The other day I rolled my left ankle while I was running. In 2012 I rolled it not once, but twice, and had first a mild and then a major sprain.

In 2012, that second sprain sort of hurt, but I went on. I was starting disc golf, and had committed to playing a full round. So I walked on it for another hour … at which point it was the size of a softball. It hurt for months, and I had to get special dispensation from my manager at my retail job to bring in a chair, as well as wrap and ice it daily, so that it would finally heal.

That moment was at the front of my mind a few weeks ago when I was just starting a run and tripped over a twig, rolling on the outside of my ankle. Initially, it felt okay, and I had made a commitment to myself (“I will run every other day, and always go as far or farther than I did last time”) — and I didn’t want to break that commitment. I wanted to keep running.

In 2012, I would have kept running.

In 2014, I turned around and limped home.

What changed? I thought about it all during my walk home, and during the early evening as my ankle was propped up on a pillow. As I reflect about how I made that decision — to carefully limp home, and hoard all the pillows and ice — I have three takeaways:

  1. Mistakes are easier to learn from than successes. As obvious as it was after the fact, in the moment I didn’t make time to consider “What could the possible consequences be?” and received daily reminders of that mistake for months while my ankle healed.
  2. There was no reward in this risk. Risk is necessary for a lot of things — for innovation, for creating change, for becoming a leader. Risking the long-term usefulness of my ankle to run a few miles one day? Not necessary. Not rewarding. Mostly stupid.
  3. Not all commitments are equal. It’s really important to me that when I say I do something, people have not only confidence, but evidence that I am true to my word. Breaking a commitment makes me feel like a big fat liar (even if it’s something small, like sending an e-mail a day late). But this commitment — “Run every other day, and go at least as far as last time” — is not nearly as important as my commitment to  nurture my physical and mental wellbeing.

Although I may still feel awful when I send e-mails a day late, I have a clear example of choosing not to follow through, and  having that not be a bad thing.

And my ankle? After a day or two of taking it easy, I was lacing up my shoes.

What big realization have you had from something small? I’m sure everyone has moments of experiential clarity like this, but I’ve never had one that’s so easy to recognize before.

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"For the worthlessness of this life did strike Richard pretty forcibly — buying necklaces for Evelyn."
Elissa Y. Schufman
That's me. I write stuff.
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