Stress blog

Hitting the wall can be a wake-up call

By Edward T. Creagan, M.D. January 29, 2010

Sometimes we learn best from learning the hard way. Let me explain. Over the past nine months, a colleague and I have been putting together a new curriculum. The project is approximately 85 percent complete — we expected to connect the dots and submit the final for approval in short order.

But we just couldn't seem to wrap up the project. It felt like we'd hit a wall. We began to wonder if the project was flawed and that was why we couldn't finish it. It gradually dawned on us, however, that the problem was us. Neither one of us was functioning at an optimal level because of jet lag.

Most experts estimate that it takes 1.5 days of recovery for every time zone covered. My colleague had just returned from a two-week educational program in Southeast Asia. I had just returned from a speaking engagement in Ireland. Since there are 12 time zones between Southeast Asia and Minnesota, my colleague needed approximately 18 days to fully recover, and it would take me eight or nine days to be back in top form.

We're reasonably intelligent people, yet we completely underestimated our ability to bounce back. So what's the important lesson for us? We have to recognize that we have limits. Ignoring them has consequences for us, for others and for our work.

The other lesson here for me is that I learn the most from my mistakes — I almost never learn from my successes. Can anyone else relate to this story?


Edward T. Creagan, M.D.

Follow on Twitter: @EdwardCreagan

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Jan. 29, 2010