You’re the Problem

When you have a goal, how do you measure progress?

In my personal and working life, I tend to be goal oriented. I like to have well defined, measurable goals and an idea of how to mark my progress toward those goals. I don’t need someone to hold my hand, and I prefer not to be micro-managed. I much prefer for someone to tell me what they want and when they expect it, and then let me do it. Consistency is my safe, happy place, and I tend to get flustered and somewhat crotchety with change. My dad was the same way. Every time I can recall ever needing his help with something, I got the same response, “Just tell me what you need.”

Recently, I accomplished a short term goal of running 5 miles in the Bull City Race Fest. When I picked up running again back in the summer, I thought I was pretty bad ass when I was able to run five full minutes again. At the time, I just wanted to make it through the Couch 2 5K app and call it a day. As I progressed in my fitness and stamina, I began to actually enjoy running again. As I’ve written here before, pounding the pavement with just my legs and my music became somewhat addicting. That’s not to say that every run was easy, but most were enjoyable. I found the more I got into running, the more I got the same high I get after a great ride on my horse – the high of not thinking about anything else in the world except what I am doing right at that moment. It’s really a high of nothingness – just being purely in the moment. Since I am always thinking, rushing and planning, I value these moments – this time of nothingness.

On my horse, it could be focusing on not collapsing my hip so I can achieve a perfect leg yield, or it could be working to ensure that I sit back and patiently wait for my horse to jump instead of attempting to get ahead of myself (which I often do). When I’m running, it’s all about just putting one foot in front of the other, literally. Sometimes, I think about my alignment – making sure that I don’t swing my foot out too wide and hurt my knee. Or making sure that I keep picking my feet up for a clear stride even when I’m tired. Other than that, it’s just me and the road and my music.

Riding and running goals are very measurable and allow for constant progress. In riding, you never stop learning. I’ve been riding for 11 years, and I feel like I’m just now scratching the surface of learning to ride effectively.

In jumping, you can set your goals as high as you’re willing to jump. I’ve set a low bar and consider any time I come away from my jumping lessons still on the horse a wonderful achievement. However, the same goes for dressage, my other passion in riding. I can measure my progress and how well my mare and I are doing by competing from level to level and determining if our scores are on the right track. Similarly, running allows for endless goal setting – now that I have accomplished the 5 mile race, I’ve set my sights on the Tar Heel 10 Miler next April, which seems reasonable. Who knows – maybe this time next year, I can aim for the half-marathon. Never did I think that would be possible, and now it doesn’t seem so unfathomable.

And yet, I am back to my original question, this time with a twist.

When you have a goal, how do you measure progress – when the outcome is nebulous?

What do I mean by this?

Like I said, certain activities and goals in life are solid, well defined – easy to assess progress and whether or not you ultimately achieve your goal. Either you showed you horse at First Level and achieved your goal of scoring 65% or not. Either you ran the entire 5 mile race without walking or you didn’t. This suits people like me who thrive on consistency and a definite outcome.

After my injury, there was no question that I wanted to get back to being 100%. My goal was to speak and feel as if I had never been injured. I thought for sure I could accomplish this in six months. After all, I am young, in decent physical shape, and more than that – I work hard when I want something.

When that “deadline” came and went, I set my sights on a year. The twelve month mark seemed do-able; moreover, it was a very neat, clean timeline. As if my body would re-set itself after a year like the calendar re-sets every New Year’s Day.

Clearly, I wasn’t being realistic, and I wasn’t being fair to myself. It took me a long time to realize that other, more meaningful milestones were passing me by as I kept my focus so very narrow. I thought setting the goal to return to 100% was admirable, but in reality, I was setting myself up for disappointment if I never achieved it.

And what exactly is 100%, anyway? I guess it means different things to different people. But for a time, I was like Sisyphus – rolling my boulder up the hill every day and feeling run over every time I perceived myself to be making an error.

I finally realized that my problem, really, wasn’t my injury. It wasn’t my speech. It wasn’t the wonky sensory issues on my right side. It was me. When was I going to stop and let myself be enough?

When was I going to let life be enough?

I had a very striking moment of humility (again) yesterday. Paul and I went to a tasty local bakery for breakfast. Even though there was not much of a wait to order, there were no tables available. It was a cold, blustery day – fairly fitting for the first day of November – and our prospects for enjoying our biscuits inside were looking dim. As Paul opened the door to go outside and sit, I dropped the butter on my plate (it went crashing ceremoniously to the floor) and seemingly my ability to be a mature adult.

After muttering a couple of expletives (under my breath or so I thought), I made it clear to Paul that I did not want to sit outside. This was not the vision I had in my head when I suggested breakfast out on this gray November morning. Instead, I envisioned Paul and I sipping on hot chocolate at a cozy table, eating warm biscuits and watching the leaves dance outside – this reality did NOT match what I had wanted. I felt like a temperamental five year old.

As soon as we set our plates down outside, an older lady got up and stuck her head outside. “Come on inside, it’s too cold to sit outside, and we’re just leaving.”

I literally felt my head hang in shame at this act of kindness – perhaps they were really about to leave anyway, but it didn’t matter. I got the picture.

Reality – it doesn’t always meet our expectations. Actually, it frequently doesn’t. But mostly, we’re the problem when it doesn’t, because we have the choice of how to proceed when our goals or hopes don’t align with reality.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy to accept, it just means we shouldn’t be so narrow in our focus. I will always strive to improve in whatever I do, and I’ll also always just be human and prone to imperfection. But, I will resolve to appreciate again the doors that have been opened for me.

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