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How Steep Is The Hill?

How steep is the hill?

Last week really took it out of me.

#ThisIsBurnout was incredible, overwhelming in ways I hadn't imagined, emotional, tiring, and uplifting, all in one. My usual routine went out of the window, I'd added two additional things in that I should have said no to, and whilst I was expecting to be tired, I wasn't expecting to be as exhausted as I was. Plus, I'd been sat down for far too long each day, not something I normally do.

My partner Mick and I went on a long walk with Elysa, our rescue pooch, a beautiful Japanese Akita.  Mick has done the route a couple of times with his brother in the past, it was a new one for me, and whilst it was lovely, it was a bloody killer.

The distance was less than four miles, not a length that would normally phase me, and not too much less than I walk with the dog on a daily basis, but with more inclines and a big hill back to the car at the end, my calves are still aching.

The hills on the walk made me think back to a training weekend I’d attended in 2011 when I was training to cycle across Kenya.  In preparation, I was completing up to 7 spin classes a week and I was out on the road on Saturday and Sunday mornings cycling up to 50 miles a day.  I was able to go further, and faster each week and I was confident about being able to complete the challenge. 

Until I went on a training weekend to the Cotswolds.

We’d been told on the night of our arrival that there would be three hills to cycle up on Saturday.  Three hills I thought we’d completed by lunchtime.  I was wrong.  When they said hill, they meant (mountain) HUGE hill, and I couldn’t cycle to the top.  I couldn’t even get halfway.  Not for a want of trying, but because I couldn’t get my pace right, I couldn’t get my gears right, and after three attempts I walked my bike to the top of the hill and almost collapsed when I got there.  The cycle down the other side was much more enjoyable.

On the flats, I was at the front of the group.  When it came to anything that wasn’t on a flat, I was at the rear of the group and struggling to keep up.

You see, despite all of my training and all of the classes and the miles I’d been racking up, I live in the Fens.  Flat, ridiculously flat, open roads, where you have to actually walk to, drive to, or cycle to, one of a handful of hills in the area.  And what I call a hill, you might call a bump in the road.

I’ve got friends that are out hiking and climbing most weekends, and on the flats I’m fine, but add in a steep hill, and I struggle to keep up.  I’ll make it, but I won’t be first to the top.  The only exception was one trip to India in 2019 where I made it to the top with ease on two of our day trips, and I still have no idea how it happened.

For the most part, when we’re trying something new, it’s not the height of the hill that’s the problem, it’s the fact we’re used to a different route, for me that’s mostly walking or cycling fast on the flat, for you that might be slow and steady climbing a mountain. 

Our usual route won’t give us the challenge we need if we want to stretch ourselves, but we need to appreciate that we need a different technique when the road becomes unfamiliar and is a very different terrain.

And it’s this stage when we’ve tried something for the first time that comparison can creep up on us or be thrust in our faces.

“What?  That’s not a hill, don’t be stupid”, someone who lives and walks daily in flat Fenland, is not likely to be motivated enough to try again.  Just like me being able to set the pace on a flat with all of the twists and turns in the road could leave many others behind and cause them to feel slow and worried about being last.

The fact that you’re out there, doing it anyway, is enough cause to celebrate.  So you fall off a few times, you struggle to find the right gear, and you have to walk a portion that you just can’t get right before you get home, soak in the bath and work out what to do differently next time.

We’re all doing the best we can.  And if anyone is criticising you for trying something new or trying to make you feel less than you are, do not let them dim your light. We’re all working out our own route and whether we’re doing it with guidance and support of taking it alone, the fact is, we’re all still here, putting one foot in front of the other.

We can easily get caught up in comparing ourselves to other people, and it’s a waste of energy.

Trust me.  If you’d seen me trying to cycle up that hill you’d have probably wondered if I’d ever even been on a bike before, never mind that I was cycling over 100 miles a week.  And if you’d have seen me trying to walk up the hill back to the car with my muddy boots and excited dog, you’d have wondered if I ever got my arse off the sofa and out of the house.

And guess what?  Most people aren’t even looking at you or worrying about what you’re doing because they’re too busy trying to get their own arses up the hill without falling flat on their faces.  And even if they are taking the piss out of you from behind, or in front, you’d probably beat them on the flat anyway.

It’s not how steep the hill is that slows us down, it’s getting used to something new.  We just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and getting there in the best way we know how.  And if all else fails, get a lift.


Kelly Swingler is an Executive Coach, Speaker and Author at She burned out not once, but twice, and has been passionate about preventing burnout since 2014.  Her latest book, Mind The Gap; A Story of Burnout, Breakthrough and Beyond is helping people from around the world make changes in their lives and acknowledge the stress they have been putting on themselves.

Kelly talks to audiences from around the world about burnout, sharing her story and experience, and her geek time is spent focusing on Changing The World of Work, Neuroscience and Burnout research.


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