I recently had neck surgery.

The doctors put restrictions on what I was allowed to do during the recovery from surgery.

Immediately after surgery, they told me to limit my twisting and turning of my neck, running, jumping, and lifting anything over 10 pounds.

I was told by nearly every person at the Mayo Clinic that a gallon of milk is 10 pounds. (It doesn’t. It only weighs 8.6 pounds). It was a running joke between my wife, Sue, and me how often I was told 10 pounds was a gallon of milk.

On the one hand, it was an easy way to illustrate what I was limited to as far as lifting. On the other hand, so many people told me this fact: it was like they were kicking a dead horse.

Two sports were also ruled out, pickleball and golf (I understand if you consider those two things as not being sports, but for this blog, they are being considered sports).

They were ruled out because they are my hobbies, and if they hadn’t told me not to do them, I might have considered doing them.

After the doctor had communicated my limitations, I was allowed to ask questions, so I did. I could ride a stationary bike (good, I own one) but not a regular bike (so what I don’t own one).

What amazed me at the time was how I took that small list of limits and changed my life to accommodate them.

For example, I wasn’t told I couldn’t do push-ups but assumed I shouldn’t because it would be lifting more than a gallon of milk.

After six weeks and an X-ray, the limitation was changed to lifting 20 pounds, but still no running or jumping. I was now allowed to twist and turn but couldn’t return to golf or pickleball.

After three months and another X-ray, I was told I could do anything I could tolerate. But I should never return to “doing any extended, long duration, heavy impact activities on hard surfaces.”  Then came the kicker, “like running long distances outside.”

So I said, “I shouldn’t sign up to run any marathons or half marathons.” The doctor confirmed. I tried to get an exact distance that would place a limit on me. He wouldn’t give me one. I asked if I should get rid of my treadmill, and he said I should limit running on it even though it wasn’t a hard surface. He said I could run on it some.

How far is “some?”

I have no idea.

I made a lot of jokes about a gallon of milk weighing roughly 10 pounds in the last three months. It seemed silly. But I could understand it. We can all visualize what a gallon of milk is and how lifting it feels. Some running is vague.

The journey has driven me to the importance of clear communication. It is much easier to get work done when communication is clear, understandable, and relatable.

It works that way in my personal life as well. If I told my child, “Don’t stay out too late.”  I have set myself up to talk with them later about what I meant by “too late.”

If I tell them, “See you by 11 O’clock,” I have set a standard they clearly understand.

At work, clear communication has the same effect. If I give deadlines or show people what I mean by a finished product, I am much more likely to get the desired results. Good communication doesn’t mean being bossy or inflexible. It does mean speaking up, asking clarifying questions, and reaching an agreement with others. Miscommunication is frustrating. Nobody enjoys a disjointed process.

All we have to do is be transparent with each other, and we can move ahead with a clear understanding.