Have you ever had one of those moments that you got to see the fulfillment of something you had been working hard to accomplish? The sense of triumph in those moments is not to be found anywhere else. Those rare, precious moments, make me realize that striving towards the completion of a goal is something inherently valuable that God placed in the heart of everyone.
July 27th, 2011 was one of those moments for me. That was the day that I got to be temporary camp director for Wings Like Eagles. Basically, we got the opportunity to put on a one-day version of horse camp for 20 precious kids that were visiting from China, and the host-families they were staying with. It was altogether a terrific day. I’m certain that they gained so much from it. They loved the chance to be with horses, play with kittens, run on grass, splash in the creek, and just be kids. Best of all, they got to hear the Gospel (which at least 5 of them, and 2 of their chaperones, are now believers in Jesus Christ, by the way)! It was so wonderful to be able to give them an experience like that.
Though, they’re not the only ones that gained something from the experience. I learned, or perhaps re-learned a valuable lesson about goal-setting, or rather, goal-keeping. It certainly got me thinking about what I don’t do very often, that is making goals and taking steps to fulfill them. It also made me think about how the college/20-somethings culture I’m a part of seems to be lacking in direction altogether. Here’s 3 things that I learned from that experience.
1. Know your target.
When I was working towards China Day at Wings, I found that in order to succeed in meeting my goal, I needed to first understand what specifically that goal was. That sounds like such an easy task, and in a sense it is, yet it is also a good deal more difficult than we usually think. It is easy to have a vague, undeveloped idea of what we want. That’s what I call a fantasy. But the difference between a fantasy and a goal is the level of development. A goal is a clear, specific picture of what you are aiming for.
Most people talk about their dreams as things that they would love to see, but aren’t likely to happen. They seem as far-off, unreachable things that are nothing more than nice ideas. And subsequently they barely know what it is they are really after. But people that actually achieve their goals have a focused image of what they are aiming for. They understand what it is they want to achieve, and they understand what it will take to get there.
As temporary director I had a good deal of stress on my shoulders, even though it was only a day long event. The stress made me figure out exactly what it was that I was wanting to do, and how much of that I could actually do. I’ve come to realize that part of goal-keeping is a combination of dreaming and realism.
I think of it in terms of archery. When you draw the bow, and take your aim, you have image in your head of the ideal shot. You desire for the arrow to fly straight to the bull’s eye. But getting that shot requires diligent practice and precise aim. You need to aim not only at the target, but you need to aim for the specific place on the target, and you need to work at reaching that place on the target. You have to narrow down your target to a specific point. If you want to get the bull’s-eye, you have to realize that you can’t aim for the outer rim of the target also.
2. Take the steps.
Yet, simply knowing your target and knowing what it takes to get there is not enough. You need to actually take steps to get there. When I agreed to take on the challenge of making China Day happen, I resolved to write everything down. This helped me not only know what needed to be done and to remember it, but it also served as the first step towards doing it. Constantly looking at my list of things that needed to be done motivated me to do them.
You don’t have to do everything at once, but you do have to do something. For me, I had to round up counselors, nurses, coaches, and horse handlers, get a port-a-potty, creat a schedule, and so on. If I had attempted to all of that in one day, I would have failed miserably. But I found that breaking it up into steps helped me to get a handle on it. I learned that to accomplish my goal, I needed to be intentional with my time in order to get there. I needed to focus my efforts on the smaller tasks at hand into smaller goals to achieve the bigger goal.
To use another analogy, my mind turns to mountain climbing. I’ve discovered that climbing a 14er is the same as accomplishing a goal. You have to know which mountain you’re climbing. You have to prepare yourself for it physically. And you have to take it in steps. I found that when I would focus on the fact that I was climbing a mountain, I would feel hopeless and want to turn around. Like: “Gosh. Mt. Belford. That is way too high. It’ll take forever to get there.” Whereas, if I broke it up into smaller goals in my mind, it became much more doable. “Just make it to tree-line. Just make it over that ridge. There’s the summit.” If we focus on how enormous our goal is, it might discourage us. However, if we take it in smaller steps we will find encouragement by accomplishing each step.
3. Stick it out.
The cap-stone to accomplishment is determination. If you do not have the motivation to follow through, you will not achieve anything. You have to be able to push through the stress, and see it done. The last night before China Day was the worst for me. The stress had all piled up and seemed insurmountable. But I just had to pray that God would give me the strength to stick it out, even when it meant staying up ’til 3 AM, and getting up at 7.
I’ve noticed two things that seem to be the consistent factors behind what makes people surrender their goals. First is that they are unable to work under pressure. A lot of people crack under stress and just give up. Second is that they are unable to be patient through the long-haul. A lot of people expect to achieve their dreams as quickly as a 1-hour photo kiosk can reprint their family memories. Accomplishing your goals involves overcoming these two lurches. If you stand up under pressure, and keep up through the long-haul, all the rest is easy.
On the 27th I learned these lessons, and I intend to remember them. Though my goal was a simple one, and only took about a month from conception to realization, I learned that accomplishing goals is part of what it means to be a man. And I can tell you, the outcome from that day was definitely worth all of the stress. Hearing 20 Chinese voices shouting “Thank you, Jonathon!” was one of the sweetest things I have ever heard. So that’s all from this nerd for the moment. Keep striving, folks.