What touching my toes taught me about my business and life

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Last year I learned to touch my toes.

While this may not seem to be an accomplishment for many people, for me it was.

I have never been lithe, slim or flexible. I was born from Irish farming stock, sturdy against the hardships of life.

I hated the gym, I hated running and no matter how hard I tried, I could never bend down and touch my toes. I accepted that, “touch my toes? No, I’m not built to do that!”. Which is how expectations become facts.

To me it was a fact, it was an accepted truth and, as it turns out, it was a lie.

A difficult pregnancy and an uncomfortable birth finally led me to Pilates. I was so beaten and battered that I was willing to try anything to put my body back together again. I trained, every week, and over time I began to heal the gap between my brain and my body.

After 18 months of training, and stretching I took a deep breath, bent down and touched my toes. It was an achievement for me akin to winning an Olympic medal.

Which is a good enough story, but it is what I learned six months after which has been much more important.

In the six months after I first touched my toes, my life imploded. I faced personal and professional challenges which I believed to be insurmountable. I drifted, I burnt out, I became lost. My friendships suffered and my business teetered on the edge.

I couldn’t touch my toes anymore. This is not a metaphor, I was unable to bend down and touch my toes. I was still training, still trying but my body was holding the stress from my head and my heart. It would not, could not bend anymore.

During a training session, my Pilates Instructor asked me to touch my toes. I gave an eye roll and prepared for disappointment. As I tried and failed, she said to me “do it again. But this time, instead of experiencing it as pain, ask yourself is it pain or is it your body stretching?”

I bent down again. I reached my “pain-point”, I paused, I breathed, I bent further.

I did not touch my toes.

This isn’t a fairytale.

But I did get closer than I had in recent weeks to touching my toes.

In the days afterward, I reflected on this. I felt that there was a bigger message in there than just touching my toes. I experimented with exchanging the word pain for fear. When I reached my fear-point in life, or in business, was it fear or was I preparing to stretch?

Pain and fear are important in life. They are a warning signal. They are worthy of our attention. What they are not, is a stop-sign. And so often we get this wrong. We think that pain and fear mean that we should stop. When we feel fear of taking the next steps or when we feel pain for a plan gone wrong it can stop us in our tracks. We say “I feel this, so it must be telling me to stop. I’m listening”. Which is all well and good, as long as you’re listening to the right message.

I want you to think of the thing which is causing you pain or fear in your life or your business right now. The thing which is stopping you in your tracks and preventing you from moving forward. That point which you think that you cannot get past. And I want you to ask yourself this question,

“is this my stopping point or my stretching point?”

And it can be both. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. It may be that you have reached your stop-point in the direction you were heading. Which means that you now have the space to stretch in an alternative direction. But you need to pay careful attention to the message you are giving yourself, is it the right one?

As for me, I’m stretching, I’m doing the work, I’m going to touch my toes.