It’s nearing 8pm on a weeknight and I’ve swum halfway into the lake that I’m hoping to get across before sunset. My training schedule calls for a mile and a half open water swim and I arrived later than expected. In 1 week I’ll be competing in my first Ironman distance triathlon. As I reflect on the past six months of training I begin to draw parallels between accomplishing this personal goal of mine and those that I have set for myself in my professional life.
Being a triathlete (by hobby, not profession), the topic of physical fitness comes up regularly in my conversations with family, friends, and colleagues. I often have folks say “I could never do that” or “I’ve been meaning to start running but I’m not in good enough shape” or even “are you crazy?” Although I don’t altogether disagree with that last one, my response is that you have to start somewhere. Not to sound overly corny, but I believe that with a few exceptions, the human body is only limited by the human spirit. I didn’t wake up one day and decide to run endurance races, I built up to them. Three years ago I’d never ran farther than three miles. On a whim I signed up for a 10k run in my home town and I surprised myself. Since then, I’ve been on an ongoing quest to challenge and better myself both physically and mentally. This year’s goal is to complete the Ironman event, which less than 1% of the population has done. It is definitely a little crazy, but what’s life without a challenge, right?
Be it personal or professional, goals are an important part of our growth as individuals. Too often in our lives we have a lack of focus with little to no clear objectives. We think that other people should do it for us or somebody else should anticipate our wants and needs. Even when we do have goals – we don’t often share them with anyone. And therein lies the problem. No one is going to accomplish your goal for you. And certainly no one is going to help you achieve something they’re not even aware you want to accomplish.
It’s not hard to see where this lack of personal accountability comes from. We live in a remarkable era where information is at out fingertips, entertainment is one click away, and Amazon.com will ship groceries right to your door in a matter of days. And in case you don’t like what you see in the mirror, there are diet pills and plastic surgery, and so on to fix that problem. As formerly difficult or even impossible tasks in life become easily resolved, we come to expect more results faster. But at the end of the day, work is work and you only get out what you put in.
I believe the secret to success in any endeavor is having clear, well defined goals that you can commit to within a specific period of time. I also believe it’s important to be up front with your intentions. Too often you’ll hear someone complain about a colleague being promoted ahead of them, but no one even knew that they were interested. Or worse, everyone knew except for the decision maker. Don’t expect your boss to know what kind of promotion or raise you might want. Don’t hide your goals or aspirations. It’s easier to hold yourself accountable when you know others are aware of and invested in your success.
At the same time, keep in mind that simply stating interest doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll get what you want. Your actions have to speak for you. Prove that you can do the work a level above you – and before you know it you’ll have the job you want. Along the way you must learn from your mistakes and defeats; in life there will be plenty of them. No one said change was going to be easy. If you aspire to something you’re going to need to roll up your sleeves and be prepared to sweat.
If I’ve learned anything in my pursuit of self-improvement, it’s to take control of my own well-being and happiness. When you leave it up to others, you’re giving your power away to someone who most certainly doesn’t put your needs first. If you want something, then work for it. If you’re stuck in an environment you can’t change, get out of it. If you want to find love, you have to look for it. If you want to get in shape, put one foot in front of another. Don’t wait for change to come to you. Make change your priority and growth will come as a result. No one else is going to do it for you.