I enjoy physical exercise and fitness has been a significant part of my life for as long as I can remember. Admittedly, like most kids I was not aware that I was making fitness a priority, I was merely chasing a ball (baseball, soccer ball, and footballs were my favorites) and having fun with teammates. It wasn’t until I got to college when chasing a ball (soccer ball in my case) became more of a job than a passion. It was also that time when fitness became both the means and the ends. Whether fitness was the focus or the byproduct, the part I enjoyed least was the stretching before exercise. And honestly, I skipped that part whenever possible. Just as my coaches told me, not stretching did catch up with me. And they were right that it is far easier to maintain flexibility than it is to regain it. Fortunately, I have only pulled a muscle a few times; but I can do little more than touch my toes.

Now I know that stretching in a physical sense truly is a no-brainer, as it prepares the body for more strenuous activity and increases our capacity for more over time. I watch elite athletes dedicate large periods of time to preparing their bodies for performance on their respective field, pitch, diamond, court, or pool. They make stretching a deliberate part of each day. Each day, they stretch a little deeper and reach a little further. Though I hung up my cleats long ago, I do make stretching a part of my day. I stretch my body before I work out, I stretch my mind before I head out to work, and I stretch my comfort zone throughout the day.

Unlike stretching in a physical sense, stretching in a figurative sense requires the help of others. We stretch our minds by reading books/blogs/magazines, listening to talks, watching videos, talking with others, and/or taking classes. We stretch our comfort zones by creating new experiences, engaging in unfamiliar situations, and/or applying our knowledge in different ways. I have found that the best way to stretch both my mind and my comfort zone is through surrounding myself with people who are committed to stretching. Stretching themselves and stretching others.

Last week, a new teammate at work let me know that I was giving him a reason to stretch in ways that he hasn’t in a while and that he appreciated that. His comment gave me a reason to reflect upon those who help me stretch on a regular basis. As I do so, I remember the pregame ritual when the coach asked us to pair up for a few stretches that required a partner. Whether it was holding our leg for a hamstring stretch or placing resistance on our head for neck isolations, that partner enabled us to reach a little further and stretch a little deeper than we could have on our own, which made our bodies a little more ready to perform at a higher level. Now, instead of looking to my closest teammate to pair up, I find myself reaching out to colleagues across the globe, seeking out thought leaders representing a wide array of topics, and leveraging unfamiliar situations as growth opportunities.

Earlier this month I was reassigned to a new Command to assume a role I had previously, Commanding Officer. The fact of the matter is that though the role is the same, I am executing that role very differently. I find myself doing that for a few reasons. First, each Command is unique, requiring a true leader to be the leader the team needs and not necessarily the leader he/she feels most comfortable being. This Command is very different than my previous in mission, size, make-up, and mentality. Second, my mind has been stretched so much during the three years since I was a Commanding Officer that I see just about everything differently than I previously did. It continues to be stretched by the teachings of people I have never met, the examples of leaders I am fortunate enough to call friends and the feelings of discomfort that come with turning the unfamiliar into familiar.

Stretching our body as children is extremely important and it becomes even more important as we age and muscles begin to tighten. The same is true for our minds. When we stretch our minds as children, we adjust the trajectory of life opportunity; our dreams and aspirations grow, our abilities increase, and we begin to see that more is possible than we previously did. But if we don’t continue to stretch our minds after high school or college, we remain our 18-24-year-old selves, we become irrelevant over time, and we miss more opportunities than we’ll ever know.

  • When is the last time you truly stretched yourself?
  • Who are your stretching partners?
  • When compared to last year, how much further can you reach today?