Before Michael Phelps, there was Florence Chadwick.
Chadwick was the first woman to swim the English Channel in both directions. She set the record for the fastest time in each direction. She was also the first woman to swim the Straits of Gibraltar, the Catalina Channel, and the Bosporus and the Dardanelles. (The last two are why you can take a boat across Turkey.)
In 1952, when she made her first attempt at the Catalina Channel, she got within about a mile from the far shore and called it quits. A thick fog had set in, she couldn’t see how close she was to the finish, and didn’t think she could make it.
It’s 26 miles from Catalina Island to the California coast. Imagine running a marathon. With your arms. Immersed in 66° water. The woman was amazing.
The fog that derailed Chadwick’s first attempt is a fog that we all know. We hit it with every goal we set. Every project we undertake. You can even hit it every day at work.
Why am I doing this?
Where am I heading?
How do I get there?
What’s left to do?
Is it five o’clock yet?
When we start on a goal, we’re excited. We have an idea, a vision of a better self we’re going to become. We have a plan, broken down into specific steps that will take us there. We set out, and the day is bright, and vibrant, and full of opportunity and possiblity.
And then the fog sets in. We miss a deadline, and the schedule slips. We don’t see results as fast as we thought we would. There’s an obstacle we didn’t anticipate. Even though we’re excited about where we’re going, it’s still a long, hard slog to get there. Change is work. The bigger the change, the more work it takes to effect it.
When you’re in the fog, it’s easier than ever to give up. Discouragement and fear set in. Keeping your coastline in mind will remind you why you’re putting yourself through all this. It’s not permanent. You’re making a sacrifice so that you can be more. Today, you are doing what others will not; tomorrow, you will do what they cannot.
Sometimes, a little extra push can make all the difference. If you’re swimming to Catalina, there’s a big difference between swimming 25 miles and swimming 26. Knowing that you’re close can give you that extra boost you need. You’ll draw on strength you didn’t know you had. Write out the specific steps to reach your goals so you can measure your progress.
Having a clear destination also helps you know when to stop and move on to the next goal. It’s easy to get so caught up in the activity of pursuing a goal that continuing the activity becomes a goal in itself. Even with something like eating healthy food, there’s a difference between dropping fifty pounds and maintaining your ideal weight. Your level of focus is different, and it should be. Reach your goal, and move on to the next one.
Two months later, Chadwick swam the Catalina Channel again. The same fog set in. This time, she kept swimming. She kept a vision of the approaching coastline focused in her mind and pushed through the fog.