A friend of mine was recently sitting across the table from me. With his beer in hand, he looked around the room in an anxious sort of way that was sporadic to the point of giving me motion sickness.
I could tell that he was troubled, or bothered by some manifestation of guilt or fear. Had I been on a date– the years before I became happily married– and saw the young woman in front of me acting the same way that my friend was– my first assumption would have been that she was married, and hoping her husband had not tracked her down.
I asked my friend rather plainly, “What’s going? You look like someone’s got a hit out on you.”
He laughed nervously, and then said, “It’s not that– I mean– I’m not scared, I just…” He paused mid sentence, and looked behind him again before continuing, “I’m just stressed out, man. My bills are mounting, and I’m behind on a few things– some important things.”
I could relate to being behind on bills, hell, I think we all can, but even when I felt that I was drowning in the unforgiving tides of adulthood, I never looked quite as anxious as he did.
I told him as much, and he responded by saying, “One of the things I’m behind on is my car payment– like really behind. They’re coming after it, and I’m just trying to keep it long enough to get my next check, and clear things up.”
It all made sense.
His fear that someone was after him was one that had merit, because in reality there was someone after him.
I felt sorry for my friend. His life was difficult, and the part that made it the most heartbreaking to me was the fact that at one point in his life, he was only a semester away from finishing college– which would have effectively changed the trajectory of his life.
After he dropped-out, due to a dubious promise from a mutual friend that said he could, “help us get rich quick,” my friend dove wholeheartedly into the half-cocked business plan, while I stayed as far away from it all as possible.
A few weeks after an initial investment (some large undisclosed amount to get started), more money was required, and then a month later, even more. By the end of a 6-month period of time– and oddly enough, almost the exact day that my friend would have been graduating– the whole business went under, and both of my friends lost everything that they had put into it.
Realizing the mistakes he had made in life, my friend spiraled into a seemingly unavoidable depression, and began self-medicating with alcohol.
It blows my mind to consider how close he was to being a college graduate, and from there, to making his way into the world as a confident and educated productive member of society. His one poor decision to take the easy way out, cost him a lot more than just a degree, but by in large, it became the turning point in his life, consequently leading him to every destructive behavior that he has since participated in.
This caused me great grief, and on this particular morning, seeing the fear and desperation run through his face as he realized the very real possibility of having his car repossessed, all I could think of was why in the world did he stop just short of his goal to graduate college?
Sadly, a multitude of people do this same thing on a daily basis. Maybe their situation is different, and maybe the results and consequences of their choice is not quite as dramatic, but I’m convinced that every time a person gives up just shy of realizing their goal, a small piece of their confidence is lost with it, making the probability of them ever accomplishing that goal less likely.
When I was a kid I wanted to learn to dunk a basketball. Being just under 6-foot at the time, it was not an easy thing to accomplish. I was athletic enough, but even so, I couldn’t quite touch the rim. For the next month and a half I committed myself to intense plyometric workouts, weight lifting, and healthier eating. The results were some noticeable increases in my vertical leap– which allowed me to get my finger tips just above the rim– but still, I was just short of the height needed to actually dunk the ball.
The progress made should have inspired my 16-year-old self to keep at it, and even work harder for those last few inches, but it didn’t. Instead, I looked back at the hard work I had put in, and only remembered the long agonizing workouts, the sore legs, and the missing out on foods that I loved to eat. It no longer seemed worth it to me, and the end goal was no longer in sight. As soon as I lost the value of the goal, it became easier and easier to skip workouts, and take days off, and then, only a few months later at a pick up basketball game, after boasting that I could get above the rim and “almost dunk”, I realized that nearly all of the progress I had made was gone.
Why did I give up so close to my goal? The same reason that my friend dropped-out of college right at his final semester– we both lost sight of the goal, and instead took an easier option.
I say all that to say this, whatever it is that you want to do in life, never lose sight of the end goal. There’s no shortcuts, no easy way out, no “get rich quick” scheme to shorten the path. The hard work that you’ve invested thus far, is the only way to the eventual victory. Dig deep and replicate that progress each day, never forgetting why you are doing it in the first place.
If you stay focused on finishing the race, who knows, maybe you’ll graduate college, dunk a basketball, or accomplish something even greater.