I hate dilemmas. Four weeks before the most important half-marathon of my two year, mid-life running career, I’m being asked to play in a pick up basketball game to help our high school boys get ready for their state championship playoffs. It’s a great opportunity for a bunch of the staff to “man up” and help the boys knock off some rust before playoff time.
Plus, I love basketball and in another life (high school) I was fairly good at it. Also having been a coach for about 13 years before retiring my clipboard in 2010, I had helped develop many of these players in their middle and early high school years. How much fun this would be to engage them on the hardwood and assist in their mental and physical preparation for the upcoming tournament. I really wanted to help them out.
There is one problem however. I’ve got a race coming up. I’ve been diligently training for three months pushing toward my goal of running an under two-hour half-marathon. What if I’m unfortunate enough to get hurt in this game?
A strained muscle. Maybe a twisted ankle. Or the dreaded tweaked groin. These things happen in basketball all the time and could derail my opportunity to train and potentially reach my goal. Is this fun and rewarding endeavor worth putting my body and my dream at risk? What in the world should I do?
I decided to cave in. I risked my dream.
The emotion of the opportunity to play ball again said checkmate to my mind, which was telling me to decline the invitation. I concluded that I was in good enough shape that nothing would happen. So I laced up the high tops and for 90 minutes that evening had the time of my life playing against those young men (even though they beat us three games to two).
6:00 AM the next morning I rise to get out of bed and my lower back is locked up. “Oh crap,” I thought. “This is exactly what I thought might happen.” I took some Motrin and hobbled off to school, barely able to stand upright to teach. “How long will this last?” I wondered.
I was really ticked at myself. “I should have been more disciplined and graciously said ‘No, I can’t play.’ Why did I let my emotions get the best of me? I knew better than this.” The frustration danced in my head all day long.
And the next day. And the next day. And the next…and the…and… It was 10 days before I could run again, with only two weeks to fine tune my body for race day.
Fortunately this story has a happy ending. Because of my intense and disciplined training prior to the basketball game, this minor injury and subsequent layoff did not hinder me from reaching my goal. In fact, my final time for the half-marathon was the best I had ever done.
But this little experience left an impact. It reinforced in my mind this important principle – a momentary lack of discipline can scuttle any dream. I was fortunate that in this case it did not. But it could have.
In his leadership series, Habitudes: The Art of Self-Leadership, Dr. Tim Elmore describes personal discipline as a bridge that helps us cross from where we are to where we want to be. In essence, building a discipline bridge helps us get where we desire to go. It’s not an easy bridge to build as it takes a lot of time and hard work. But once we have the bridge of discipline in place, it actually makes the journey towards the goal easier. It gives us a path and it brings focus into our world. What a valuable thought!
The problem is that many times we choose to step off the bridge in a moment of weakness. Like in my case, the emotions override the mind and the will and we jump without processing the decision deeper. Then, when it’s too late, we find ourselves careening down the gorge like Wesley in The Princess Bride. We pick up some bumps and bruises along the way and end up putting our goal in jeopardy or blowing it altogether.
You may be building a bridge towards being debt free. So don’t be dazzled by that shiny new car you “need” and take out a loan to purchase it. Perhaps your discipline bridge involves the positive example you want to set for your children. Then don’t yell at them in a moment of frustration. Maybe you are climbing the corporate ladder, pursing that college degree or looking for a deeper connection in your spiritual walk. Whatever your goal, discipline will ultimately serve as the bridge that gets you there.
Just choose to stay on it.
(Addendum: Writing this post has brought bigger questions into my mind. Those being: How do you decide if it is right or appropriate to risk your dream for something good? If you decide to take the risk that might impact the realization of your dream, does that really show a lack of discipline or bold courage? What’s the best way to handle the emotion of “letting yourself down?” Hmmm…)
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