Saturday, April 10, 2010

Setting Goals - Challenge and Attainment

It is a beautiful day and I am in my office writing rather than getting on my bike. Why is that so significant? I am chastising myself because I am officially “in training” and should be taking advantage of afternoons such as this to cycle. Yes, I have committed to do a tour of colleges in southern California with a group of counselors during the first week of July. We will travel exclusively on bikes, covering 50 miles a day and carrying our own gear. As many of you know, I am a runner, not a cyclist. The thought of riding for hours on busy and hilly roads in a pack of cyclists with the weight and bulk of my week’s worth of belongings strapped to my bike is both exhilarating and terrifying.

You may be wondering why I am doing this if I am concerned about being up to the challenge. At my age (let’s just say I am over 40) what am I trying to prove? Frankly, this is not a question I am asking myself. I am doing this for several reasons: as a college consultant I know the importance of seeing schools firsthand in order to best guide my students towards finding the right fit. This is why I visit 50 to 60 colleges every year. I am also looking forward to meeting others in my field, mostly school guidance counselors, who share my professional objective. I anticipate a special camaraderie developing within this group of 14 after sharing an adventure filled week on the road. But one of my primary reasons is merely to have a goal; something challenging, yet attainable.

We all have goals in life, some we set for ourselves and others that are assigned to us. They give our lives purpose and direction. The ones that offer the greatest rewards and satisfaction are those that challenge and push us to attain something we might otherwise not have achieved. Is there any feeling more gratifying than working towards something that we’ve earned from sheer effort, thoughtful planning and persistence? In the absence of setting objectives, we often lose our way. We have nothing against which to measure progress and success. The goals in our lives instill discipline and motivation. And if we get off track, we must look within for the inner strength that drives our personal resiliency. It’s the stuff that builds confidence and makes us stronger.

How we set goals is important too, both for ourselves and for our children. Goals are not a “to-do” list. A truly enriching goal should result in something more than just one finished homework assignment or a clean room. Longer term goals force us to have a plan, be disciplined and focused. The true pleasure should come to the one who achieves the goal rather than the person who may have assigned it. Goals must be attainable, yet challenging; sweat is expected, but the blood and tears are not a prerequisite. (I say this as I look down upon my scabbed knee healing far too slowly after a silly spill on my first outdoor ride; I felt foolish and ten years old again). The child struggling through one too many AP classes who is suffering physically and emotionally under the stress, may be experiencing more harm than good. In too many of these cases, students end the semester feeling worse, not better about themselves. Instead, we should help our children discover the satisfaction of achievement from mastering a challenging task that pushes rather than paralyzes them. We as parents should help our sons and daughters set goals that ignite their passions and help them build resiliency and confidence.

The west coast bike tour is now just 12 weeks away. I will definitely get some cycling in this weekend. The training and ride will be a challenge, but I am up to the task. I am already anticipating the pride, satisfaction, and yes, exhilaration that I know I will feel in July.

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