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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Monday Morning Check In: Epicness

The late Jim Rohn used to tell about his goal setting experience as a young man with his mentor Mr. Shoaf. When Mr. Shoaf looked over Jim's list of life goals, Mr. Shoaf noted that Jim had not put down "make a million dollars" as one of his life missions. Mr. Shoaf told Jim to add that to his list because of what Jim would become in the process. This is what I like to refer to as "epicness."

One of my favorite movies is "A Race for the Soul," which is the story of the grueling ultramarathon called Western States. This 100 mile event takes place annually in late June in the California Sierra Nevadas and tells the story of some of the participants and the history of the race. Gordon Ainsleigh, the first man to complete the 100 mile race and under 24 hours (he was 27 at the time) tells us in the movie that everyone at the race will have an epic event. No doubt about it.

I enjoy watching this film because it reminds me of the need for a big vision when it comes to goal setting, as well as the discipline and perseverance that any epic goal will require in order to achieve success. But whether one finishes the race or not, the point of an epic event is what you will become in the process of working to achieve it. Even if you are unable to complete the event, you will learn an invaluable life lesson in the process of preparing for the event.

I decided to run my first marathon in 2006. This required me to embark on an 18-week training program (http://www.halhigdon.com). I got up very early on many days to complete my training runs, which increased in length as the weeks passed. On the day of the marathon, our area got hit with an ice storm and below freezing temperatures. The race start had to be delayed to accommodate the poor driving conditions to get to the event. I was parking at the time the starting gun went off, so I just raced from the car to the starting line. All the water stations offered water that had been sitting in freezing temperatures for hours. I was cold as I ran the race, and drinking the cold water at the aid stations made me even colder, despite my many layers and pairs of mittens. I made it to the finish line that day, but as a result of my cold experience, I could not tolerate cold weather for another two years after that.

While I was driving through the bad weather to get to the race and facing the possibility that I would not reach the event in time to participate (driving and parking conditions were at a standstill), I realized that the important lesson of the marathon was not about actually running the event. That would be the last step, yes, but the entire experience was so much more than that last day and that last run. The marathon experience was really about the days and weeks that led up to the marathon itself. It was all about my getting up on running days and putting in the mileage and the effort despite the weather conditions, my lack of sleep, my health, my schedule (8:00 a.m. music theory classes after evening symphony rehearsals!), or my desire to stay in bed. What really mattered was all of my effort to get to the point of being able to complete the marathon.

If I had just set my sights on a 5K run (3.1 miles), I would not have experienced the empowering feeling that I got from completing the epic event of a marathon. Although a 5K distance is a worthy goal for a beginner, I had been running 3 miles on a regular basis. No, I needed the marathon distance, my million dollar goal, to encourage me to stretch beyond what I perceived my limits to be. What to do after a marathon? Run several more. Run a Distance Challenge. Run an ultramarathon, which I did twice (50 K). Check, check, and check! Done!

I encourage my university students to consider doing a half or full marathon because of what they will learn about:

  • how their personality tends toward certain behaviors and decisions
  • how to prepare or plan for problems and handling them
  • how to build the appropriate locus of control (inner-directed versus outer-directed)
  • how positive thinking can be valuable in negative moments and how to create it
  • how to persevere when the going gets tough
  • what strategies to employ to get through tough patches
  • how to muster discipline in "low" moments
  • how to find that "tunnel" of complete concentration and focus and expending effort in the present moment (the "practicing mind")
  • how to improve concentration and focus
  • how to experience and benefit from the empowering strength the student will come away with after the event is over.

I liken the lessons that are learned from completing the marathon or half marathon to the same lessons that are experienced in preparation and performance of senior recitals. My students will experience the same life lessons as those that come from a marathon or half marathon training and event.

When you think about your goals for the coming year, consider adding a goal to your list that has the quality of "epicness." Perhaps it is a recital, whether it be a solo recital or one that is shared with a colleague. Perhaps it is an audition for something. Perhaps it is a physical event, such as a marathon or half marathon. Perhaps you have another challenge in mind -- something that will push you beyond your comfort zone.

Be sure to put something epic on your goal list. Then start your training program today.

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