Lessons from Humpty Dumpty

I’ve always been a quick study. I generally can diagnose most business problems and get to a 90% solution in pretty short order.  I’ve always been very proud of this—and it’s definitely been a big part of my career success.  People describe me with words like “decisive” and “pragmatic” and “hyper-productive.”  All good, right?

Well, maybe for the first time in my life, it’s not working out so well.  And it took something completely non-work related to throw it in my face.

On the last day of June this year, while on vacation, I was on a bike and got struck by a slow moving (thankfully) delivery truck.  And for the most part I was incredibly lucky considering my biking attire was shorts, t-shirt, and flip flops. Should I mention I wasn’t wearing a helmet? The worst part of the whole thing turned out to be the injury to my left arm and elbow which ended up broken in a bunch of places and had to be surgically Humpty-Dumptied back together in early July.

I preface all these next remarks by telling you I absolutely love my orthopedic surgeon.  Dr. “Humpty Dumpty” has that great balance of compassion and competence, and seemingly not much ego.  Which is saying something for an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine, particularly one that deals with a lot of high falutin’ athletes.  So with that as a disclaimer let me elaborate on meeting my match.

My last two conversations with Dr. H-D have gone something like this:

“Well, the xrays look great, bones all healing nicely.”

“Super.  Are we done here?”

“Not so fast, sister.  I’m not all that happy with your progress on your range of motion.  You should be a lot further along than you are.  This is just a wild guess, but you may not be making your recovery work as high a priority as you should be.”

“Not true!  I am doing everything you are telling me to do.  PT, massage, squeezie ball.  Whole enchilada.”

“Are you really doing it or are you just doing it?”

What I heard:

“There is a difference between checking the box and doing the work.  You’re failing here.  And failing at this has serious consequences.”

Now the word “fail” does not go over so well with me.  So once I had gotten over my rage at his insuation that I was failing, I tried to analyze why this was the case.  And on the ride back to my office, I had this startling realization.  I’d have to change the WAY I solve this problem, and the recipe I’ve used (quite successfully) for 30 years isn’t going to work on this.  And then I thought about how we all get stuck in what we know and what’s always worked, and changing patterns is really hard.  Especially at my age, and especially when they’ve always worked so well.  So here’s what Humpty Dumpty man is telling me, and truthfully what I already know, but was trying to work around:

Change is hard work.  And it’s uncomfortable.  And most of us avoid it if we can because it has a lot of downstream implications that inevitably produce more change.  But I also know that without it, we can’t move forward.

So when it comes to getting my arm back, I’m going to actually have to learn the material, not study to pass the test.

I’m not going to jump at what I think is the quick fix.  I can’t just “check the box” on 10 minutes of therapy exercise three times a day.  I’m going to actually have to feel it making a difference, which means more pain and suffering. And I will like it because it will produce results.

So Dr. Humpty Dumpty, in case you’re reading this, I want you to know I heard you.  And I’m doing it.  REALLY doing it.  And the next time you see me, I will not get another lecture. You will pat me gently on the shoulder and say, “Good work.  Keep at it.”

(And by the way, I typed this using both arms.)