How Corporate America Helped Me Lose Weight

I’m going to lunch today with some of my former co-workers. I’ve met with a couple of them a few times since I left the company, but I’ll be seeing some of them for the first time since April 30th. While I certainly don’t miss the corporate life, I do miss many of the people I worked with for so long. I’m looking forward to it.

I learned a lot about business from my company. As so often happens with lessons learned, they were useful in many other areas of life as well. I wrote about a few of them on my very first blog, four years ago (!), and I thought now might be a good time to re-visit them, from a health/fitness approach. (I’ll do anything to get out of housework.)

You don’t get better at something by not doing it.
Richard, one of my favorite managers ever, said that to me when I tried to get out of giving a speech. He was right. The only way to get better at public presentations is to do them, and do them A LOT.

So often when we try to change our approach to healthier eating and exercise (and for me, emphasis on the exercise), we become discouraged at the limitations of our size or the absence of a meaningful skill set. It’s difficult to go to a gym full of people who are running and lifting and squatting and lunging, and we’re able to manage (barely!) 20 minutes on the treadmill at low speed.

When I first started building my exercise habit two years and 100 pounds ago, I walked on the treadmill for 20 minutes at 1.8 miles per hour. I stayed at the speed until I had worked up to 45 minutes ( a couple of weeks, if I remember correctly) Then I started working on pace. I have a notation in my exercise journal of the date I made it to 2.0 mph. It has an exclamation point, indicating my joy in the accomplishment. It seems silly now, but I remember feeling so proud. I was exercising regularly and I was getting better at it.

Today, I don’t walk on the treadmill so much, opting instead for outdoor walking or biking. When weather forces me indoors, I head for the elliptical or the stair climber. Going by time and distance calculations, I now walk at a pace of 4.0-4.5 mph.

We get better at something by doing it.

The only people not making mistakes are those not doing anything.
I learned this bit of wisdom from Jim, the manager of the systems development staff responsible for putting back together a system I blew sky-high. The documentation said, in effect, “Run Step A, then Step B, then Step C.” Easy enough, right? Why, then, did I run step A and then Step C? Oh yeah, I thought I’d found a shortcut. Wrong.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if it hadn’t happened during Game 4 of the NBA playoffs–one of those Lakers-Celtics years, no less. The lead computer operator stood outside my door during the entire debacle and glared at me. I cried.

But then Jim stopped by, gave me the pep talk, and in the ensuing repair work, the programmer was able to make some improvements that made future recoveries as easy as the click of a button.

It’s the same with converting to a healthier way of living. We of the overweight persuasion tend to compare ourselves to others and then to judge ourselves harshly when we fall short. We screw up…and give up. (Or maybe that was just me?) We frequently don’t see that the very people we think are living the optimal lifestyle are out there making their own mistakes. Our commonality is not success, but the mistakes we all make in working toward our goals.

None of us is perfect, and by acknowledging our screw-ups as simple human frailties and reminding ourselves that the only way to avoid messing up is to not try at all, we’ll move much closer much faster to our goals.

The trick is to keep trying.

Don’t let best get in the way of better.
Our society rewards excellence and there’s nothing at all wrong with that. Excellence should be recognized and rewarded. But sometimes it seems we’re so focused on Being The Best that we miss the opportunities for small victories and accomplishments along the way. Or worse, we refuse to accept these stair-step improvements as evidence of our progress simply because they’re not The Best.

My former company’s CEO is fond of saying this: “It’s better to reach 80% of a stretch objective than to achieve 100% of an objective that wasn’t particularly challenging.”

I agree. Eliminating bad habits and creating a healthier version of ourselves requires tremendous effort that sometimes seems overwhelming. We need to take pride in the accomplishments we do achieve, even when we aren’t 100% successful every single minute of every single day.

And that’s what I learned about losing weight and gaining fitness from Corporate America.

As always, your thoughts and stories are welcome. I learn from you as well. Which is another whole blog post of its own. :)