What’s Stopping You?
My day job requires me to make occasional visits to public schools around the state. Usually, I’m there to discuss matters of data, finance, and governance, but I sometimes find myself observing classrooms in action.
During one such visit, a teacher asked me to share with her class of middle school students some advice for achieving success in life. I had no time to prepare my mini-lesson; fortunately, I didn’t need it. It’s the kind of thing I think about a lot.
I told the students about endurance riding. I described it in terms of a marathon for horses and riders together, explained how completing a 50-mile ride begins years before you reach the finish line. One must learn how to ride and care for an equine athlete. Earn the money to purchase and maintain a horse. Condition the animal and oneself. In my case, I had to gentle and train the horse, too.
Riding endurance is a monumental task, I said. So are many of the things you want to achieve in life. Finish college, write a novel, reach the top of your field, retire at 50, compete in professonal athletics, raise a strong family, establish an inner-city garden, go to outer space…you name it.
No really, name it. (This isn’t just for kids. What do you want to do?)
The question is how to get from here to there. The answer is obvious; everyone knows it: Take one step at a time.
The kids agreed. But here’s the thing, I said — most people don’t take the steps. They know what the steps are. They know they need to take them. But they don’t. The days slip by, and the dream slips away.
My advice, I said, is to identify what you want and move toward it today. And tomorrow. And the next day. Every day, do something tangible that gets you closer to your goal.
Simple, right? Maybe so, if you’re a 7th grader. But what if you’re an adult desperately cupping an old dream like water in your hands. You know what you want, but you aren’t any closer to getting it than you were 10 years ago. Maybe you’re afraid you’ll never make it. Guilt or fear or disappointment nags, but you shove it beneath busyness or momentary distraction — and tomorrow, it is farther away than ever.
Perhaps you are ignoring the key question that could unlock your progress:
What’s stopping you?
Really. What is it? Why aren’t you achieving what you say you want to do? Can you identify the specific reason you didn’t take that daily step toward your goal?
Fear — As with an addiction, the first step to dealing with fear is to acknowledge it. Recognize it and confront it. What if you try and fail? Only you know the answer. Personally, I’d rather love and lose than never love at all.
Season — Sometimes, lack of progress is ligitimate. “Season” could be literal (you want to train that colt, but your round corral is under 3 feet of snow) or figurative (you’re finally ready to lose the excess bodyfat, but you’re pregnant). Look for an alternate route; often, self-education is a good way to progress mentally before you’re able to physically. Read relevant books. Create your plan of action for when the season turns.
Circumstance — Maybe finances are tight and you’re working two jobs. Caring for an elderly parent. Rearing your grandchildren. Maybe your health is an issue. Something real stands between you and your dream.
When I first fell in love with endurance, I lived in the city and didn’t have horses. I educated myself about the sport, saved money, and got involved with the Barbs, but for two years there wasn’t much I could do. So, I lasered in on a different passion: gardening. Sometimes, it makes sense to walk toward a secondary goal while you maneuver into position to pursue the primary one.
Double-check yourself, though. Are your circumstances really insurmountable? Christopher Paul Curtis wrote his Newberry-winning novel in 15-minute bursts while working on an assembly line. He just had to want it enough.
And if I had just gardened, I wouldn’t have an endurance horse today.
Lack of Focus — Ah, the bane of the passionate. Some of us come with so many large goals that we scramble about, frantically addressing whatever seems most interesting (or, dare I say, easiest?) on a given day. What if we honed in on the most important thing, and did that first?
This is a well-worn principle employed by successful people. Mary Kay Ash made a daily list of her “5 most important things” and accomplished those before doing anything else. If ever anyone achieved a dream, she did.
Improper Method / Incorrect Premise — I see this one a lot among well-meaning, committed individuals. They really want to achieve something, and they make an honest effort to do so, but they’re spinning their wheels. This is the co-worker who has been trying for years to lose that same 20 pounds. It’s the guy down the road who can’t seem to get a halter on that mustang, no matter how many buckets of oats he shares. Maybe the co-worker is following bad nutritional advice. Maybe bribes aren’t enough to overcome cunning or fear. Maybe it’s time to question your assumptions.
Distraction — There’s always something easier than taking that daily step. You could cook a healthful meal, but it’s quicker to stop for pizza. You could saddle up that mare, but your favorite reality show is coming on. You could write another chapter, but it’s easier to read one instead. There’s always tomorrow, right?
Except that someday, there won’t be.
So, what’s stopping you?
Now, you stop it.