My 2015 Tough Mudder Lesson: Make a Difference When It’s Not Expected

You make a difference and have an impact everyday, even if you don’t know it.


Maybe it’s positive…maybe it’s negative. But, you have an impact on someone.

I had a splendid reminder of that this weekend when I did my third Tough Mudder. I went into it not having been able to train as well as my previous two thanks to a nagging knee injury, so I wasn’t relishing the physical challenge as the big day approached. What I found myself looking forward to instead was being with my people.

I’m not talking about just the team I ran with (including my lovely bride!), I’m talking about the people of Mudder nation. Participants are there to challenge themselves and lend a hand to their fellow Mudder, because no one gets left behind on the course…and everyone will need a hand at some point with obstacles like these. Maybe you can’t really truly get the power behind that until you hear the opening pep talk from this guy, which is how all Mudders start their event (I’m not kidding, look it up …Tough Mudder pep talks are for real!). Either way, it’s a phenomenal environment of camaraderie.

Check out this montage for a flavor:


These images capture part of what Tough Mudder is all about: lending a hand to strangers, helping your teammates, and having fun (by keeping things in perspective!).

At the top are Mudders helping other participants who are running up the Mt. Everest obstacle and needing a hand to the top. Often you’re not helping your own team, you’re giving aid and encouragement to a stranger brave enough to tackle the same damn challenge as you. And this is far from the only place in the course where this happens. Almost every obstacle that includes climbing or scaling includes helping and being helped by a stranger. It’s one of my favorite parts of the Tough Mudder experience.

On the lower left are three strangers helping one of my teammates at the top of an obstacle, while I’m ready to assist (and another muddy dude is cheering like a mad man!). She attempted that obstacle multiple times and failed. This time she got to the top. The key: she didn’t fucking quit. She challenged herself, and kept putting herself out there…because what you can’t see in this shot are the dozens of Mudders waiting to tackle the obstacle too. She failed publicly, and repeatedly…and kept coming at it.

On the lower right is me having fun on the course. Why? Out there, you not only give your fellow Mudders a hand, you encourage them. You give them a high five. You offer a word of support. Hell, sometimes you just scream together in jubilation after tackling a challenging obstacle (like the Arctic Enema!). All with both your teammates and total strangers. That’s why I had a big smile on my face; being part of that is fun.

Every Tough Mudder for me has been a little different. My first Mudder will always be special to me: a day my personal transformation came booming to life in full form, with my exuberant inner-coach and cheerleader boisterously encouraging my team of fellow Tough Mudder newbies as we smashed that eleven mile course to smithereens. The second, I conquered with my lovely bride and a great friend as part of our team. It was a great experience with my friend and a phenomenal statement for the new relationship my wife and I share. The third, I didn’t have any expectations, largely because of my injury. I just showed up.

I showed up to cheer, to encourage, to lend a hand.

When you do that you see the smile on someone’s face when they conquer an obstacle, you see the look of accomplishment after they achieve something they didn’t think possible, and you watch the expression on their face be lifted in response to an unexpected high five and word of encouragement.

It’s all magnified because there are people out there conquering demons. Doing things they didn’t think possible — climbing walls, leaping into water (sometimes really, really cold water!), and running for miles — generally pushing themselves harder physically and mentally than they may have thought possible. Often they’ve chosen to do all that because there is something else in their life they want to prove they’ve overcome and run the Tough Mudder as a tangible act of putting it behind them. Being a part of that is glorious.

One of the key words above is “unexpected.” It’s not the expected impact you have that makes the most difference, though it’s certainly good. It’s the unexpected impact that can mean the most to someone. That helping hand, that encouraging word…that often means more to someone who is grinding through events on their own, not expecting someone else to have their back in that moment.

That’s cool.

Now stop and think if you did that in the rest of your life. If you were the helping hand and encouraging word that made that difference not just for a few hours on a weekend, but every day.

Every. Damn. Day.

You can. I’ve been able to do it at times since my first Tough Mudder experience, but not nearly as often or with the consistency I’d like. It’s something I consciously think about putting myself in a position to do. It’s something I think about more and more about as I consider my dharma, my life’s purpose.

Call it a lesson from Tough Mudder that has nothing to do with mud, and everything to with how we live our lives.

That’s what I’m thinking about today.

Well, that and getting the rest of the mud off me that is still lingering under my toe nails after several showers.

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