It’s okay to coast

I was riding my bike this weekend trying to prepare for my big ride in August, and I came to a startling realization.

Sometimes, it’s okay to coast.

No, that’s not fitness blasphemy for someone trying to get a good workout; it’s actually good strategy. This epiphany came to me when I was working some hills (bumps in the road to my friend Sally, but hills to me) and trying to get the most from my legs and my bike. When my feet were doing nothing more than spinning the pedals on the downhill run, I realized some things:

  • At a certain point, pedaling faster or harder doesn’t take you any farther, regardless of how much you’ve geared down. You just use up precious energy you’re going to need the instant you bottom out and start to climb again.
  • Coasting doesn’t mean quitting; sometimes it is simply a means to marshal your reserves.
  • The important part of coasting is knowing when to start and stop. Coast only when your extra effort brings nothing in return. Start pedaling the second your effort adds even the tiniest bit to your forward motion.

Chances are, you have a lot of miles ahead of you. Know when to ease up and prepare for what’s coming, and that applies to more than a bicycle.

For my friend

Bad news comes swiftly, landing in a crushing blow. You’ll always remember where you were the moment you fell under its weight, when there was no air left to breathe. Now you may see walls where there had been nothing but openness. You may wonder why people are operating business-as-usual when everything is wrong. You may not understand how the weather can be sunny and beautiful when there’s so much darkness in your world.

I want to tell you it’s okay, but it’s not. Not for you. The waves of despair will roll over you regardless of what anyone says, and they’ll keep coming like the tide. Today, just let them flow. You don’t have to be strong; right now, you just have to be.

When you wake up tomorrow, try to jump one wave. Just one. The next day, you can jump two. You’ll still get wet, but you’ll learn to move with the water. I can’t tell you when, but I promise you that one day, the roiling sea will start to smooth itself. The swells will become calmer and you’ll gradually notice the sunrise again. You’ll learn to float, and then you’ll swim.

Until you do, I’ll be bobbing beside you, ready to throw you a line.

Walk the talk

At work, I’m the jack-booted brand fundamentalist (hereafter shortened to brandamentalist) who lives on her soapbox preaching consistency in presentation. Most people nod their heads in agreement, picturing colorful collateral materials, lively trade show booths, and stately letterhead, all bearing like visual identity. They really get it. Or so they think.

The first time I point out inconsistencies in their speech, the very same people stop in their tracks, confused. They may not notice that they have called a brand by a former name, have attributed products and people to a business unit that no longer exists rather than to the new one that has replaced it, or have simply used “we” and “they” to talk about members of the same company–but I notice. And so do others around them; it’s just more subtle. These are the things that people don’t really hear, but absorb.

People don’t realize that their words often have much more impact than any visual presentation. Their words reflect their thinking, their mindset. Their language serves to reinforce that mindset to themselves and to those around them. I’m a firm believer that out of the mouth, the heart speaks.

Here’s a quick example. Though my department does work for the entire company, we are often identified with a particular business unit, and I’ve been working hard to change that. When a different business unit started to avail itself of our services, our primary liaison often asked, We’d like to do [x]. How do you do it? My response was always, [X] business unit has done it this way in the past. WE can work with you to accomplish whatever you need. Though the difference sounds subtle, I am always careful to separate the business unit association from my group. After being politely corrected several times (teasing me mercilessly along the way), my liaison no longer views my group as part of the other team. The words made a huge difference.

Changing behavior, even if it requires effort, accomplishes much more than slapping a new label on a brochure. It closes the loop on consistency, making it clear that the brand (or whatever the issue) is part of your DNA. It demonstrates that you believe it.  Without internalizing the brand the visuals are just a costume. If you’re not living and breathing it, your speech will reflect that. To avoid looking like an actor in a play who changes clothes and goes home after the bows are taken, you have to walk the talk.