Rather than writing a recap on how Ironman 70.3 Coeur D’Alene went (this past weekend), I’ve had a much more prominent thinking pattern around a bigger picture issue that needs addressing.
A few weeks ago, at a local Bend coffee shop, I had an unexpected conversation with a friend of mine that resonated with me deeply. It was enough of an impactful dialogue to shake up and revisit one of the more prominent mindsets that currently exists in my brain today.
I recently put up a post on Facebook that mentioned what my goals are, athletically speaking. It was the first time that I verbalized in a public setting that I hope to go “pro” in triathlon rather than maintaining the vague and obscure mentions of “chasing a childhood dream.” Also within that post, I mentioned that I’m very self-conscious with my age, given the athletic pursuits. There is a negative voice that plays in my head that is telling me that I’m too old to pursue any type of elite athletic endeavor. In this case, the term “elite” means going pro in triathlons.
When I made the switch from ultrarunning to triathlons last year I put the goal together, with the guidance of my coach Mike, to try to shoot for at least a “low-level pro” status. Without his blessing and backing, I don’t think I would have had the confidence to set forth on such an ambitious endeavor, given where I was coming from (digging out of a propensity to abuse drugs and alcohol). Furthermore, in the first year of triathlons, I had a couple of key people, who know what the hell they’re talking about because they’ve done it, encourage me that I wasn’t too old to give it a try. All of those sentiments really helped to fuel the cause.
Back at the coffee shop, after bantering back and forth a bit, one of the questions my friend asked was: WHY do you want to go pro? Intuitively, I thought that I knew the answer, but I couldn’t put it to words. In a way, my friend had stumped me. In many ways some of the same answers to his question applied like, “to live the life of a professional endurance athlete,” “to chase down a childhood dream,” and, of course, “cause it’d be fucking cool to make it to that point.” However, after thorough investigation and contemplation, the real reason became a little more clear.
Enter the “Golden Circle.” In our initial conversation, after I couldn’t clearly express my WHY, my friend brought up Simon Sinek’s methodology to identifying, expressing, and living your WHY. A week or so later, we sat down again and worked through an exercise, with the Golden Circle in mind, to drill down into my core so that I could express, in my own words, the real WHY. Ironically the exercise ended up transcending the athletic endeavors and shifted the focus to living life as a whole.
After exploring things from a few different angles we began to wrap everything together to build a statement of truth around my revamped WHY. The things in my being that I always seem to forget are the events in my life that led up to my decision to pursue this dream. First, five-plus years ago I was a burned-out alcoholic and drug addict with a tendency to live in a constant blackout, on the edge of killing myself, who decided to get sober. Second, after I had some time in sobriety, came the day I cut ties with the corporate world and walked away from a solid paycheck and my life in hotel management. There would be absolutely zero chance that if those two things hadn’t happened that I wouldn’t be where I am today.
My friend at the coffee shop asked: “Do you really, actually, understand the effect you are having on people when you share your story above and beyond the athletic piece?” It seems not, because I tend to forget the fact that I am still immersed in the process of changing, literally everything. To this very day, I still get asked the question: “how do you do it?” Perhaps, I should ask this to myself from time to time.
After a few moments of contemplation I was able to start verbalizing my revamped WHY: “So, Spence, WHY do you do what you do?” Simply put, I want to inspire people to have the courage to rise above their demons and make a change in their own life by seeing how far I go can with endurance athletics. I want people to see that it is possible for someone, anyone, to truly make a significant lifestyle change despite the challenges and obstacles that one faces in life. If I’m doing it, there is no reason others cannot do the same.
Yes, I still want to achieve a “pro card” status in triathlons, I still want to get faster, and I still want to compete at a high level. But now, I understand that these are just steps in the process, not the end goal. Even after these steps are actualized, life continues, and I will still have the opportunity to keep the inspiration for others going, perhaps in a different light. For me, today, life is much more about just “going pro.” It’s about relentless forward progress to live day to day and be at peace with what life serves us.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Let me know your WHY, and even more, how did you get to the point where you truly understood that WHY?