Stuck Moving Forward: the Reminder I Got From a Puppy

3 min read

This morning I had a solid reminder about what happens if one fails to adapt and grow with life’s changes.

About two months ago, my family brought home a new puppy. He was cute… and tiny. He was maybe ten pounds and a foot long, without the tail. I have a picture of him snuggled into the crook of my arm while driving home, and from my elbow to my wrist is about a foot. In the meantime, he has doubled in length and more than doubled in weight.


The pup on take-home day

About two weeks after we brought him home, he was able to start climbing up the stairs - which I encouraged him to do after going to the bathroom. Out our back door are a set of metal rung stairs, with gaps in the rungs. At this stage, he was small enough to invent a puppy-game of running behind the stairs and climbing through them. It was cute at times (during the day) and obnoxious at others (3am potty breaks), but it was something he did fairly often.

Now he can no longer fit through the rungs, but it does not stop him from trying. This morning he got “stuck” playing his game and trying to climb through the rungs. He is just too big now.


Another place he's been "stuck."

This reminds me a rather famous quote:

The most damaging phrase in the language is “We’ve always done it this way!” — Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper in an interview in Information Week, March 9, 1987, p. 52

Both people and organizations grow and change, and the needs and capabilities change with them. Being forced to contend with different needs at 40 than one had at 25 is an aspect of this, as is an organization that has grown from 10 to 30 to 500 people. Refusing to acknowledge that change is necessary in these situations is neglectful at best and seriously harmful at worst.

To continue the story, I came back into the house with the puppy after a few minutes, and relayed the story to my spouse, with the caveat “Of course, he wasn’t really stuck, he just couldn’t push forward like he always did before… he backed out and he was fine.”

It really did emphasize the point; continuing to do something the same way does not necessarily create a new blocker, but may simply cause something that was perfectly functional before to become one. In the puppy’s case, it was a physical blocker; in another case it might be a process or attitude.

The point is this: there are real consequences for failing to adapt to change - whether it is getting stuck behind stairs, recognizing that a five mile run takes a bit longer to recover from, or refusing to evaluate organizational needs. It also turns out that raising a puppy is educational both for the puppy and me.


Gratuitous puppy shot
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Stephen Sadowski

Leader focusing on quality, delivery, technical debt management, and leadership education about DevOps and SRE practices