Kicking the tires

flat tireMy kids and I pack a lot into our days. With work, school, practices, rehearsals, committees, and social lives tugging us in different directions, we sometimes have to get creative in order to spend time with each other. That’s how I came up with the idea of having my kids tag along on my runs–on their bikes.

A few years ago on one of spring’s earliest days, I laced up my running shoes to take advantage of the warm air and colorful blossoms. I invited my daughter to come with me so that we could steal a few moments together. She said yes, grabbed her bike, and off we went.

Before we proceed, you have to understand that my dazzling princess is somewhat averse to physical exertion, or at least she was at the time. Previous runs through the neighborhood with her on foot had resulted in my frantic assessment of potential onlookers to see if anyone might be calling Child Protective Services as my daughter screamed things like, “Stop hurting me!” “Why are you doing this to me?” “Why won’t you let me stop?!” and “You’re a MEAN WHALE!” Keep in mind that these exclamations generally came about five minutes into any activity after she remembered what she might be missing on TV.

Back to the story.

A block into our run/ride, dear daughter started complaining. It was too hard. It made her legs hurt. Could we please go home? Shaking my head, I pressed on, shouting over my shoulder, You have wheels! I only have feet. Keep up! After another block of ever-increasing complaints, the grousing stopped. Relieved, I looked back to see whether my daughter had caught up with me.

Rather than being hot on my tail, she was a block behind me, feet firmly planted on the sidewalk, wheels stationary. She refused to budge.

As I retraced my steps wondering how to cajole her into continuing, a tiny thought weaseled its way into my brain. I don’t think she has had her bike out since last fall. I wonder if she needs air in her tires…

I arrived at her fortified position and squeezed the rubber. Sure enough, her tires were flat. Not just low on air, but completely flat. No wonder she was complaining; she was riding on the rims! Every revolution of her pedals took extreme effort for her little legs. Oops. Bad mom moment. Her complaints were valid this time.

That incident is never far from my mind, and I’ve become extra-vigilant about checking tires before bike rides. As I’ve chuckled sheepishly over the memory, I’ve also realized there was a greater lesson embedded in it than the effects of winter storage on air pressure: never, ever stop listening.

You see, I know my daughter and her patterns. When a situation seems to fit a pattern, it’s pretty easy to check the box and tune out; it’s all about context, right? Of course, that’s exactly the moment when I risk missing something important.

I’m a huge proponent of understanding context, but paying too much attention to the context can sometimes crowd out the facts. Like tire pressure.

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Walls

bldg-constructionLast week I paid a visit to our new company headquarters, which is starting to look ready for our planned mid-summer inhabitation. Because of my involvement with the project, I’ve actually had a pretty good handle on the building’s progress all along. Even so, something about this visit really grabbed me. The building just seemed so much bigger.

With walls finished and furniture installed, somehow the building seemed more impressive than when the ground was staked. Or when the frame went up. Or when interior walls were nothing but studs. How does that work?

It seems counterintuitive to think that filling a space will make it feel bigger. Shouldn’t adding boundaries make it feel smaller, more confining? Apparently not always.

As I thought about it, I got a bead on deconstructing the phenomenon. When the project was an empty field, and later when the footer was poured and the frame erected, so much of the building was left to my imagination. How could that footprint house more than 200 people? How could that many workspaces fit inside that very finite shell? My mind was left to fill in the gaps, to paint the rest of the picture.

The more of the building that went up, the less my mind had to fill in. On last week’s visit, I could clearly see where all those people would fit. I could imagine my colleagues and me bustling about. I knew exactly where our equipment would be tested. And with the structure nearly finished, I could easily compare it to our current digs.

Compare.

I think that’s the key. Most of us need a point of reference before we can really make sense of our surroundings. Even if the new thing is wildly different than anything we’ve experienced before, we still need that what-we’ve-experienced-before baseline to understand that it IS wildly different. We need a way to put it into context.

If you’ve got the time (about 17 minutes), take a gander at this video clip, Thinking inside the box. Dan Heath explains better than I ever could that sometimes it takes knowing the boundaries to really unlock our potential. Instead of closing us in, sometimes the walls actually open us up.

I need to chew on that for a while.