Is this the Hill I’m Going to Quit On?

Introducing:  The 17 out of 20 Rule

There are long hills, there are steep hills and there are damn hills. Each is a challenge in its own way.

The path I run has a section with a long low hill, followed by a steep hill. The steep hill levels off to cross a road and on the other side of the road the hill takes back over and climbs on. It’s that third section of the hill that makes me want to quit. With every step, I have to consciously tell my brain to think “Yes. Go,” instead of “No. Quit.”

“Yes! Go!”not-No! Quit!

When I come to the third hill,  the ‘damn’ hill, I am spent. My quads are oxygen depleted and complaining as vigorously as they can to get me to quit. Since I don’t want to give up, I’ll look around and if no one is coming up or down the trail, I’ll cheat: I turn my body sideways and grapevine up the hill. With this method, I use different muscles that are not in anarchy. I get the psychological benefit of not quitting and it’s not only less painful, it works out a new set of muscles.

On a hot day last week, I spun to my side and began grapevining up, twisting my hips and arms back and forth with each grapevine step, really going at it — if I’m going to grapevine, I’m going to get the most out of it. On this day, just as I swung my arms from pointing down the hill to up the hill, I smacked right into a man running downhill. “Sorry!” I gasped and offered a bit more explanation, “I didn’t see you, and was just, you know, grapevining because.” He ran past, apparently more interested in getting down hill than in my explanation.

At the top of the hill, I saw a good, old friend walking her dog and stopped to talk to her. A minute or two later along comes the same guy back up the hill. Right after he passed us at the top of the hill, he turned and picked his way back down the hill.

As my friend and I chatted and I continued to catch my breath, two more times he ran up, turned and skipped down.

On the fourth time, as he ran past me, I clapped my hands and yelled “Go! Go! Go!”

On the sixth time as he jogged down the hill, I shouted, “How about one more! You have one more in you, don’t you?”

Over his shoulder he said, “This is seventeen out of twenty.”


For a couple of years, I have been running this same track, struggling up the same hills and every hill was a struggle. Yet, I was determined. Even when I wanted to walk, was desperate to stop, I wouldn’t.  My mind would be pleading “No! Quit!” and I would correct it “Yes! Go!” I might grapevine, but I kept going. And still every time, with maybe one or two exceptions, that hill kicked my butt.

As I watched him run back down the hill I realized that I didn’t begin to know what it meant to run up that hill. I was just playing at it. He was committed.

Now when I want to be better at something I ask myself, are you going for 20? Have I put in 17 out of 20 effort? Or am I really just doing the equivalent of one trip up the hill every few days?

So now, I tell myself: that damn hill, in fact, any damn hill in my life, can kick my butt all it wants. But it’s going to have to kick my butt three times this run, and four reps each run next week. Until I get to twenty.

What else am I truly 17/20 committed to?

Pump Your Arms

Born to Run?

I think some people are born runners. They run and run and run. Running makes them feel calm and in control.

I run three miles three times a week on average. I never want to run. I never like it. I have never felt a runner’s high. So I run, but am not a runner. Unlike me, my daughter is a natural runner. There were a couple of years in junior high when she ran on the cross country track team. She told me her coach would tell her and her teammates, “Pump your arms!” Pump your arms?


“I never want to run. I never like it.”


I live in Atlanta which is much hillier than most people who have never been to the city, or beyond the infamous airport realize. If you run in Atlanta you are going to encounter hills.

One of the reasons I run is the simplicity of it. It’s not easy, but it is simple. All I need are my workout clothes and running shoes. And 30 minutes. Just those three things. I don’t need the gym to be open. I don’t need the class schedule. I don’t need any other equipment. I don’t even need good weather.

I have a three-mile loop that I run: out my back door, up my driveway, along the curb and across a winding street. From there I run up and down hills in a neighborhood that’s almost a forest. At the beginning of the loop, there is a glorious downhill coast and at the end, there is a mile-long stretch that is up a low-grade hill almost the entire way. Like anyone who consistently runs a path, I know every mailbox, every patch of poison ivy and every hill. First comes the short hill to the brown mailbox, then the no-man’s land stretch that’s pretty flat with dirty beer bottles lazing around in the nearby grass, then there’s the stretch from here to the top of the street that’s basically uphill with the halfway point being the telephone pole with the laminated lost cat picture on it.

It’s the way my legs feel when I get to the lost-cat telephone pole that makes me want to quit. My thigh muscles need more oxygen than I can take in. I’m not too out of breath, but everything is awful. Why did I wear these longer leggings? I’m boiling up. Why didn’t I wear different socks? Why didn’t I run earlier today when it wasn’t so hot? Why couldn’t I have been a born runner? Why was I born?

I have heard the TED talks about standing like a starfish, arms and legs spread out in order to create a different frame of mind. The research shows that obsessive thoughts can also be curbed and managed by changing your physical position. Your body impacts your mind.

Maybe that’s what the cross-country coach was saying. Change your body’s position and change your mindset; change your will.

When I am running and it feels like I am drained of all energy reserves, I am ready to quit. I get those “I don’t think I can pick up my legs one more time'” thoughts. My legs are so heavy, my “just one more” thinking quickly morphs to “no more.” But I hear the cross-country coach in my head saying, “Pump Your Arms! Pump Your Arms!”

My arms, miraculously, they are not so very tired. They are so much lighter and easier to move than my legs. In fact, it’s not hard to will my arms forward and back. Now I am pumping my arms because it’s so doable. I realize, along the way, that somehow my legs haven’t quit yet thanks to my arms.


The Biggest Loser?

If you have never been fired, you don’t know how painful it actually is. Even if the place and people and product were a remarkably horrible fit for you, it hurts. Even when you know it is coming, as the words come out of their mouth, it’s a shock. When it happens to you, it does not matter if you were about to quit or if you are one among dozens in a corporate layoff. Like a character in The Lottery, you are going; they are staying. All those other lousy people you have been working with are somehow better than you? It’s humiliating.

“This is your last day,” they said and with that, I shook hands and said I would be back for my things later.

It so happened that that same scene had played out for me, with variations, at least three times in seventeen months. In almost thirty years as a professional, I had never heard of that happening to anyone. It probably was not a record although I felt like it certainly qualified me for some kind of biggest loser competition.

Oddly, I had been heavily recruited for this most recent position. They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse and I joined the team. Less than seven months later, I found myself, with my gathered things, headed to a Starbucks in the middle of the day to work on my resume.

I looked at my computer, at the resume on the screen, took a sip of tea. My career, I thought to myself, is a grease fire.

Pumping My Arms

About two days later the recruiter who had placed me at this most recent failure called. A recruiter often has to agree to partially forego his fee if the placed person is released after a few months. He probably wasn’t very happy at this outcome. Obviously I had to take the call: he was a recruiter, after all, and I needed a job. He asked me what happened and I explained what I thought had gone down and lead to my being fired. The last thing he said was, “You’re going to be okay. You’re resilient.”

Resilient? Resilience was what I had displayed getting hired after my last two firings. Surely, I now needed something much stronger than resilience. How do you recover from having multiple jobs in less than two years? In shock, I wrestled with the fear of trying to resilient my way through who knew how many interviews.

Some of those jobs I should not have taken. But I did take them, and mostly because I was afraid of not taking them. And that fear lead to what would look, to any observer, as serial failures. The recruiter said I was resilient and yet I was not certain I could do it again. Opening up my job search notebook, I again made my list of people I could call. With every iteration of job searches, my list was getting shorter.

Was I hireable?

The stories around those jobs and their respective outcomes were heavy — heavy like my legs when they were about to give out at the telephone pole. I knew I had to find a new job in spite of all that.  The prospect of answering questions about my work history was a 2,000-pound ball and chain, a weight that was hard to walk with, much less run. Heavy legs.

Light arms?

In addition to whatever internal or external factors lead me to my career grease fire, there was the heavy feeling that maybe I sucked at my job. I had a quip, “A marketer could spend a full 50 hours a week attempting to stay abreast of what was new and working in marketing — and you would still fall behind.”   I really wanted to run away from marketing and the never-ending task of feeding leads to sales. Breaking into a new career was a possibility, but not an immediate prospect. Could I become a better marketer?

I began to live out my quip and started spending just fifteen hours of each job-finding week on new marketing trends and technology, consuming podcasts and e-books and talking to other marketers about what they were learning and what was working for them.

It was transformational.

I did not suddenly become the most creative and successful marketer in Atlanta, but I gained confidence. Everything I learned became something I could talk about in an interview – and something I would be able to put into practice once I landed.

Learning was much easier than tracking down potential jobs and hacking my way through the interview gauntlet. And yet, everything I learned made interviewing easier. Pumping my arms made lifting my legs easier.