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“It is difficult to inspire others to accomplish what you haven’t been willing to try” ~ Confucius

Chapter 3 in Nikki Stone‘s “When Turtles Fly: Secrets of Successful People Who Know How to Stick Their Necks Out” is all about Focus. It’s about learning how to create that hard shell to help ward off distractions that might cause you to lose focus on your goals and dreams, and what it takes to reach them.

As I mentioned yesterday, this chapter struck a chord with me, because it has been that lack of focus that has kept me from reaching my fullest potential in many areas of my life. Anyone who knows me will tell you that passion is definitely not something I am lacking. Everything I do or begin I do with gusto, and excitement, and I always approach it like it is the next best thing, be it a book idea, a PTO project, a fundraiser, a new club, or parenting strategy.  But my energy for whatever that project is quickly starts to wane. I see the hurdles as too big. I realize the time commitment is more than I expected, or I just become uninterested in what I was doing because I’ve already moved on to something bigger and better. I lose focus, and the project ends up falling flat, never quite gets any momentum behind it, or simply never gets started. It’s been like this with nearly everything I’ve ever done in my life, and a few examples truly stick out in my mind.

First there was my swimming career.

I began swimming competitively at age five, and by the time I was eight I was one of the top swimmers in New England, with a pile of highpoint trophies to show for it. I counted Olympic swimmer Jenny Thompson as some of my biggest competition in those days, and we would match up each year at Brown Universityin Rhode Island for the New England championships.

As I got older, the competition got steeper, and it didn’t take long for me to realize that I  was a small fish in very large pond, and if I was going to go anywhere with this whole swimming thing then I was going to have to work a lot harder, and train a lot more often.

But I was a three sport athlete, and most passionate about soccer. So after I entered high school, swimming took a backseat to soccer in the fall, and I wouldn’t dip my toes into the small 20-yard pool in my hometown until winter. As soon as western Mass. championships was over I’d move into softball season, and possibly not touch the pool again until winter. That was enough to be competitive in western Massachusetts, and even throughout the state, but that was it.

Opening ceremonies at the Massachusetts Bay State Games when I was about 12 years old.

I remember one summer in high school between my freshman and sophomore years, I was given the opportunity with a few other top swimmers in my area, to join an AAU team out of Williams College. The coach had just moved to the area from California, and he had chosen some of the best local swimming talent in our area to train with him. That summer I never trained so hard. We had early morning practices. We were introduced to some dryland training, and we even became aware of the effects of eating a more balanced diet on our swimming. We swam all over New England that summer and I began to feel a passion for the sport again that had been lacking for a number of years.

Sometime during that summer I met up again with Jenny Thompson in Dover, New Hampshire where she trained at the Seacoast Swim Club. We were both entered in the 200 freestyle event. By that time Jenny had already entered the national swimming circuit and was just getting a few competitions under her belt before heading off to the Pan Am games that summer where she ended up taking home a gold and bronze. I knew I didn’t have a chance of beating, but it was exciting to see my old rival, and see how far we’d both come. We said “Hello,” maybe even shook hands, I don’t remember, and climbed the blocks to our starting positions. “Swimmers, take your mark,” the starter said, and then the gun went off signaling the race had begun.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Jenny Thompson

I started off strong, but once she hit the water Jenny was nowhere in sight. I knew she must be in front of me, but could she have gotten that far ahead already? She was a fast freestyler and a national competitor, and freestyle was not my favorite, and I hadn’t competed outside New England so that was understandable, but then I took my first turn into the wall and saw her. As I pushed off the wall I lifted my head and scanned the water for Jenny two lanes over. I knew I should have been streamlining but I couldn’t resist seeing how far ahead she was, and if I was anywhere near her. Hey, I could dream! Just as I was about to break the surface I caught a glimpse of her, almost ready to complete her second 50 meters. Damn! I knew she’d kick my butt, but seriously, how could our swimming careers have taken such a different path in only five or so years? But that wasn’t the worst of it. Jenny was nearly 50-meters ahead of me, and she wasn’t even swimming freestyle. She was swimming breaststroke, which I don’t think I ever saw her swim again in any national competitions or Olympic games. She probably considered it one of her worst strokes. Ugh!

Now a more focused person, might have used this as motivation to continue training with this top-notch coach. I might not make it to the Olympics, but I could at least train hard enough to become a top-notch college Division I or II swimmer. But I didn’t, because I could only see how far I had to go to get there, and that not only scared me, it completely defeated me. The next summer Steve had moved away, but he invited a few of us to go train with him in Arizona. Two people chose to go. I opted out! One of those swimmers was my brother-in-law who became one of the top Division II swimmers in the nation, still holding records to this day, and qualifying for Olympic trials in 1992 (too bad it was a week after the trials.)

Stories like this have haunted me all through my life academically, athletically, and career-wise. I watched one of my best friends win a National Championship in college, as I sat on the sidelines struggling because, though I was always ranked in the Top 3 in a few events each year, no matter how hard I tried most years I couldn’t even make it into the Top 8 in my individual events. From the time she came in third in the 100 backstroke the year before, my friend had never lost focus of that gold trophy. The difference between she and I though, was that she saw all the steps she had to take to get to that gold medal, whereas I just saw that gold trophy. And that is how I have lived my life, always looking at the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and never completely focusing on the steps needed to get there.

I’ve thought about what will happen once I finish my young adult novel, but I haven’t scheduled at set time to sit down and write that novel, so very little has gotten done. I have thought of building a successful Website here at Renaissance Mom, but initially I didn’t consider the steps and focus it would take to get there. I want to get back in shape, but I want to be able to workout like the athlete I used to be instead of the out-of-shape mother of three that I am now. I could go on, but I think many of us can relate to same stories of being defeated by the looking at the end result, instead of beginning the first small steps to get there.

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

In Chapter 3 Nikki shares stories of Focus from Olympic champions Nadia Comaneci and Summer Sanders. I read about best-selling author Dr. Stephen Covey’s ability to  direct his focus on people and change, and how that led him to be chosen as one of Time Magazine‘s most influential Americans in 1996, and one of Sales and Marketing Management Top 25 power brokers, among other successes. And then there is “home staging” guru Barb Schwartz, who through a number health problems, has never lost focus on what it she was put on this Earth to do, she has never lost focus of her passion for staging. But the story that struck home for me most in this chapter, was Nikki’s own story of spending two much time focusing on the bigger picture, and not on the steps it took to get there. It cost her a place in the Olympic finals in the 1994 games, and ultimately cost her a gold medal, and the title of becoming the first woman ever to win an Olympic gold in aerial freestyle skiing. Nikki learned from that mistake, and went on to win the Olympic gold in 1998 and a host of other world titles. I, on the other hand, have only learned this lesson through reading Nikki’s book.

Activities to help practice FOCUS:

  1. Focus on that first step: For me that meant finally getting Chapter 1 out of my head and into a word document. I’m approximately 900-words into it and pretty proud.
  2. Talk to others about their goals and the steps they took to get there: I didn’t ask people, but I started looking back at people in my life who I admired, and recalled the steps I had seen them take to reach their goals. I would love to hear about your journey here! So comment away
  3. Complete a task as well as you can without looking for others approval: No one has seen my first chapter yet, except me, and I’m liking it.
  4. Get rid of the emotional clutter: For me that clutter involves all the could have, should have, would haves in my life. This week I put that all aside, and began doing what I could to achieve my goals right now!