“Keep moving forward… Keep. Moving. Forward… KEEP! MOVING! FORWARD!”
For me, those three words are not only a core value at Sprinklr, the remarkable company where I am privileged to work. They are inextricably tied to a life lesson that I picked up five years ago.
Let me get this out of the way: I fully realize that any bit of advice that begins with “Here’s something I learned competing in my first Ironman” carries with it an element of self-aggrandizement that some find off-putting. And nothing below is intended to directly analogize a voluntary athletic event to the terrible personal and public health challenges so many are facing right now around the world.
That said, what I learned about the power of will in the summer of August 2015, in the near-to-heat-stroke delirium of the Ironman Mont Tremblant, feels relevant and shareable right now.
Let me set the scene. It is August 11, 2015. Eastern North America is in the throes of a historic heat wave. The “real feel” temperature is creeping toward 100 degrees Fahrenheit at mid-day. And I am outside Mont Tremblant, Quebec, lurching into the marathon portion of my first Ironman triathlon, having already slogged through a 2.5 mile swim and a 112 mile bike ride in the scorching heat.
By the time I stepped gingerly off my bike that day, I had already been engaged in nine straight hours of strenuous cardio activity. The notion of beginning a full marathon wasn’t something I allowed my mind to specifically contemplate. Instead, I focused on the most basic, immediate task in front of me. Get those feet moving.
As I ran (or jogged, really), “get those feet moving” morphed into a mantra, pulsing through my head with the cadence of my footfalls, occasionally spoken aloud. “Keep moving forward… Keep. Moving. Forward… KEEP! MOVING! FORWARD!”
The mantra that carried me through that long day and across the finish line has remained with me, finding application in everything from subsequent health challenges, to family issues, to a uniquely rough activist investor campaign at my last company. And it is getting me through my tiny slice of the enormous societal challenge we are all facing today. What I learned about the power of human will in the hills outside of Mont Tremblant in 2015 was simple, but profound: even when every cell screams at us that we cannot keep going, we can.
As I mentioned, last September I had the privilege of joining Sprinklr, where we hold out those very words as a core value: “Keep moving forward” (another core value: “Never, ever give up. Ever!” is icing on my personal/professional/cultural symbiosis cake). As I have talked with colleagues in recent days about such things as prioritizing, focus, and continuing to look forward, the words have again become a cadence in my mind. When I heard a public health expert earlier this week refer to the coming weeks as “a marathon,” this post wrote itself.
Any of us could be forgiven for letting present global circumstances overwhelm us. Waking every morning to a new set of bad (and scary) news from all points of the compass, coming at us via dozens of channels in a volume that is quite literally non consumable prompts an obvious question: “What can I possibly do?” One possible answer to that question leads to paralysis: “I can’t do anything, so I might as well sit still and wait to see what happens.”
In my opinion, that course rests on a false assumption. The sick and their loved ones clearly excepted, most of us can “do something” about our present circumstances. For me, that means I get those feet moving. I work my to-do. I “Keep. Moving. Forward.”
We can all engage each day in a deliberate, focused, energetic and optimistic way with the ongoing responsibilities of our jobs. Crisis management, for sure. But the day-to-day, too. It is still there—the exigent and the ordinary needs of clients and employees alike. We can get the work done, using the miraculous tools that modern technology has placed at our disposal. Sure, the crisis multiplication of distractions means we need to be more conscious than usual of prioritizing and holding ourselves accountable. That’s part of getting the feet moving, and maintaining that momentum, every day.
“Keep moving forward” also means being very mindfully present for our colleagues, as well as our families, with empathy as well as optimism. Partly because it is my nature, I am making sure to consciously and deliberately leave room in my mind for relentless optimism, and to share that perspective with others, even as we all grapple with the reality of the present crisis. We can keep going. This will end. We will be okay.
All of us are coping with an unusually turbulent undercurrent of stress right now. Some of my global colleagues are managing personal circumstances that boggle the mind; challenges that make an Ironman look like a morning stroll, and they are still online, dedicating herculean efforts to our business. Constant self-reminders to hold our own stress in check, to be mindful of others’ unique circumstances, to take a breath before typing or uttering a curt or intemperate response, can dial down the intensity for all of us.
I am doing everything I can, in short, to assure that when this thing passes (and it will pass), my company, my family, and my community will be ready for what comes next, with forward momentum to carry us into and through the recovery. Current predictions about the duration and long-term impact of the COVID-19 crisis will prove to be precisely on the mark. Or overblown. Or understated. We cannot possibly say which. If we all do our part, every day, to keep moving forward, we’ll come out of it stronger.