June 11. 2015. The only time I entertained that I wouldn’t be able to complete my cross country bike ride was on a super-heated, roller coaster stretch from Ellington, MO to Eminence, MO, to crest the Ozarks. Although the road consistently climbed all-day long, it tried to fool me into thinking that there was some respite along the way in the form of little ridges that offered brief downhills before the next one.
The conundrum came from knowing that if I rested my legs on the short downhill, the uphill would feel slower and longer. The most bearable way to tackle this type of terrain is to pedal as hard as you can on the down and subsequent incline, so that your momentum took you two-thirds of the way up the up… which made each little downhill almost mirage-like in my mind; it looked like down, but it required an uphill effort.
Six or so hours into the 70 mile, 8 hour climb, I thought for a minute that I might have bit off more than I can chew. I was sweating profusely and felt my eyes tearing up - which is very much not like me, so I pulled over for a few minutes. The road had obviously been chip-sealed recently and the metal cleats on my bike shoes sunk into the melting, fresh tar, forcing me into a balancing act with my gear-laden bike while using my pocket knife to cut the tar out of the cleats so they would snap back in my pedals.
I thought about camping where I was, but the Ozarks looked too much like a jungle full of snakes and spiders… not to mention that I really needed a hotel with AC if I was going to recover to ride the next day.
My thoughts ran to who I would be letting down if I quit. In the space of a minute, I went from my daughter, to my wife, to my brother, friends… until I realized it was me who I just couldn’t let down.
This was all about how much I trusted myself. I thought that when faced with decisions in life, it’s okay to ask advice, but in the end, we can’t make important decisions based on what other people think.
So I thought about how much I had already learned about my body being much more capable than I ever thought it was, and how all I had to do was to believe in myself and everything would be fine. So I jumped back on the bike and starting chanting what had become my mantra, “Just Pedal”, and hoped that Eminence, Missouri was not a dry county. And two hours later I found literally the last air conditioned room in town and an ice cold beer, and I never doubted myself again.
Like every lesson I learned on the ride, I integrated my newfound knowledge into my coaching practice.
During my Aging research, I read that most people in their twenties through forties make a lot of their decisions based on what other people will think of them. Those in their fifties and sixties have learned not to care what others think. And folks in their seventies, eighties and beyond know that nobody was ever thinking about them in the first place.
So you’re better off working on your own development than worrying about what others think, because they’re probably not thinking about you anyway.
Whether working with Healthy Aging clients, or leaders, I use Vertical Development to help me better assess how my clients see and interact with the world. Vertical Development refers to advancement in a person's thinking capability and how they see and continue to re-see the world.
It’s the ability to think in more complex, systemic, strategic, and interdependent ways… whether in an organizational leadership capacity or in your everyday familial and social life… and it’s a lifelong process.
“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.”
Carl G. Jung
Personally, there’s a laundry list of what I’m working on or striving toward, like how to do things differently, acting with the past, present and future in mind, seeking to bridge differences creatively when facing conflict… and the list goes on.
Each of the seven stages of Vertical Development progressively builds on the next, and most of us float between all of them. Very few folks reach the highest level… but that shouldn’t stop us from thinking about things like being open to seeing yourself in others and them in you, and focusing on changing the unacceptable.
As children, we developed according to Piaget's Stage Theory of Cognitive Development, whether we wanted to or not… as adults, we have to choose to evolve… choose to be a lifelong learners, to be curious and to see and re-see our world every day.
And when it comes to Active Longevity (staying active as long as you can), working to “become who you truly are,” is just as important as maintaining your fitness and what you eat.
For me, striving to continuously grow and learn is a given, not a choice …and only hope that I can impact others to feel the same.