I met a woman a few years ago at work. We both were athletes as kids (she way more serious than I), and soon enough we were running together. We’d beat traffic and get into work early, hit the rail trail, and have a nice long talk. Oddly enough, our approach to the run is entirely on opposite sides of the spectrum.

I never entirely liked team sports because competitive grit did not come to me naturally. I’d rather smile at a competitor and complement their hairband or pass—I was never much for growling or intimidation. Yes, as much as I think Roller Derby sounds like a rollicking good time, it’s not going to work for my nature. I approach a run with kind of the same spirit: easy going, stop to watch the rabbits (although, frankly, the greatest spot is skunks—especially in multiples), barely scheduled. I care more about the just-getting-out-there as opposed to how many miles I go, how fast, or how long I run.

My buddy tells me that if I wasn’t with her, she’d run herself so hard that she wouldn’t be able to walk afterwards. Almost like her competitive edge keeps pushing her faster and faster than she really wants to go. I have to marvel at this — I don’t think I could run this way if I tried. And as much as I’m happy to temper her pace, I feel a little guilty at holding her back.

The other thing Ms. Speedy tells me is: she wouldn’t run if I wasn’t there as her partner.

We don’t get a run in together all that often any more. But, when we do, I find it exhilarating to be breathless, my heart beating wildly. Suffice it to say, this is very unlike the more relaxed (let’s put it kindly) pace of my own morning jaunt.

Despite this discomfort, I recognize 100% how important this kind of pursuit is for my own progress. Stretching beyond fitness, this is a case for personal growth: putting myself into situations of discomfort or “the unknown” is the most assured way I have of encouraging my confidence, challenging myself beyond what I know I can do, proving to myself (even if just a little bit) that I should be taking a few risks. Our professional lives can keep us very comfortable, easy in stasis, anxious over the jolts.

What if, instead of anxiety over the uncharted, I could bring that breathless exhilaration into the situation of unfamiliarity? Can we train ourselves to find the confident calm and the explorer’s spirit when faced with the partner that might rip the miles (or, say, brainstorm a mile a minute, take gigantic leaps of understanding, or task you with diving into the unusual)? Likewise, my running mate might tell me she’d like to be able to slow herself down to an empathetic pace (and embrace what comes with it: the thoughtfulness, the perspective, the tangents).

A good partner always takes you a wee bit off-course. That is to say: we very likely fall into our similar patterns day after day. What better than a compatriot to nudge us in a different direction? My father has a small obsession with always trying to find a different route between Points A and B—this comes from his research into thinking patterns and how people have a very difficult time changing the way that they approach a problem. To challenge ourselves to break the framework, we can attempt an alternate avenue.

Where will we land? I’ll aspire (apologies for the pun) to arrive breathless.

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