’s been great. Physically it’s been not so great. Earlier this year, despite only vague and subtle symptoms, my doctor told me I needed either open heart surgery or a less-invasive side-entry heart surgery. My shock was palpable. My disbelief was strong. I was a healthy and active person. I worked out six or seven times a week. After seeking a second medical opinion, I learned that both doctors were in 100% agreement. It seemed my once innocuous heart murmur had developed into a troubling mitral value prolapse with significant regurgitation. In layman’s terms, my heart had a leaky valve causing some of my blood to move dangerously in the wrong direction. I was told I needed to have a surgery to repair this misbehaving valve. If things went well, I’d be in the hospital for a week and recovering for a month. It was obvious that if I wanted to succeed as a heart patient, I had to reincarnate my shock and disbelief into acceptance and resilience.

Unfortunately, that positive, necessary, and possibly even miraculous transformation did not happen overnight. As a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach, I am accustomed to cheering others on and helping them face personal and professional challenges by harnessing their strengths. Unfortunately, despite my efforts to use my strengths to make the best out of a tough situation, I was truly blocked by my own preconceived notions about myself. My top 5 strengths are Competition, Maximizer, Achiever, Activator, and Significance. My strengths seem to stiffen and rail against the news of this surgery. A quick summary is below:

Competition: Is she crazy? We are NOT taking a month off! We have so much work to do. I feel like a failure just THINKING about this surgery. This better not impact our year-end goals!

Maximizer: Good to great or good to sub-par? Is she kidding? Will there be rehab? This all sounds super remedial. I don’t want to participate in any of it.

Achiever: And how much can I get done during recovery? Did the doctor say we were going to be in the hospital for a week? Boring! And no driving for 10 days? Please tell me we are not even considering that recommendation. What, exactly, are we going to do for a month while she is supposed to be recovering?

Activator: I’m not jumping into this. Bad plan. All of this sounds like de-activating. Can we get a third opinion?

Significance: She had better not tell anyone! Everyone will think we are weak and helpless. Honestly, we cannot let her do this to us.

My strengths were making many noises in my confused and overwhelmed head. Sadly, they sounded like whiny, ungrateful, and complaint-filled children. The rational piece of me knew they were overreacting. I tried to remain agreeable, grateful, and optimistic. It was going to be fine, I told them. I tried to minimize the impact of the surgery on them. “Don’t worry, we will be better than ever in no time. The doctor is just being super cautious. We will blow all of his time recovery estimates out of the WATER. Stick with me Top 5. This is just a little bump in the road,” I said. “You’d better be right,” they snootily replied. Wow, I was aghast. These strengths had been so helpful in the past. Where were they when I really needed them?

As the surgery date approached, my fatigue increased. I started to look forward to getting my leaky heart fixed since it was more physically obvious that it was in need of repair. I was happy to learn a week before the surgery that I was a good candidate for the less-invasive, side-entry, method. I would have a small incision on my right side, underneath my armpit. This seemed like a big win. The thought of a long scar down the middle of my chest made the rational, but admittedly vain, me, upset. The most dramatic-sounding part of the surgery was the need to stop my heart. In order to accomplish this feat a heart bypass was required, my heart and lungs would continue to work with the aid of a heart and lung machine. In the end, the hand-wringing heart bypass piece of the surgery affected my family members more than me. I was happily asleep and oblivious. They had a long day of waiting in the heart hospital’s waiting room.

The hospital stay itself was entirely uneventful, but exactly as long as the doctor predicted. The day after my surgery, I was told to start walking the halls. Initially this walk was painfully slow and cumbersome. I walked with my nurse, my husband, and my IV and blood draining tubes in tow. That first day of walking was thoroughly exhausting. We barely made it half way around the Intensive Care floor. It was hard to look into the other rooms and see various versions of me (mostly older versions) recuperating.

Once home, I was told to keep walking on my own. My heart had to get pumping. My lungs needed to start expanding. It was an effort. Luckily, it was early October and I had many beautiful days to be outside for walks. I tried to walk a little bit more every day and I harnessed my Achiever and Competition to do just that.

I had purposefully scheduled a speaking engagement before I was officially ok’d to go back to work. Suffice it to say, it went fine but it wasn’t an award-winning presentation. I was ready to collapse by the end. But I didn’t. My Activator, Maximizer, and Significance were proud of me. I had jumped in a bit early. (“You go girl,” Activator yelled.) And although I wouldn’t consider it one of my best presentations, it was fine. “See, I told you – you killed it. You know this stuff,” my Maximizer cheered. Lastly, I proved to myself (and my strengths) that I could pass as normal. “I’m positive they had no idea that we recently underwent a heart surgery,” Significance beamed.

Today, I competed in the Indianapolis Mini Marathon – as the saying goes -“with 35,000 of my closest friends.” I walked all 13.1 miles. It’s ok, I’ve talked at length with Competition about it . . . we will run next year. One challenge at a time, is what I told Competition.

This year, my 49th, has been quite an adventure. My strengths have been with me every step – both literally and figuratively. Of course, they have had quite a bit to say along the way. Thank goodness I know when to listen to them.

What challenges do you face? Are you harnessing your strengths to make your goals a reality? I’d love to help you or your team make this year your BEST. For the record, I’m planning on my 50th year being fabulous.

Indianapolis Mini Marathon 2017




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