I’m currently reading the fantastic book Turn the Ship Around by L. David Marquet about strategies for turning “leader-follower management” into “leader-leader” systems. The basic premise of Marquet’s philosophy involves empowering people at every organizational level to make decisions for the greater good using their full intellectual capacity. What’s most fascinating about this book is the fact that Marquet tested out his theories on organization theory during his time as captain of a US Navy atomic submarine, arguably one of the most entrenched top-down management breeding grounds on the planet.
In the section I was reading today, Marquet was exploring the importance ongoing prevention strategies in every organization. He provided the analogy of a submarine using “a little rudder far from the rocks” to prevent needing “a lot of rudder next to the rocks.” This got me thinking about how, and when, I incorporate prevention into my own life. Building resilience into core areas of our life allows us to avert a lot of potentially uncomfortable situations, as well as provides us a buffer to withstand physical, psychological, and spiritual crises.
In terms of my physical health, I completely subscribe to the old adage, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”, and people who know me, think I have a “healthy lifestyle”. On the outside you see someone who exercises at least 2 hours every day, someone who doesn’t smoke, drink, or use drugs. Someone who has been in a stable relationship for most of his life. But. . . What you don’t see is what lies behind all those decisions. When I think of prevention and how it relates to my health, I see most of my effort going towards prevention strategies for my mental health, rather than for my physical health.
I’ve always been open about my personal struggles with depression, addiction, and most recently, sexual abuse because I believe that being transparent about these struggles is a way to not only keep me vigilant but also enlist all of you as my support team when things get tough. Anyone who has every battled a drug or alcohol addiction knows the importance of continual vigilance as the first-line prevention against a potential relapse. I also avoid places and people who might trigger my addiction, and that often means ducking out of parties and social gatherings early. Luckily, I have a partner who has always been eager to make accommodations for this. I think of my addiction as a 100-pound gorilla doing push-ups while waiting in the wings for the precise moment I let my guard down. I've spent countless hours in 12-step meetings, and time and again I hear people who relapse say that the moment they started feeling sorry for themselves was the time they were ripe for relapse. That’s why, if you listen closely, you’ll hear people say, “I'm a grateful alcoholic.”
That brings me to the next manifestation of prevention in my life, my love affair with running. It’s no secret that I run; scratch that…. I RUN A LOT. My typical training week ranges from 150 km to 200 km. So, why do I run so much you might ask? I’m blessed with a physique that is naturally attuned to sports, but I’m cursed with a mind that tends to wander towards depression. For me, running has become my preventative therapy to ward off depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. I’ve been through the mental health system, and I know that pills for depression is a road I don’t like traveling down. Running gives me on opportunity to work through my thoughts and space to breathe through my fears.
The area of my life where I see the fruits of prevention every day is in my relationship with my wife, Mary-Anne. We’ve been married for 26 years, and considering that we got married when we were 21, that is quite an accomplishment, and one that I’m immensely proud of. In our marriage, prevention resonates in many forms, but all of them nurture our core belief in supporting the other partner to grow into the person he/she needs to be. I really believe that the biggest threat to any relationship is intransigence, and an unwillingness to allow your partner room to change. For us, we’ve both become completely different people from the two doe-eyed young adults who said “I do” so many years ago. In fact, we've both changed many times over, and this change has not always been easy, but our level of trust and commitment has never wavered.
I invite you to think about how prevention manifests itself in your life, and whether or not this practice could be brought to other facets of your life. I’d like to leave you with the beautiful words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”