Free Falling

High school and college graduates hear it often this time of year. The featured speakers at commencements all across the country will likely talk to departing seniors about the importance of setting goals, of striving to meet some self-prescribed standard.

Otherwise, the speakers say, the graduates are likely to flounder, to float aimlessly about the vast expanse known to them throughout their years of education as “the real world.” They need to set a course for their lives and stick to it.

I’ve never really thought of myself as goal oriented. Heck, I took a year off before going to college the first time. Then, after two years of school, I went on a six-year hiatus from higher learning. I eventually earned my bachelor’s degree about a dozen years ago and am on track to attain my master’s degree at the end of this summer.

A couple of weeks ago, one of my students at Hillsboro High School said she suspected I not only set goals, I lived for them. I disagreed for a moment; then I came to the revelation that this 17-year-old young woman was probably right.

I don’t know that I have many major aspirations, but not all goals need to be lofty and important. I do set lots of small benchmarks as I go through life.

When I grade student papers, I generally like to keep track of how many I can assess per hour so that I can calculate whether I am meeting the standard and how long it will take for me to make it through the stack. I am always happy when I finish early.

I enjoy the statistical end of sports, especially basketball. I want to know what percentage a team is shooting from the field. I believe coaches and their players need to strive to achieve perfection, though I don’t think they should be too disappointed when they fall short.

If I am reading a book, I always try to reach the end of a chapter before I quit for the day. That’s why I like authors who keep their chapters short. If I am sure I won’t be able to finish something, I usually won’t even start it.

I recently began running as a way to get my tired old body back in shape. My goal? I plan to participate in the Hillsboro Folk Run Memorial Day weekend. Then, I want to climb Pike’s Peak later this summer.

Thanks to those two events, I have some motivation to continue. Sometimes I train on a treadmill. It tells me how many calories I am burning, what speed I am running and how far I have traveled.

My personal trainer, HHS freshman Aaron Yoder, also provides some motivation. We discuss personal best times. Of course, his goals are a bit more grandiose than mine. He hopes to win a state track medal. I simply want to finish the Indigo Road course without having to walk.

My family also has some modest goals. We would like to eat one meal a day together. We’d like to be able to decide on toppings for a pizza in under 30 minutes. We always strive to make it to the end of the month before we reach the end of the money.

So, what should we tell our 2001 graduates about goals? I suggest that they be realistic about expectations. Set goals that, with some sweat and toil, can be achieved. Then, once the first goal is reached, set new goals.

When I set a personal best time in running, I don’t want to be satisfied with what I have done. I want to improve even more. That’s what makes goal-setting so valuable.

At least for me, striving to do better keeps me focused and motivated. Without some reason to excel, I likely wouldn’t put much effort into anything I do.

Goals are also important because they give us chances to fail and to learn from our mistakes when we come up short of our own expectations. Was the crossbar set too high? Did we give a 100-percent effort? Self-analysis is an important part of personal growth.

I often hear it said that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. I believe this is true of most endeavors in life, and I certainly hope it is true for running, where I feel close to death every time my feet hit the highway, track or treadmill.

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