On wednesday a week ago we got one of the few really good rains of the winter here in the Bay Area. We're heading back to drought territory after a previous winter spent being soaked. On this wednesday I was visiting with an old friend I had not seen in twenty years, and after a nice catch up I begged off for a run at China Camp, which is a park I had yet to visit, but keeps coming up on my trail searches.
When I arrived at the trailhead it was into a full on pour, and one could only see maybe half a kilometer off the shore. I parked the car, continued listening to the podcast I had been enjoying, sipped more coffee and tucked in to the second of the two chocolate chip cookies I had just bought. I didn't think the rain would let up, I was just waiting for something inside me to wake me up and tell me to go.
In July of 2016 I made the decision to leave New York City, a place I had made my home for most of the last fifteen years. I had been through a lot in this city, battled against its difficulties to cultivate and create a home. But a promising next step in my career was on the plate, a raise I could not refuse, and the chance to live in San Francisco. A city that captures the imagination in its own right. Plans were made. My girlfriend agreed to join. We'd take ten days of driving across country, and when we arrived we'd face an optimistic new time. A slower pace. More trail running.
Unfortunately this did not come to pass. Like clockwork, my trip was repeatedly interrupted by work emergencies that could not be avoided. It became clear that in my new role, the first thing I would be asked to do is reduce our budget by more than 25% which included a significant trimming of our staff.
The rain never did give way, and after an hour of sitting in the car I made my move. I packed light, no food or water. Just shorts, a light rain jacket, and my phone. It would be a short six mile loop or so, and then back to the car for the second half of that second chocolate chip cookie.
My legs felt better than I expected them to feel from the get go. I've been putting in increased miles, and depending on the day I either feel much stronger than I have in a year, or the worse I've felt in months. But on this day I felt a rhythm it usually takes me ten or fifteen miles to find. It clicked right away.
It might have been because of, and not in spite of the tough conditions. I often find that in the middle of chaos, I feel calm. I'm good in an emergency, my head usually prevails, and I am most at ease when I have a lot to do, and little time to do it. This might have also lead me to take the nine mile loop instead of the six mile loop. Nine miles, that, even in good conditions, on flat well known terrain would have put me up against it with respect to the waning daylight hours. This was not flat, well known terrain. And the rain was only increasing.
When I arrived in San Francisco, I was in the office within twelve hours, even though it was sunday. I did all I could with respects to budgets, and work magic with excel. I trimmed every non-essential item, I banned travel for the team, I took a pay cut. I argued with my bosses at length that these cuts were mortal ones. But sales were not what they were a year ago, and all departments were under the same pressures.
War time doctors have a truly horrifying tasks in front of them. I think of the doctor who has to make the call to amputate a limb in order to save the body. How soon is too soon to make that call? I made the choice to stop fighting to save positions, and start fighting to get the best severance packages I could.
I don't think I will ever truly know if I made the right choices. And can you blame the amputee for holding a grudge against the person who cut off their arm?
I remember thinking as I charged up a hill that this would make a good Patagonia commercial. Some middle of the pack pudgy dope out in the dark and rain running just because he feels he has to. That should give you a sense of how full of myself I was feeling in the moment.
As I pushed through I wasn't really sure I was on the six, seven or nine mile loops. At about Mile 4.5, I was fairly certain, judging from my GPS watch, that this would be the nine. Darkness was coming. So I put my head down and started to push.
One of the major reasons I get up and out the door for runs is a feeling that is very difficult to describe unless you've been there too. But everything has melted away, and your body is not sore, just numb. There are just the footfalls. You aren't lost in thought, there is almost an absence of thinking. And for a person who is always thinking, and worrying and causing a great deal of trouble for himself in so doing, this gift is a great relief. I've really hit this spot just a few times in my life. And usually many, many, many more miles into a run than this one. But suddenly here we were for just a few moments.
Until I heard a shout from a person that I could not see, nor did I know from which direction it came. And again. "Behind you!"
I instinctively screamed like a character in the horror movie I now thought I was living. I stumbled off the trail, into the embankment, catching myself on a tree. The biker was friendly, and I apologized for causing a scene. That moment of being out of thought was gone, and its crashing reality was more jarring than anything else.
The experience of having to let people go against their will changed me as a person. It didn't matter that their futures would have been dimmed at the company even if they were spared. More than half the team would be gone within a year. These decent people were told they were no longer wanted.
Soon after this, everything else came crashing down. A work environment I held dear for the better part of a decade -- champions rowing in the same direction, doing their tasks for the betterment of the mission and, hopefully, the world -- began to crumble. Let go twenty percent of a team, and no matter how well you handle those conversations, inevitably everyone will be looking over their shoulder, wondering when they're next.
The next time I would be asked to make cuts, I would be the first to go.
Leaving the comfort of the known to head out into the unknown shouldn't be sugar coated. Pithy, clever memes directing us to be "brave", "bold" and "fearless" or "innovators" fail to mention that there are mortgages, student loans, and healthcare tied up in pay checks. There are children wanting, families to support. Puppies who need kibble. Not to mention the fact that in our careers there is momentum. You arrest that momentum, it's impossible to know when it will pick up again. If ever.
Bravery and stupidity are intertwined. I did leave that job. I jumped into my sabbatical much like I jumped into this run, and so many runs before it. Boldly, with no plan. The only plan was to go and find out what was on the other side of the mountain. It's been terrifying, I've forgotten a headlamp, it's dark, and I don't have a map to tell me where the path is, or where it ends.
I obviously made it back to the car. And I would go on to get myself lost on another trail a few days later. This time on a much longer run. I would get back to the car after that run, too.
I hope there is a lesson in there. Don't procrastinate? Remember your headlamp? Have a back up plan?
Or how about, "take risks, be prepared for it to suck, and keep moving forward."