I took my trusty old bike out last weekend for the first time in a while. I've had that bike for more than 26 years and I used to cycle to school on it. When I first moved to Los Angeles from London, my bike came with me and I cycled about a hundred miles a week. I loved watching the sun rise over Santa Monica pier as I cycled north towards Malibu and back south towards Venice and I used to get up at 4am in order to do so.
When I moved just a few miles further inland, I started to cycle less. The roads put me off heading down to the beach bike path - or rather, the crazy local drivers put me off - and so I've been finding other ways to exercise and to have quality thinking time.
Last weekend, I needed some new perspectives and so I took my bike out for the first time in six months and headed down to the beach. I know every inch of that bike to the point where it's sometimes hard to know when I finish and the bike starts.
I cycled along that familiar route and saw the sun high in the sky, felt the warmth on my skin and saw people enjoying their days by the beach dressed in the blue of the sky. By the time I reached the northern end of the bike path, some 7.5 miles from where I had started, it was as if I had never been off my bike. I looked out briefly towards the ocean in the hope that I might see some dolphins, before turning back. It was too late in the day for dolphins, but I remembered clearly the many times I had seen them while I was cycling along that very path.
On the way back, the wind appeared to be against me, slowing me down as if it was telling me that I needed to spend more time savoring the moment. As I cycled, I found the perspective I was looking for that would help me solve a work challenge and I was reminded that - for me - exercising to find a solution was the right answer.
As I came back by Santa Monica pier, with the sun illuminating the rides, I remembered the final part of my journey home. Three significant hills from the beach to home, each increasing in length and incline. When it came to the first one, which I had climbed perhaps a thousand times, I was determined and shot up as if I had been training my whole life to do that.
Half a mile later, and I'm facing the second incline. This one is three times longer than the first and twice as steep. I picked up speed at the bottom of the hill and worked my gears until I got to the top, in spite of the driver that decided to perform a u-turn in the road right in front of me. It felt great to get to the top of the road and look back at my achievement.
A mile later and I'm at the bottom of the last hill facing my greatest challenge yet. This one is double the height of the second hill and steeper, too. Given the road layout, there's no space to pick up speed before I start ascending and so I give it my best shot. I work down through the gears to make it easier for me to pedal and when I reach the point where I feel like I'm running out of steam, I reluctantly dismount and start pushing.
It's at that point that a woman shouts over to me, "Don't be lazy, get on your bike and pedal". I'm a little taken aback at this, especially as it's coming from someone who is driving up the same incline I'm walking up. In a moment, I was snapped out of my reverie and back to reality. And for a short time, I felt bad at not being able to reach the top of that incline on my bike. I started to judge myself by that woman's standards, and I felt like I had failed.
On reaching the top, I looked down to the bottom of the hill and by that time, I could see out to the ocean that was now some two miles away. I realized then that I shouldn't be so hard on myself. That woman didn't have any context of what I had achieved that day; she didn't know that I had decided to get on my bike for the first time in six months and she didn't know that by the time I reached that incline, I had already cycled fourteen miles.
Indeed, she only saw a snapshot in time and made a judgement without the context of my starting position and what I had been through. Where she saw failure, I saw fourteen miles of achievement and two inclines scaled successfully.
Next time, which won't be as long away, I'm going to try to get up that third hill as well. And if I don't, I'll be the one to judge myself and whether I'm successful, rather than leaving that to someone who doesn't know me and doesn't recognize what I have achieved.
It struck me then, that we all judge others on a daily basis but often we don't have the right information to make an informed judgement. We may look at - and judge others based on - their careers, their financial positions, what they spend, what they own, where they live, and so on, but we don't have the right information to make that judgement and, frankly, we typically apply our own standards when making the judgement. Just as the woman who judged me had a different set of standards to those I hold for myself.
It is up to me to define what my success looks like in my work and career, in my personal life, with friendships, with my financial situation and so on. And I'll respect other people sufficiently to allow them to define their own success. Along the way, I'll judge my success and leave others to judge theirs. And see how that helps to make the world a better place, one steep hill at a time.
Rob Whitfield is the CEO and Founder of One Brit, No Bull, a coaching and corporate training company based in Los Angeles and operating worldwide. Rob can be contacted here or on (+1) 518 9NO BULL.
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As well as being an experienced management consultant and energetic public speaker, Rob Whitfield is a certified Trainer of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, a certified Master Coach and a certified Master Practitioner of Hypnotherapy and Time Line Therapy. No Bull.