Monday, March 17, 2014

What Happens When I Fail?

When personal leadership pundits, like myself, write on the subject of goal setting, we typically focus on the importance of setting goals, as well as the satisfaction and benefits that result from accomplishing them. But there are other lessons to be learned from the process. These “other” lessons are sometimes counterintuitive to the virtues of traditional goal setting. Today’s post is about some of these less-heralded lessons.

Back in January, I ran my best marathon time. It was extremely satisfying and fulfilling. I was hoping to build on that success and do even better in my next marathon in March. When race day came, it was unpleasantly wet and humid, and my head, heart, and body struggled to get "into" the race. The moisture and humidity slowed virtually everyone's time down, and I was no different. To my chagrin, I not only missed my Boston Qualifying time again (My 11th failure to do so), I ran 37 minutes slower than in January.

The following day, I nursed my disappointment by committing again to do whatever was necessary to reach my goal, which had become so important to me. In the midst of this determined resolve borne, quite frankly, of self-disgust, I received an email from a personal mentor, who is also one of my goal accountability partners. This mentor -- Dr. Christopher P. Neck -- just happens to have completed 12 marathons himself, including the elite Boston and New York Marathons.

I can honestly say his email changed my life as it relates to my marathoning goals.

His response to the news of what I believed was a horrible performance was different than I expected. He taught me some important lessons about goal setting, life balance, and life in general. Here are some excerpts from his e-mail:


Congrats on another marathon finish.

You know, with marathons you are going to have good days and you are going to have bad days. That is just the nature of the marathon distance. Regardless of training, you never know what is going to happen on race day.
Now, I'm not going to give you what you probably want to hear, but here goes: Celebrate the victory, man! You just ran 26.2 miles. However you slice it, that is a good day.

Moving forward, I suggest a different self-leadership perspective. You now have a son. He could care less about your weight, or PR, or your training approaches. What he sees and will grow up seeing is a dad who places emphasis on fitness. What an amazing thing.
To be honest, I see too much rigidness and stress in your process. To me, the fact that your weight is down 15 pounds, you just ran a marathon, and you've been able to train as you have with a baby/toddler, you are the man! Lighten up on yourself and enjoy the ride....

Fascinatingly, another of my goal accountability partners and mentors -- my older brother Joe, who is also a Boston Marathon qualifier -- sent me a shorter e-mail with a similar message. Such upbeat words and attitudes from two Boston Qualifiers I have great respect for helped frame the situation in its proper perspective. It also alleviated an enormous amount of unnecessary self-inflicted pressure. Instead of feeling sorry for myself because I had run poorly on race day, I began to feel good about the significant effort I had invested, and the fact that I made the attempt at all. I also began to reevaluate my goals in light of my life’s present circumstances.

Having a son -- who turned one last week -- has forever changed my life for the better. It has also left me with less discretionary time to train for marathons. In addition, my professional schedule, which includes a lot of travel, has become increasingly demanding this year. In light of these life realities, and after failing 11 times to meet the Boston qualifying standard, I have come to the conclusion that I may need to wait until I am older and the qualifying time isn’t so difficult. And thanks to the wise advice of my respected friend and brother, if that happens, I will be okay with it! I can still continue to run for fitness, focus on enjoying the process, and return to racing at shorter distances, which I have always enjoyed more and been better at anyway.

This does not mean I plan to give up on my marathon goal. I still have two more chances this year in June and October, and I plan to give it my best shot in both races. But if I don’t make it after that, I am going to temporarily retire from the marathon distance until I have more time freedom and a less competitive qualifying time. In the meantime, I will continue to run for fitness and the simple joy I get from running without unhealthily impinging on my family life, professional career, or personal mental hygiene.

Tony Robbins has said:
“When you succeed, you tend to party; but when you fail, you tend to ponder.”
I am grateful for the opportunity this “failure” has provided me to ponder my marathon goal in the greater context of my life. I am also grateful for the blessing of mentors and goal accountability partners who help me to keep things in their proper perspective. Sometimes that means, rather ironically, lowering my own ambitious standards. This has given me greater patience, more realistic expectations, and allowed me to better ENJOY the process!

Points to Ponder:

Are there any personal or professional goals you would be wise to revise based on your personal situation, or your life’s true priorities?

Do you currently have mentors and goal accountability partners who can counsel you as you pursue your personal vision, mission, and goals? If not, who will you ask to do so?

1 comment:

  1. As a retired, non-competitive, marathoner, I love this post! Mostly because I forget to enjoy the ride too. Thanks for sharing!


Taking Pride in Doing the Right Thing

In the short run, a team, organization, or other entity can lie, cheat, and manipulate its way to a competitive advantage.  But in the LONG...