In swimming, in school, in our careers, and in our lives, we are constantly advised to set goals for ourselves and to lay out the steps to reach those goals. At the same time, we’re also advised to see the journey — our daily "practice" — as being more important than reaching the goal.
What we don’t always consider is what happens when we REACH a goal. What does it mean to accomplish what you set out to do? Are you finished? Are you complete? How do you figure out where to go and what comes next? How do you shift gears — and goals — to get to a new level?
When I was 5 years old, I swam my very first length in the pool. In the grand scheme of my life, this was an obvious milestone, but I have no recollection of the moment. I know about it only because it registered in a big way with my Father, who was with me at the time. This was the one story about my childhood that he liked to tell, and that I never tired of hearing. His face would light up whenever he recalled the day we were playing together at our local YMCA pool and I decided to take off toward the other side. My response, he said, was "I did it! I did it!" And then I pushed off and did it again. Goal shift.
I see this same kind of goal shift in teaching learn-to-swim classes. For non-swimmers, the big goal is to swim that first, unassisted length from shallow end to deep end. They look at the far end of the pool, and getting there seems to be the biggest challenge they could possibly set for themselves. But when they conquer that challenge, it’s only the beginning. "I did it!" is usually the first thing they say — before they push off and try it again. And then their swimming (and ability to pick up new aquatic skills) jumps to a new level. Swimming that first length is just the beginning.
Last weekend, I had a chance to witness several of those goal-shift moments. While Glenn was out biking 104 miles and Don was swimming 41.5 miles around the Isle of Jersey (two other goal-shift accomplishments, since they have both vowed to set their biking and swimming sights even higher), I was running the length of New Hampshire as part of the annual Reach the Beach (RTB) Relay. I’ve written twice before (Reach the Beach and Group Effort) about this unique running event — a two-day, 210-mile adventure relay that starts in the middle of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, and finishes at Hampton Beach State Park in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
The RTB course is comprised of 36 segments or legs, that cover a variety of terrain and difficulty level. The legs range in length from 3.1 miles to 8.9 miles. Runners generally compete in teams of 12, rotating through the legs as they cover the 210-mile course. On a 12-person team, each team member runs three times, for a total of 15.3 to 21.5 miles, depending on where you are in the lineup. The race starts on Friday morning, and runners keep on running through the night and into the next day, finishing at the beach on Saturday afternoon. It’s a grueling, grizzly, and mostly sleepless 30 hours of being ON not only for your own running responsibilities but also for the welfare of your teammates. In short, it’s an event that offers ENDLESS possibilities for reaching all kinds of goals, both personal and communal. And it’s a great opportunity for witnessing hundreds of people reach THROUGH those goals and out the other side. For many, reaching the beach is only the beginning.
This year, our team was again called GO SWIM, and we were comprised of nine returning vets and three newcomers. I was lucky enough to be in Van #1 with all three of the newcomers — Tod, Sharetha, and Liz — and with one of the veterans, Mike. I had a bit of trouble recruiting Sharetha, Liz, and Mike because they all claimed to be either too slow, too heavy, too under-trained or too out of shape to be valid contributors to the team. Their self-doubt meters were set way high, but that only made the goal-shift moments more dramatic.
To make a long journey short, our team ran a nearly flawless relay in perfect conditions. Everyone got their part of the job done. We ran up and down mountains shrouded in early morning fog. We chilled our legs in FREEZING cold mountain streams and lakes. We pitched tents together at 2 in the morning. We shared PB&J sandwiches, power bars, pretzels, cookies, Endurox, and water… and recycled everything. We stood together on the sides of pitch-dark roads and marveled at the Milky Way as we waited for our runner to come by. Individually and together we overcame scores of personal doubts, aches and pains, and moments when we wondered "can I really do this?" Liz summed it up best when she reached the beach. "I feel like I can accomplish ANYthing now. This is just the start."
Next time you reach your goal, take a moment to savor it, but then make the goal shift that will take you beyond and to a new level. "I did it!" is only the beginning.