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Eye on the Prize and Head Above Water

During the plague, a lot of dreams and goals have been put on hold. How do we stay on the right path on the road ahead?

I'll be the first one to admit, I saw 2020 going much different in February. Work was super smooth, great schedule, I was enjoying my new house, the sky was the limit. I mistakenly asked, "What could go wrong?". Then, like everyone around the world, my plans got flipped on their head as the economy crashed and life as we knew it changed for the worse for what would become the entire year. I was going to have to re-evaluate my goals for the time because things weren't going to be normal for the foreseeable future.

And truth be told, I'm still re-evaluating. I was fortunate enough to stay working at a good job. I kept my house, and my family has been unscathed by COVID. But I hadn't reached some of the benchmarks that I wanted to achieve over the year. It was eating at me.

After losing Friday and Saturday nights with friends, I gained Friday and Saturday nights for some self-reflection. And maybe a tiny amount of video games and TV. Very small, I assure you.

Reaching our goals gives us an endorphin rush and a sense of accomplishment. Goal setting and achieving is an integral part of our growth as people, and without it, we find ourselves rudderless, searching for direction. But what happens when a goal becomes out of reach or counter-intuitive to achieve? Do we extend ourselves so thin as to do everything to achieve it? Do we quit? Do we allow it to affect our self-worth?

I struggled with this for the first stretch of 2020. With my financial and career advancement goals out of reach due to company restructure and a pay-cut to deal with bottoming oil and gas prices (All of this makes sense in the business, I don't resent my employer at all for it.), I found myself goalless.

My first mistake was to allow a financial goal to be a primary driver. Money is a tricky mistress and is certainly no guarantee for happiness. And attaching too much of your identity to it is a surefire way to put yourself in a personality deficit. And while I would have been excited to make more money, it wouldn't have ensured my happiness or have indicated a good year.

I was going to have to redefine my goal-setting and discover the best way to work towards those goals in a time when it can be even harder to reach them. This is what I found to work for me.

  1. Trying to do the small things right

Excellence doesn't take place in one quick motion. We witness the fantastic last shot in the basketball game and that is what sticks with us. But what we don't see is the constant repetition and time in the gym spent working to perfect that move. The same goes for us in our day to day life. While work or can seem bleak and directionless, it is even more important to commit to smaller decisions and actions that reflect our goals and will move us in that direction, however slowly that may be. We can't control the talent we are given or our luck in life, but we have a direct hand on our attitude and decision-making day to day. This video of MJ and work ethic gets me ready to run through a wall every time I see it. Our lives and our relationships deserve attention daily. Like Coach Bill Walsh said, we do the little things right and the score will take care of itself.

2. Set new, measurable goals that can help lift you to your large ones when the time comes

Just because your dreams are on hold doesn't mean you can't work on the foundation to reach them. I wanted to work on the skills that would be usable one day when I had the opportunity. Be it cooking a steak, weightlifting, or studying a hydraulic fracturing textbook (dry read, don't try unless you're interested), building a skill can help develop momentum and confidence for the more consequential decisions and moments in life. Starting something from scratch can lend perspective and humility, things essential for when life starts to be taken too seriously.

3. Read. Seriously. Read

There has never been a better time to pick up a book than the pandemic, even if you haven't picked one up since Hatchet in middle school. Reading is a skill all on its own that can be developed and worked at. With books you can build your interests in history, business, sports, and great fiction and classics. You can work on your imagination and creativity and gain ideas and plans for your future from works already written. Books were my favorite outlet during 202o and I gained so much from them. Set a goal for minutes reading a day. You'd be shocked how it can add up.

4. Focus on the future

2020 is in the past. If you're reading this, you have made it through the worst. And while it is easy to regret and dwell on time that could have been spent better, it is up to us to make the tough choice and focus on what lies ahead. Will we choose to feed the good habits we have developed in our time to ourselves? Or will we revert to the people we were before we had an opportunity to self-reflect the past year. The choice is ours to make. It is never too late to improve ourselves and our lives.

The habit that we are all building over the past year is perseverance. Keeping positive momentum has been a major challenge, and near impossible to maintain every day. Bad days happen and goals can seem out of reach. But when we make the correct decisions and build ourselves up, we come closer every day, even when we don't see measurable results. We can only lose by giving up.

I've attached a list of the books I read last year, not including the hydraulic fracturing textbook.

Jake Smith is an engineer, son, athlete, scholar, corn chip connoisseur, lover, and "a stand up cat". You can reach him

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