I am going to attempt a triathlon this summer. I say ‘attempt’ because I am by most accounts a lousy swimmer, mediocre biker, and embarrassingly bad runner. Fortunately, I have a support system of two good friends of similar athletic abilities who will be attempting it with me.
During our six-day-a-week training workouts, I’ve noticed we have the same conversation regularly: “Why isn’t this getting any easier?” We all got new running shoes, but they didn’t make running any easier or more enjoyable. My new swimsuit didn’t make me any faster. My arms and legs and abs still burn after every weight lifting session. I begrudgingly have begun to accept that 1) the right kind of change is incrementally slow and sometimes painful, and 2) there are no shortcuts. But I also believe it will all be worth it in the end.
This refrain is familiar to me—our work in health systems change follows the same rules. CCMU has been at it for over fifteen years, but our health care system still isn’t meeting the needs of every Coloradan. We have worked tirelessly to pass some legislation that seemed to make only minor regulatory changes. We have convened or joined countless meetings to talk about the issues, but the dialogue has sometimes felt like it was moving forward at glacial speed. From within the depths of our work, it’s so easy to think: “Why isn’t this getting any easier?” But here, too, we know individual conversations and policies are cumulatively important to reaching our ultimate goals.
Along our biking route, there is a large downhill with a stop sign at the bottom and a large uphill that begins just across the intersection. Whatever momentum you can build up racing down toward that stop sign immediately vanishes, and you must start the following long slog uphill without the benefit of that momentum. It’s a physical and mental setback, and I gasp unkind words at that stop sign every time I pass it. However, that stop sign keeps me safe from being hit by an oncoming car, and I should be grateful for it. Similarly, there have been stop signs, roadblocks, and detours along the road to a better health care system, but these too are keeping us safe. Our health care system affects our lives, our economy, and our future; pausing to look both ways before continuing on keeps us from rushing headlong into a poor decision.
When I look back on our weeks of training runs, our average speed and distance have slowly increased, even though it hasn’t felt like it. When we at CCMU look back on the change Colorado’s health care system has undergone over time, we can see the hundreds of thousands of lives that have collectively been improved. What has sometimes felt like spinning our wheels, stuck in place, has actually been gradual progress with significant achievements. Taking the time to notice and celebrate these small victories helps us continue the journey.
It’s not supposed to get easier. Things worth doing are rarely easy. If you’re pushing to improve on your efforts, to not stagnate, to challenge yourself onward into uncharted territory, making a positive change will still be incrementally slow and sometimes painful. And that’s okay. Embrace the process. Feel the burn. Slow and steady wins—or at least survives—the race.