How reaching your goals is like touching your toes

Several years ago I watched someone try to touch her toes without bending her knees.  She failed.  Her muscles were stiff and though she strained with effort, her fingers dangled above her peeling pink toenails.  They were out of reach.  Later, after months of regular stretching every night before bed, she proudly showed me her progress.  She stood tall, then bent over double, swan diving from the waist, her legs ramrod straight. That time, not only did she touch her toes, she reached further.  She placed her palms flat on the floor.

Touching your toes is a lot like reaching for goals.

I’m a planner. I like setting concrete goals with deadlines and figuring out how I’m going to achieve them.  I do this daily, monthly and yearly for almost everything – how many miles I want to run, how many articles I want to publish, how many words I want to write on my novel-in-progress and how many books I want to read.  And when I accomplish something and get to cross it off my list, it’s satisfying. But that doesn’t always happen according to my self-imposed deadlines.

Take NaNoWriMo, for example. At the beginning of November I decided to I wanted to write 50,000 words on my novel in progress. I made a plan for how I could make the time to write 1666+ words each day. I created a spreadsheet to track my progress.  Well, it’s halfway through the month and I’ve only written 16,658 words. That’s more than 13K behind schedule. Yikes.

I have a similar issue with my running log. In 2010 I ran 800 miles, so I decided in January that I wanted to run 1000 miles this year. I’ve only run 778 miles so far.  While I may make the 900-mile mark, 1000 isn’t going to happen by December 31.

This doesn’t mean I’m a failure at either endeavor.  It merely means it may take longer than anticipated to meet my goals.  In fact, I’d argue that a good goal should be out of reach. It should be something that takes persistence and hard work to achieve.  Otherwise, it’s too easy.

I WILL write 50,000 words, whether I finish in November, December or even January.  I WILL run 1000 miles and eventually I’ll run that many miles in a single year.

And while I’m aiming for those goals, I’m going to be flexible with myself if I don’t reach them on my original timetable.  Life happens.  I get sick sometimes. Work gets crazy. Injuries happen and so does weather.  Family members have needs and there are days I’d rather curl up on the couch with a good book than write or run.  (It’s perhaps relevant that by the end of the year I’ll have read more than twice number of books I’d aimed to read.)

I hope my current goals are like that girls’ toes. After consistent, regular work I hope to someday touch them with ease, without bending my knees.  Then I’ll put my hands flat on the floor and reach for something more.

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