Four and a half years ago, I made three five-year goals, to be completed by September 21st, 2017. The three goals were:
- Run a 100-mile race.
- Learn to sail solo.
- Earn a PhD.
Trying to decipher my reasoning for three very different goals, I look back at my life in 2012. We had just returned to Bozeman after a stint in Minneapolis. I had just started running for the first time in my life, solely due to the fact that I wanted to write for a publication in town and my assignment was to run a race. We spent the summer living the luxuriously red neck life in Minnesota – spending everyday on a boat, sleeping on random couches – and sailed once with a drunken captain who actually flew overboard when the wind picked up to a loose knot, (I don’t know the right words.) That takes care of the first two goals, 1. running, and 2. sailing. Earn a PhD? I don’t know. I guess I figured after earning a Masters in Public Administration I just wasn’t finished yet.
I am a driven person and hold goals seriously. These have been on my mind for four and a half years, and for four and a half years I have been thinking how I could check these off the list. Maybe I’m different, but I enjoy the process of reaching goals almost more than the goal itself. I don’t feel, “Gosh, I worked so hard and I’m happy I reached my goal.” I don’t feel, “I am so proud of my accomplishments!” No. I think: “Let’s do this! Check it off the list. What’s next?” I get more of a thrill from finishing, than relishing in what I finished.
It takes some adaptations and a few audibles to get through this thing called life. And while I love goals, and reaching them, I also remain flexible and willing to make changes. With a little tailoring, pinching, and adapting, I think I’ve gotten pretty darn close.
First, I will be running a 50-mile race on July 8th in the forest outside of Portland, Oregon. No, it’s not 100, but it’s pretty damn far. I have been training all winter, increasing my miles each week, and trying to comprehend how far 50 miles really is. And let me tell you: training for four, five, or six hours at a time, alone on the trail, is a great time to contemplate your goals and life in general. (And to talk to yourself, work on some dance moves, sing to the trees.) Sometimes I think 100 miles would have been easier because it would have been impossible to comprehend. But I’ll be sure to check myself on that comment at mile 45 of this race.
Second, I have only been on a sail boat maybe four times in my life. Probably three. Two that I can really remember. But there is something about sailing that has a pull on my heart. Maybe it’s the manual labor, having to control the boat by hand. Maybe it’s how the boat seems to live and breathe beneath you, controlled only by the swells of the earth and your skilled hand. Maybe it’s the sun, the wind, the smell of the water. Whatever it is, I must sail. Let me be clear: when I say sail solo, I mean someone is watching VERY CLOSELY by a boat nearby while I take a little sunfish out. Or maybe someone is below deck with a life preserver in hand. Either way, we’re not sailing the open ocean with this goal. Get real. We may have a sailing trip planned for August on Lake Superior, or else I need to rent a sail boat on a little lake here in Montana. And I need a teacher. Any takers?
Finally, the big one. No, I won’t be earning my PhD, (not yet, at least.) But starting this August I will begin my MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing at the University of Montana in Missoula, ranked 13th in the nation.
I’ve heard, “You don’t need a degree to write.” (true) “Just because you have an MFA doesn’t mean you’ll find a job.” (true) “More loans.” (true) “You’re just putting off real life.” (not true.) I would hope that anyone who is pursuing their dream isn’t putting off life, but is actually living it! No, I don’t have a 9-5 job. No, we don’t own a house. No, I don’t drive a new car. (I have a badass ’98 minivan, thankyouverymuch.) And I have the unconditional support of a husband and partner who says, “Hell yeah! Go back to grad school to become the best writer you can be.” Talk about living. He’s going to stay back in town, pursuing his own dream of music with a band that has really taken off. He’s already told me he’s looking forward to nights spent alone writing music, or listening to records, pencil and paper in hand. I think he’s just trying to get me out of the house so he an jam louder.
So what are goals? A track to stay on? A light to fly towards? A bar to which we measure ourselves? Maybe. But I like to think they are just fun little intellectual obsessions of the mind. Can I do it? Will I crumble in the face of adversity? How far will I go? My advice: Strive, but do not stumble. Some you may meet with exemplary marks; some you may watch go flying by. But remember that it’s your life to live and survive. Goals are just nice little distractions.