Tailwinds, tutus, and a marathon commitment

They say “never say never,” but I feel confident you will never see me run a marathon. It’s not that I lack stamina; my writing streak stands at 426 days as I write this on Sunday afternoon—surely that counts as a marathon commitment. And while some days it feels like a walk in the park, others it feels like the Ironman with a couple of extra sports thrown in for good measure.

massive commitments
One of the rest stop volunteers during this year’s AIDS/LifeCycle ride

My friend Marcia has taken on several endurance rides and races. Last week wrote about the most recent—a week-long, 550-mile bike ride down the California coast, raising money for AIDS/LifeCycle.

During that long, hot bike ride, Marcia discovered many natural wonders: tailwinds that pushed the riders up steep hills; curves that revealed sudden, breathtaking views of the Pacific; volunteers at the rest stops wearing sparkly rainbow tutus.

She also discovered something wonderful about herself:

“…eventually, you don’t even feel it as your capability is massively enhanced. Tailwinds combined with graham cracker crunch bars and electrolyte drinks roughly every 20 miles made the whole 550 miles to Los Angeles about as effortless as a long ride could be.”

The 90-Day Writing Challenge, another marathon commitment

Marcia’s story arrived in my email as the writers in my 90-Day Writing Challenge are rounding a curve that reveals a breathtaking view of their finish line: the Challenge wraps up this Friday. A remarkable number of the writers who started it are on track to complete this marathon commitment, either writing for the full 90 days or just on the weekdays. I feel certain the writers would want me to add quotations marks around that “just.” Nothing feels simple when you’re struggling to make words come out of your fingers to meet a midnight deadline. But they’ve done it. And that’s an amazing accomplishment.

So what’s gotten them through it? Many of the same things that sustained Marcia, though with less sweating and (I’m guessing) less latex, or whatever space-age stuff they use in those bicycle suits.

Marcia had a team. It included her sister and several friends actually doing the ride, plus dozens of others who took on the very strenuous task of pushing a button to donate online. (Hey—I’ve put in a lot of hours of training to use that credit card at my peak performance level.) Plus the hundreds of volunteers supporting the riders in the field.

My writers also had a team: each other. When someone posted that she (no male writers in the challenge this time) felt she’d written poorly, the others provided strong tailwinds by reminding her that the challenge was not to write well; it was merely to write at all.

The writers shared their work in our private Facebook group and in person (well, via Zoom video calls) in a writers’ group. They loved the writers’ group so much that they insisted on meeting every week. And they plan to continue meeting even after the Challenge ends.

We had sparkly tutus, tu—er, too. I sent the group two writing prompts every week and made sure to include fanciful assignments like this:

marathon commitment

Even though most of my writers are business-oriented—writing blogs and website copy—it’s good to get out of your lane for a bit. Especially when you’re in the midst of a writing marathon.

Marcia and her teammates raised something like $30,000 for AIDS/LifeCycle. The 5-day writing challenges I’ve run to date have raised nearly $2,000 for Room to Read—with, as I’ve noted, much less sweat. The writers who complete this first-ever 90-Day Challenge will earn up to $150 apiece for their favorite charity. Those who put together shorter streaks during the challenge period will earn smaller donations.

How have you challenged yourself lately? My next 90-day challenge begins on Saturday. Stock up on graham cracker bars and electrolyte drink and join us. Sparkly tutus optional.

Stories, stories everywhere — including Joan Garry’s podcast

I beat the drum for “stories” hard and often. Did it just yesterday, as a matter of fact. And I’m always delighted to find others—even in very different contexts—marching to the same drumbeat.

This morning, I listened to my friend Joan Garry’s latest podcast episode. Joan helps nonprofit staffs and boards work more effectively together and she’s a smart cookie, so I almost always find some nugget of wisdom in what she or her guests have to say.

In this week’s show, Joan answered questions from her listeners. One of them was something like,

“I’ve just been hired to be the Executive Director of a nonprofit and I’m going to have a sit-down with the outgoing Executive Director. What questions do I need to ask?”

To be honest, when I heard that question I zoned out a bit. While it’s an important question, I thought the answer couldn’t possibly apply to me. But when I heard Joan say something like, “Don’t focus on the data,” I forgot about my mental grocery list and listened a little harder.

Get the stories

stories convey much more information than data

Don’t focus on the data, Joan said—or something like that, which is why it’s not in quotation marks; I’m reconstructing all of this from memory. Get stories instead. Okay, she didn’t actually use the word “stories,” but that’s what she meant.

Have the outgoing exec tell you about the people you’ll be working with—your board members, your staff. Not gossip—stories. Who can you count on for moral support when the going gets rough? Who’s got skills that enhance the organization and who’s just dead weight?

Of course, Joan said get the data too. It’s essential. But a computer can spit out all the numbers you need. Nuance—stories—you can only get from another human being.

Stories have an added benefit Joan didn’t mention: They’re memorable. I’m sure the outgoing Executive Director would be perfectly capable of doing a data dump. But you, the listener, need a mental framework to hang all that data on.

Think about times when you’ve started a new job: What would be more useful for you to know—how much money the budget allocates for this or that function? Or how to work effectively with the personalities you inherit?

I think you know how I’d answer that.

Shape your stories to make them memorable—discover how in my hands-on editing workshop. Click here and I’ll let you know when we launch.