Goals Worth Failing For
New Years is here once again. Every year I swear it comes faster. I’m not the kind of person to believe too hard in new years resolutions—I believe you should always be self-reflective and monitoring your goals as you go. Maybe that’s why my thirtieth birthday passed without too big of a fuss: as I told some friends, “Meh, I’m the kind of person to have smaller breakdowns all along the way instead of saving them up for one big breakdown.” However, goal writing and plan making is a skill that all athletes—and people—should have, but not that many of us truly practice.
When you’re in the throws of your fight career, it’s pretty easy to slip by without truly learning how to write goals. If you’ve got a good coach, then you two are hopefully writing those goals together in between each match—which also gives you a specific block of time and a measurable outcome. The how you’re going to achieve it is up to your coach, right? I mean, that’s what they’re there for. But when you’re done fighting, what happens? This is what I faced a little over a year ago as I had to come to terms with being finished for real. I absolutely could never step back in the ring. What would I do with myself?
I hadn’t had a coach for a few years at that point, so I was pretty used to writing my own goals. I was also really good at executing them—not to brag, but it’s one of the things that makes me a good coach. The thing I faced this time though, was “what am I even working towards now?”. See, I can write the hows and the whens for all of my athletes just fine. But no one can pick your "Why". Only you know the thing that needs to be achieved next. There’s all kinds of things in life that you should be improving in yourself. I try to pick one big goal for each area of my life each year (as a coach, as a mother, as an athlete, as a human—or in relationships, and as a member of the community), then write three to five smaller goals with dates and ways to measure those—each stepping myself up to that one big goal. I prioritize each of these goals so that when time gets tight, or goals overlap each other’s space, I know what has to come first without even having to think. And while I could always become a better athlete, what was I truly working towards in that area if I couldn’t get back into the ring again? I already had goals for how I was going to become a better coach. I don’t stay in the shape I do only for my athletes. Yes, that is an important part of what I do, but I’ve always been working towards something for myself with that. I’m 30. Surely, I haven’t peaked. I don’t even believe in peaks. Peaks are for people who choose getting older as an excuse to quit.
First, I tried picking a goal about running. Running was my first love after all. Now that I wasn’t working towards a fight, I could actually go back to running long distance as a goal. It was not fulfilling. It didn’t give me the joy, passion, purpose and fierce fire that I needed in a goal. Then I picked goals about conditioning. Same thing. Next, I tried just not having a goal. Yeah, that definitely isn’t the way to go. Finally, I settled back into square one: if I were one of my fighters, what goal would I pick for myself and why? I looked back at several videos of my sparring and picked out the top three things that would make the largest impact on the effectiveness of my boxing. I picked the first thing, a way to measure it, and a timeline for improvement. I came up with a schedule and list of conditioning that I could easily pull from as I moved through my smaller goals. I suddenly was back on fire.
See here’s the most important part of goal writing: why are you doing it? There are a million things in this world that I could improve in my life. I am so far from perfect that I don’t think they make a scale of that magnitude. So why am I working on this particular area of my life? If I can’t remember that, if it’s not truly worth my time, then why would I push to levels that almost break me? Why would I stick with that goal past January? Why would I be willing to fail again, and again, and again? Ah. Yes. That’s the key right there: Is your goal’s purpose worthy of you reaching failure for the next 365 days? This week, as I pushed an athlete, we had the following conversation:
Me: “You have to ask yourself why you’re afraid to commit 110%: to honestly let go and reach for what you say you want. Do you think you’re not worth it? Are you afraid to fail? Is it honestly even what you want?”
Him: “I fail everything I try. I don’t want to fail this. If I give it everything, I’m just going to fail it too like always.”
My heart broke as he said it. I know failure like no one else. I have spent most of my life feeling like I’ve failed everything and everyone around me. I don’t even like to write goals down in a super-secret chest with locks because I’m afraid to know that I’ve failed again. But then it hit me: this is exactly why my workout earlier that day had left me feeling broken when I'd reached whole new fitness levels I never thought were possible even three hours beforehand. I had worked out with an old friend who always kills me, but I wore a weight vest during our workout. And I’d been fine. You’d think that would be great, except that I always die during his workouts. Or so I thought. How could I go from dying to wearing a weight vest through the whole thing and making it (still dying though, to be clear)? How had I not been pushing it this whole time and not even realized it? I had been afraid to fail in front of him. I’d been taking all of my levels down a notch except in private because I was afraid to fail. Again. Essentially, I had been willing to quit progress on my goals to avoid the embarrassment or humility lesson that comes along with possible failure.
My response to my athlete: “Stop. Think for a moment. Do you fail or do you quit? Do you exhaust all options on solving the problems or on achieving your goal and it still doesn’t work? Or are you afraid of failing so much that you are never willing to push to a point where you might fail?”
You can’t reach for great things if you’re never willing to have the possibility of great failures. If your goals’ ends are worth the risk of those possibly great failures, then you’ll dive in head first fully committed. If they aren’t, then they really aren’t even worth your time, are they? During a different conversation with an athlete I reminded her that we all have a lot of “potential”. So much potential in fact, that we’ll never fulfill our “potential” even if we were given multiple life times. But we can fulfill our purpose. We aren’t all supposed to be famous athletes who break down barriers. Great. But in the case of the male athlete mentioned above, he needs physical strength, belief and confidence in himself, and to be able to watch himself achieve goal after goal after goal in order to help him reach the level emotionally and mentally to be able to go out and do his bigger purpose in life. For him, it is worth failing to achieve because he is working towards a much bigger purpose. For me, even if it wasn't boxing in the way I'd pictured it in the past, my new purpose had to be worth risking failure every single day in the gym to work towards my bigger purpose.
So when writing your new years resolutions this year, as yourself: are you working on your potentials when you’re in the gym? Because that will never be enough to risk failure for. Or are you working for purpose? Purpose focused goals will always be worth failure in order to achieve them in the end.