The Art of the Tumble

20 Jun, 2022 Bob Wilson


Accidents can happen in the blink of an eye, as can other mistakes in the workplace. A recent minor mishap reminded me that when an error or accident occurs, the best thing you can do is accept the reality and roll with it as best you can. Sometimes, literally. It is a maneuver based on something I call “the art of the tumble.”

I traveled to Wisconsin this weekend to attend the wedding of my niece. She and her (then fiancé, now) husband own a beautiful 18-acre tract of land just south of Madison, near the hamlet of Brooklyn. Well, I assume there is a hamlet named Brooklyn, although I never actually saw it. There are numerous quaint little towns throughout the area, interspersed between voluminous tracks of green rolling hills and corn. Lots of corn. All I really know about the area is that my hotel, in Verona, was, according to Waze, 22 minutes from anywhere I wanted to be. It didn’t matter what address I plugged in. It was 22 minutes of driving through the country. But I digress…

The land they bought two years ago had been horribly neglected and was vastly overgrown. They worked diligently to clear the overgrowth, plant grass seed, and prepare a large area by a pond to host their 250-guest wedding. Much of the work involved turning the soil and cutting/clearing miles of viny roots that had infested the area. They had the place looking terrific and had cleared all the hazardous roots from the now grassy knolls. Well, almost all of the viny roots were cleared. I found one that was not.

There was a cocktail hour prior to the outdoor ceremony, and as guests began to arrive and the service bars were opened, I ordered a vodka tonic (with lime, of course) and drink in hand, headed with some family members across the lawn towards the house where much of the wedding party was gathered. As we walked, I felt my right foot get caught under a root that had been concealed in the grass, embedded in the ground on both ends. Immediately my body lurched to the right, with my right shoulder turning inward as I lost my balance. 

It happened very fast, yet it is amazing what you can think about while something like this is occurring. My initial reaction was to try and recover my balance. As I stumbled forward, falling further and further to the right while consciously trying to save the drink in my hand, I realized that I was failing quite badly in the recovery. In mid-contortion, I remembered a couple of previous falls where I had essentially injured myself by trying to avoid the inevitable, and realizing I had surpassed terminal velocity, succumbed to the now unavoidable fall. I recall giving in to inertia, tucking my shoulder in, and going in for the crash. I hit the ground hard, shoulder first and then my legs. I recall hearing the ice cubes from my drink whizzing past my left ear. The plastic cup I was holding was now gone. Unfortunately, the fall was not yet complete. I landed at the top of a small embankment and continued to roll down it. I could hear the shocked reaction of my family as I rolled, and wondered what parts I was losing as I tumbled to a stop. 

I stood fairly quickly and was surrounded by people concerned with my condition, helping to dust off my suit. 

First, I must emphasize that my vodka tonic, which died way too young, was my first drink from the bar (well, except for a tequila shot earlier during setup – tequila shots are practically mandatory with one wing of my family at functions). This was not an alcohol-related incident. Besides, I couldn’t drink much that night. I had a 22-minute drive through the corn fields ahead of me on the return to my hotel. I can also assure everyone that I was not hurt by the incident. I banged my left knee a bit and wounded my pride but am otherwise fine.

And I attribute that to the fact that once I recognized a mistake that could not be corrected, the best strategy was to roll with it as best as I could. 

The same philosophy can be applied to workplace errors and injuries. Whether it is an injured worker suddenly dealing with an unexpected impairment or an adjuster who missed a mandatory check deadline, accepting the reality of what happened and rolling with it offers much better outcomes than fighting the inescapable. Continually trying to prevent, disguise or deny a mistake will simply exacerbate the problem. 

And like the helpful people who dusted dirt and grass off my suit, letting people help you after the fact is the smart thing to do.

Everyone has to at one point deal with mistakes, or even injuries. Avoidance maneuvers or denial beyond a certain point will not help alleviate the problem. The best thing you can do in those situations is adapt and roll with it.  

You can minimize the damage from a stumble when you understand the art of the tumble.

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