Thursday, March 20, 2014

Dreams and Reality

I remember the first time I saw the footage of Julie Moss crawling across the finish line at the Kona Ironman.  I cried. Or at least I got really choked up and came close to crying, because I'm sensitive yet very manly. (Gotta keep up my image.)  Watching that video helped me realize that there are two types of people in this world: those that see the triumph of the human spirit and get inspired, and those that see the same thing and think, "f*** that. I'll stay here on the couch, thank you very much."

And then there's me.

I saw Julie's dramatic triumph of the human spirit and immediately became inspired to race an Ironman. Once that decision was made, I spent the next three decades not doing it.  I kept my tush seated pretty securely in the cushions of my comfort zone.

Don't go thinking that I was one of those guys that said I wanted to do an Ironman than never mentioned it again.  For goodness sakes, no. I was all in.  I talked about it all the time.  I had Ironman branded socks, hats, visor, credit card, watch, stickers, posters, you name it.  But of course I couldn't use or wear any of them, because I hadn't earned the right.  It'd be like buying a finishers jersey from a marathon and wearing that before you ever have even run a marathon.  It would be a bold face lie. And my face isn't that bold.

The thing is, though I talked about it a lot, I didn't actually make much of an effort to do an Ironman. Sure I signed up for a couple of them. But inevitably I ended up backing out of each after not training at all. I entered the Kona lottery every year too. And every year I didn't get chosen. My friends saw a man very disappointed, as if I were a senior in high school who just found out that no college would accept me.  But behind that facade I was breathing a sigh of relief.  After all, if I were accepted into the Kona lottery, that would mean I'd have to do it.  And actually doing an Ironman was a pretty scary idea.  Talking about it was a heckuva lot easier.

For decades this lasted.  For decades I had Ironman paraphernalia sitting around my house gathering dust. Year after year I said "next year I'm doing an Ironman."  But did I actually get off my butt and train for one? Nope.  I just waited for it to magically fall into my lap.

There was always a reason why I couldn't do it.  There was always something in my way. Too much work, too expensive, no training partners, prior commitments.  Or maybe I just convinced myself that it's Kona or nothing.  And this went on for over twenty years.  Then one year I got a sideways glance in the mirror and suddenly saw what was standing in my way.... me.  

There is a quote I love from Brian Andreas that I think about quite often.  The basic idea is this (and I paraphrase):

Everything changed the day I figured out that there is exactly enough time in life to do the things that are most important to me.

This quote appeared in my life just about the same time that I realized I was the sole obstacle in realizing my dreams.  It was also about then when I came to terms with the fact that the really good dreams aren't the ones that magically appear.  They are the ones that you have to work for.  And the only thing standing in my way of living my Ironman dream was my fear. If I could be so courageous as to face my fears and push on through to the other side, well.... with that attitude any dream can be within my grasp.  I just had to reach out and grab it.

Simple, right?
I wish.

This is one of the more interesting things about dreams - they are often guarded by an army of fear.  To live a dream means to look in the mirror and deal with all the things you've spent a life trying to avoid. I suppose that's partially why they are called dreams.  Because dreams aren't reality and in order to make a dream a reality you have to bridge a very large, very scary gap.  

Ironman, besides being a physically and mentally grueling event, also happens to be the crossroads between everything you've always wanted and everything you've always feared.  Even the training alone requires you to come to terms with yourself and what is important to you.  It's not easy.  But it's not meant to be.  If realizing your dreams were so easy, everybody would do it.

Whether the dream is running a 5k, doing an Ironman, starting a company or vacationing in Bali, we all have our goals and we all have our inner closet of darkness that stops us from getting there.  When you're used to a life on the couch, getting up and training for your first 5k is scary.  When you're used to the comfort of working for a large company, quitting your job and starting something on your own is terrifying. Very very terrifying. Because it takes work and commitment.  And it takes dramatically changing your daily rituals.  It takes blindly jumping off a cliff without knowing what's down below and simply trusting that somewhere in the dark abyss that you're heading towards, there will be a net to catch you if you fall.

We stay in our comfort zones because it's easy, because there is little stress, there is little unknown.  But growth doesn't happen in the comfort zones.  Success doesn't happen in the comfort zones.  Change doesn't happen in the comfort zones.

I ended up facing my fears for the first time in 2006.  After nine months of focused training, my wife and I raced Ironman Lake Placid.  It was an amazing experience.  Two years later I raced Ironman Arizona.  And though I haven't done a long distance event since then (long story which I will tell you another time), I still have more fears to conquer.  And if I work it right, that may take another three or four more Ironmans to overcome.

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