I am an avid runner and often I hear the call of the trails, enticing me to head into the forest for some exercise and peace of mind. Peace of mind, for me, frequently comes in the form of an outdoor activity. One recent evening I decided on a trail run. It was late summer and there was still quite a bit of sunlight when I headed to the park at 6 pm. At the last minute, I grabbed my headlamp ‘just in case’.

There is a 1/4 mile long set of stone stairs that lead up to the trail head. That night I thought a few stair repeats would be a good way to get the blood flowing in advance of hitting the trail. My mind began to shed the multitude of business thoughts with each step. ‘Revenue’ and ‘profit’ and ‘personnel’ were soon drowned out by the steady rhythm of my feet and the loud thumping of my heart. I found myself counting the steps and lost track of time.

As I reached the top of the stairs and headed out on the trail, I felt refreshed as the temperature dropped below 95 in the shade (or had the sun sank?). I was about 1/2 mile in when I realized my eyes had done all the adjusting they were planning on and that it was time to switch on my headlamp. The dim light on my headlamp provided just enough illumination for me to see the roots and rocks, so I kept going – but there was not nearly enough light for me to relax. I passed a couple running the opposite direction and the woman said ‘way to go’.  It dawned on me that maybe she was not talking about my pace but about the fact that I was running in the dark by myself.

A mile later my lamp was providing no help and it was seriously dark. I tapped the lamp to see if, by chance, that might somehow result in a gain in battery voltage – a girl can dream.

I heard a crack and I jumped. A squirrel ran across the trail and the hair on the back of my neck stood up. My heart was racing, but it was not due to the workout – I was scared. My primitive brain was sending me a flood of warnings: You are going to be eaten alive. Yes, that sound was something big and hairy. Correct, you are being followed, but don’t turn around! Vampires exist.

As I approached a steep climb the physical effort muted the fear-based messages I was getting just enough for my rational side to have a say. It sent me a mantra: run up this hill and you’ll be good the rest of the way. I started repeating that in my head but when I heard another rustle of leaves I imagined momentarily that a sniper had been waiting for me. I braced myself for the gun shot. Run up this hill and you’ll be good the rest of the way. I think I might have even said it out loud. It took one more repetition and I was at the top of the hill where the trail crosses a road. I paused, took a deep breath and thought about my predicament: I am alone, it is pitch dark and my headlamp is dead. I watched too many scary movies growing up.

My husband was running on the well-lit boulevard a few miles away. If I did fall and knock my head on a rock, he would find me eventually. But I wanted to finish! I wanted to overcome my fear of being alone and in the dark. I did not, however, want to break my ankle by stepping on something I could not see. Taking the road was a little longer than finishing on the trail but it was paved and in good condition. Road it is. As I began to run on the road I thought about how I was benefiting from this situation. Pretty quickly I began thinking how much I loved this road right now and how I would be able to see the wolves and zombies in advance of their attack, unlike in the woods where it would have been more of an ambush-type situation. The odds of a fall had just been drastically diminished thanks to the paved surface. My breathing slowed.  I was running quickly but no longer in a panic.

How do I overcome the fear flowing through me?  I decided to play a game. I like to make lists so I decided to create one: I will do a bit more planning – like checking my batteries. I would try to come up with a work-related analogy that I might use in my blog.  If I am going to write about this when I get home, that implies a werewolf will not have torn me limb from limb. I smiled. It was working. What opportunities does this situation provide from which I will benefit?

I have run hundreds of miles in the dark with a headlamp and friends. I look forward to those adventures. We plan them in advance, laugh and tell stories while we are working together to complete the goal. Why is my fear so diminished when I take a risk with people I trust…uh-oh, I feel an epiphany coming on. I started to think about work and how our company has grown and will continue to grow thanks to our practice of having and following a strategic plan. Our business is leading the industry in innovation because we decided to do so. We did not ‘luck’ into it. We made a choice and took the road.  We are taking risks but are doing so in an environment of trust and solid communication. We remind each other to check our headlamp batteries and ask each other what resources we need to be successful. We challenge one another: do you really want to run on that trail by yourself in the dark?

I looked up and could see the sky more than the trees. The parking lot was just a few minutes ahead. I stopped. I did not want to lose the moment. Take the road, when needed, I said to myself. But go to the trail for inspiration. Use fear as a fuel for change not as an excuse to give up. I sped up, invigorated by a downhill sprint. As I approached our car, my husband finished his run. “How was the run?” he asked. My reply: “It was a learning experience I hope I have a hundred more times.”

– Becky Sharpe, President & CEO