Embrace Your Pace

Are you more of a slow and steady achiever than a speed demon? If so, you can probably relate to the tortoise in Aesop’s fable, The Hare and the Tortoise. Remember how the tortoise beat the hare to the finishing line by putting one foot in front of the next at her own pace while the overconfident hare took a snooze and woke up too late to win the race?

Meet Sharon Good, life, career, and creativity coach and author of The Tortoise Workbook: Strategies for Getting Ahead at Your Own Pace, a practical guide to advancing in your life and your career, inspired by Aesop’s tale. Good defines a tortoise as “someone who has big dreams, goals and ambitions, but is challenged (and frustrated) by limited energy, time or other limitations.”

As an introvert, you may relate to the tortoise analogy. While I’m not suggesting that all introverts are slow and steady achievers, if you prefer to take your time reflecting before launching into action and if you get absorbed in time consuming activities like research while your colleagues are quicker to race ahead into action mode, I think you’ll find Good’s work instructive. So I invited her to chat with us today.

NA: Tell us more about the world of the tortoise.
SG: Tortoises may be generally healthy but are low energy people in their natural state. Some tortoises have particular physical limitations. As we get older we tend to be more tortoise-like. Also, some people need to take more time to process things and they don’t want to dash through life.

NA: That brings to mind highly sensitive persons (HSPs).
SG: Yes, one subcategory of tortoises are the HSPs as defined by Elaine Aron, Ph.D. HSPs have more sensitive nervous systems. They are sensitive to over-stimulation and that includes crowds, noise, and bright lights. According to Aron, about 20 percent of the population is highly sensitive and another 22 percent are moderately sensitive. There are certain overlaps between those categories, so someone who is an HSP could be a tortoise because they need a quiet place to focus and process things.

NA: Like an introvert?
SG: Some tortoises might be introverts as well, and they might need time alone to gather their resources and regroup their energy.

NA: What inspired your work around tortoises?
SG: I realized that I have so many things that I want to do and it used to be frustrating to see a lot of my colleagues racking up accomplishments. The way that I made sense of it for myself was to say, “I am like a tortoise. I take a step at a time. Slow and steady wins the race.”

NA: Can you name a famous tortoise?
SG: An example is Christopher Reeve, who had a very successful acting career and after his injury he was amazingly courageous. Despite the fact that he was a quadriplegic, he made a huge impact on the world and really made a difference for people going through the same challenge that he was. He wrote a couple of books, made his directorial debut and even did a couple of acting jobs. He really shone as a motivational speaker and as an activist for spinal cord injuries.

NA: You teach about writing and publishing. What have you learned about the paces of different authors?
SG: In my research I have come across information that different authors move at different paces. There are some authors who will crank out a book a month or several books a year while others take several years to crank out a book.

NA: Can you give examples of well known authors who are tortoises?
SG: A sort of tortoisy individual was Ayn Rand who took 12 years to write Atlas Shrugged. Another one that I love is Laura Hillenbrand who wrote the book Seabiscuit. She suffered from severe chronic fatigue. It was very challenging for Hillenbrand to get the book done, but she was so excited and passionate about it that she stuck with it and dealt with the physical challenges.

NA: You just came out with a new book, Creative Marketing Tools for Coaches. How long did it take for you to get it done?
SG: I put aside every Thursday afternoon for two and a half years for working on the book.

NA: That’s inspiring.
SG: I was making the time on a regular basis, even if it was just small blocks of time.

NA: What advice you would give to tortoises who work at high pressure jobs? How can they manage?
SG: One step at a time. Make sure you have your goals and your dreams. Put things on a timeline. If you have got five things that you want to do and you cannot do all of them, pick one. Don’t agonize over which one. Just pick one, whichever one it is, and keep moving forward on it.

NA: What advice would you give to a tortoise who just got laid off and who has to compete for a job in this tight job market?
SG: The first thing is stop trying to hop around, to continue the metaphor. A lot of what I see happening with people who are job hunting now is they get frantic. They are making a lot of effort but it is not focused effort, so it doesn’t produce results.

NA: What is the importance of playing to your strengths?
SG: One thing that tortoises and introverts can do is to stop and take stock of what you can do with your strengths. You may need to get some coaching on how to prepare yourself for your interviews and how to frame your résumé so that it shows your strengths.

NA: You included a list of “Things I Need to Watch Out For” in The Tortoise Workbook, and “dash and crash” tops the list.
SG: Yes. That actually came out of something I had done myself. On days when I have a lot of energy, I get excited, so I might push myself and get a lot done. The next day I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck. That is what I mean by dash and crash.

NA: So you know your limits.
SG: You have to really watch and take care of yourself. Sometimes it can be challenging. Elaine Aron talks about this in her book for HSPs—that we are used to doing things on other people’s level. I know I have gone through a period where I have tried to make myself stronger to live up to other people’s standards, and what I finally realized was that I need to live up to my standard.

NA: What’s does that result in?
SG: I do a better job because I can be more present for my coaching clients and my students and take better care of myself so that I am not suffering physically, mentally, or emotionally by pushing myself beyond my limits.

NA: What happens when you take care of your needs?
SG: You will enjoy the situation more, you will be more productive, you will be able to contribute more, you will be more alert and engaged and you won’t try to keep up with the extroverts and the hares. I think it is really important for us not to try and keep up with everyone else but to work with our strengths and to acknowledge our needs.

NA: Would you like to share any tips for tortoises to help them navigate all the parties around this time of year?
SG: The first thing is to pace yourself so that you are not doing a lot of major events back to back and you’ll have time to recover in between. Also get enough sleep.

NA: Sleep is a big one.
SG: Actually, this is sort of epidemic in our society right now. There was an interview on CBS News with the medical correspondent, Dr. Emily Senay, and she said that about 10 to 34 percent of Americans regularly have difficulty sleeping.

NA: What’s the downside of insufficient sleep?
SG: Your memory and your energy levels are affected. You tend to be more irritable and short-tempered. I also find when I am tired I don’t want to deal with people. For me, it is really important to make sure that I get enough sleep so that I can be more focused with people and be more present for them.

NA: Great point. Anything else?
SG: Yes. Be careful about overeating and especially overdrinking. Particularly if you are energy challenged, if you have had a rough night and you have to work the next day, you could wake up feeling like you have been hit by a ton of bricks. So it’s important to know yourself and what you can handle.

NA: What else?
SG: Don’t feel that you have to talk all of the time.

NA: Isn’t that a relief?
SG: Yes. I think for introverts or tortoises, you can be in a social situation but not feel like you have to carry the conversation all of the time. In fact, people appreciate a good listener.

NA: What if a tortoise is looking to expand her or his network at a social event?
SG: Think about what you want people to know about you. For tortoises or introverts, if you are prepared and know what you want to say, you tend to be much more comfortable saying it. So have some talking points ready—things that are happening in your company or your industry or in the world—that you can be prepared to talk about.

NA: What about the idea of just showing your face at a social event?
SG: Most of the time meetings and parties tend to wind up and wind down, so you can come a little later or leave early and not feel like you need to be there the entire time. Do what you can handle.

PHOTO CREDIT (first photo):
The Tortoise and the Hare, illustrated by Milo Winter in a 1919 Aesop anthology

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