The Beauty of Getting Specific

In 1996, I decided I was going to be an Olympic Swimmer.

I was already a three-year veteran of the local swim team. I practiced six days a week, loved the swish of the water as I turned my head for a breath.

Watching those breaststrokers and the freestylers at the Atlanta Games, I whispered into my TV screen that I’d see them all in 2000.

I want to train for the Olympics, I told my coach. Good, he said. Let’s start by training for the next meet.

But that didn’t seem juicy enough. And when I couldn’t make the connection between tightening up my flip turn and the 2000 Summer Games, I began to lose interest. One night, a few weeks later, I got out of the pool and never got back in.

I look back on that and see that my goal, while perhaps perfect for some, was so broad, so distant, so huge, it left me inert.

So these days, I’ve taken a page from many pragmatists before me: I am a fan of getting specific. “I will be a writer” became “I will write one Lightning Notes post and edit another one every weekday.” “I want to teach” became “I will work for 50 minutes a day to develop a workshop that I would want to be a student in.”

This doesn’t mean I ditch those huge, wide-as-the-sky goals.

Quite the opposite, in fact. For me, specificity is a way of giving those gorgeous, sky-wide goals some practical feet to land on the ground and start moving forward.

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