I have always believed in the power of goal setting – of sitting down and putting a pen to paper, writing down my goals. At all times, I have a set of three different goals. The first being my high in the sky goal, my ultimate goal if you will – this helps serve as my guiding compass for the goals that follow. The next are my “long term” goals, these goals are ones that serve as a stepping stone for my ultimate goal. Then the final set of goals are my short-term goals, my here and now, my baby steps that eventually add up and bring me to my long-term goals. Many of us have heard the quote, “a goal is a dream with a plan” – this is my way of creating a road map for where it is that I want to go, it is my way of dreaming with a plan. Although the challenge is this, the ultimate goal – it may not always be met and guess what, that’s okay! The high in the sky goal, should be just that, it should be your big dream – your dream so big that it scares you. I have found that when we are willing to put ourselves out there, when we are willing to dream what many may say is the impossible, it is then that we find ourselves breaking the perceived glass ceiling. Although, on the flip side when we dream safe, when we set our ultimate goal as something that we know is a given, that inevitability actually limits us.
Goal setting can be an intimidating process, typically that intimidation stems from the fear of failure. We are all human and this idea of failure creeps in for all of us at various times in our lives. Although, I have found that the only true failure is in not allowing ourselves to dream in the first place. Allowing our fear of failure to intimidate us to the point that we just don’t allow ourselves to set goals at all, or worse we set safe goals, self-limiting ourselves before we have even begun – to me that is a greater failure then the willingness to not only dream, but create a road map of goals to get there and give ourselves the chance to see how far we can go, even if we never reach the ultimate goal. Not all goals in life will be met, and that is okay, but we must not allow those short comings to prevent us from dreaming in the first place.
Going into the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games I had a period of time following my arm injury in 2014 where I was afraid to dream, setting goals felt intimidating and I was all consumed with this fear of failure. That very fear almost caused me to give up on the one thing I love most, my swimming. Fortunately, I have an incredible community that surrounds me, a community who reminded me what it looks like to dream, a community who reminded me that the only way to see where you can go is to allow yourself to dream in the first place. So, I started with those short-term goals, I started with baby steps, each day and worked towards my long-term goal of returning to competition which brought me one step closer to my ultimate goal, Gold at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. Now, for those of you who know how this story turned out you know that I didn’t win Gold in Rio, in fact I didn’t medal at all in Rio. Although, what I did find in Rio is that although I feel short of my ultimate goal, I in no way failed. I learned that by allowing myself to stop fearing failure and begin dreaming again I not only was able to return to what I love most, but I was able to see it through – it was because I allowed myself to dream big that I even made it to the Rio Paralympics in the first place. It was my willingness to set that high in the sky ultimate goal that allowed me to see just how far I could go, which although didn’t result in a medal, it did result in the competition of a lifetime – one I almost gave up on.
So often we view the outcome of our goals and dreams as black and white, you fail or you succeed, but it isn’t that simple. Our successes and failures are not based on a single outcome, they come in the journey. Here we are in 2019 and sure enough, somehow, just like that the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games are next year. I still remember the feeling I had at the Rio 2016 Closing Ceremonies when the torch was handed off to Tokyo – I remember the very moment my next big, scary dream was born. A dream that at many times over the past two and a half years has felt out of reach, a dream that has required some of the most seemingly simple baby steps, but one that none the less a dream that I have refused to give up on because I learned in Rio that failure is not something to fear. Who knows if I will reach this next high in the sky goal, but I have learned that you never know unless you put yourself out there, unless you are willing to start at the bottom just for a chance to see how far you can climb.
So, as I dream, as I put my road map of goals in place, as they evolve with each baby step, I am learning that some of the greatest strides come in 1% increments. So, embrace the 1%, don’t rush past it because you are always looking for the big strides. As they say, Rome wasn’t built a day, neither are we – nor are our dreams. So, dream big, allow your dreams to be so grand that they scare you, but be sure to embrace the 1% along the way, embrace each baby step and every stepping stone it takes to get there and know that short comings, they aren’t failures, the only true failure is never dreaming in the first place. So here, is my big scary dream – I want to sit atop a podium in 2020 at the Tokyo Paralympic Games as a member of Team USA, I want to hear our national anthem play and see our flag raise high. It has been 7 years since I won Gold at the 2012 Paralympic Games and every day since I have dreamed of the chance to make it back there. Since then I have fallen and I have climbed my way back up and each time I have held onto that ultimate dream – focusing on 1% at a time.
Now the question is, what is your big, scary dream? What is your ultimate goal? And what roadmap will you put in place to get there?