I have a secret rock. It’s 3/4 through my weekly hike, and I always stop there to relax for a few before returning to my car. It’s obfuscated by the tall golden grass of the hillside meadow in which it sits, with views south and east in Boulder. It’s a glorious spot because it overlooks the merger of Boulder’s open space with its development, a kind of smudging of the lines between humans and earth.
Every week I lay on my rock and focus on breathing. It’s perfectly contoured to support my head and body in a comfortable supine position, allowing for total stillness. Laying there, the sun warms my skin (yes mom, I’m wearing mineral sunscreen), the breeze tickles my hair, and the grass and cool rock gently remind me that I’m still grounded in spite of the chaos of the week. After a minute or two, I have to consciously relax my shoulders, forcing them begrudgingly to leave the safety of their home near my ears. After a couple more minutes, I can breathe all the way down to my diaphragm, letting the air molecules explore the nooks and crannies of the recesses of my lungs.
Sometimes when I’m lying there, my eyes will tear unemotionally yet viciously, so that the tears fill my ears and all I’m left with is the sound of my breathing. I couldn’t tell you why that happens because I am not feeling sadness, rather the only emotion I’m feeling is peace, maybe even happiness. Like the peace is so rare and my soul misses it so much that it’s crying from the depths of my being and the only way it knows to communicate with me is through tears. Or maybe it’s everyone else’s tears from the lack of peace that I’m feeling, and it takes moments of silence to flow through me.
I am reminded that I used to count the number of tissue boxes per month that I went through on my desk. Founders would come in to talk about some issue they’re having, and through a simple line of questioning – often something as simple as “hey, take a deep breathe and try to explain it to me” – they would start crying. All types of founders, experienced founders, first-time founders, men, women, technical founders, business founders, confident ones, insecure ones, all types would succumb to the tissues. Because I’m a sympathetic crier, I would cry right along with them, without even knowing what the issue was. I know it was a good month when I went through more than 2 boxes of tissues.
I’ve always loved it when those emotions come – it means someone is pushing themselves far outside of their comfort zone and trusts me enough to let me in (or maybe I just ask the right question to open the floodgates). You don’t improve by doing what’s comfortable, you only can reach greatness by pushing yourself far outside of what you believe you are capable of – and tears are a way of letting the stress of it go, of acknowledging the hardness of the goal. Bring on the tears, they are a sign of strength.
One question I always ask a new founder that I’m meeting for the first time is “how do you relieve stress?” I have heard many answers to this question, including playing music (my husband!), exercising, playing sports, watching sports, movies, reading, art, etc. I suppose what I mean to ask is “what is your version of my secret rock?” Not that I’m double-checking them, but rather I’m curious. Maybe I’m the strange one that needs a rock to unstick myself.
So, do you have a version of my secret rock? Do you find yourself relaxing fully and completely? Do you find yourself breathing again, all the way down to your belly? Do you find unexplained emotions bubble to the surface, and do you push them away or do you let them come?