Since we live in radical times, I’m going to suggest you set a radical goal for yourself. If you want to run a 5K, set your sights on a half-marathon. Instead of learning chopsticks, commit to Chopin. Skip the boxed muffins and mill your own wheat for an artisan loaf.
I picked a goal as high as the Iowa sky: complete a marathon-length journey through the midwestern countryside on foot, in a single day. Regardless that I was born with cerebral palsy and have what therapists call coordination differences. When I encounter a great obstacle, my antidote is to challenge myself in kind. This helps me let go of what I can’t control and focus on what I can.
As COVID ravaged my corner of South Dakota, I began finding joy in daily walks. I became entranced with eccentric farmsteads, ditches of dandelions and the minute changes in corn fields as seed grows toward harvest. I wandered country roads, taking photos of whatever captured my attention. To my surprise, I was taken beyond the turmoil of TV news and into a countryside that revitalized me.
Before I knew it, I was covering seven, ten or twelve mile stretches at a time. I felt stronger, happier and more motivated. Since I couldn’t go to my former yoga studio, the backroads became my workout, therapy and spiritual practice. Also, the price was perfect on a quarantined budget.
After several months of training, my marathon day arrived—along with a midsummer downpour. Despite their protests, I persuaded my parents to drive me to an Iowa town, that was but a speck on the map, where I’d begin my journey. I was armed with my trusty hiking vest, water bottles and granola bars, as well as my doubts.
Butterflies in my stomach, I started walking. After a mile or two, my footfalls on wet gravel became a reassuring cadence. Soon, the thick, grey clouds dissipated and there was nothing but a light rain.
But I had my own storm brewing inside of me as I ran up against fear and fatigue. Why on earth would I have taken on this seemingly pointless challenge? Walking a marathon?! That’s 26.2 miles! The fast, agile bodies of Boston Marathon runners flashed through my mind. Even if I am “just walking it”, how could I possibly go that far by myself? There were precisely zero fans or volunteers along my route, unless you count my parents who brought me lunch. My best hope of company were the farm dogs, who I worried might take a bite out of my shin.
At mile 15, I became disoriented and unknowingly walked four miles out of my way. Sweaty clothes stuck to my skin and my cell phone battery was in the red. I wondered why I didn’t pick a normal Saturday activity like mowing the lawn or watching golf. My fascination turned to boredom. There were so many reasons I could have quit.
My promise and breath kept me moving. By mid-day, dewy grass sparkled in the sun. Every time I checked my mileage app, it swelled my confidence. As the magic number approached, I miraculously got a second wind and kept going. Entranced in the movement, I felt emboldened to walk an extra 4.8 miles.
In my final stretch, I strode down a steep hill to my parent’s place as the sun painted the sky a pink and red brilliance. I’d walked 30 miles in all! The Boston Marathoners had nothing on me. I was exhausted and elated.
While I don’t walk a marathon every day, this formula has become a way of life for me. I focus on activities I enjoy, set radical goals and take consistent micro steps towards them. Another example, I was born with a speech impediment and have become a professional speaker. I’ve given a TEDx talk and written a book. I speak to audiences across the country, from multinational corporations to local organizations seeking to help their communities. Not long before the pandemic, I witnessed 1,800 high school students rise in a standing ovation at the conclusion of my presentation. That memory propels me as I continue to step toward my dream of inspiring a billion people in my lifetime, no matter what obstacles stand in my way.
What far-reaching goal fills you with enthusiasm and a tinge of fear? As Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
Should you need help honing in on a singular goal, here a few questions to get you started:
• What genuinely interests me?
• What did I enjoy at various points in my life, including childhood?
• What does the world need right now? How can I be of service to that need?
• How can I improve my physical, mental or emotional well-being?
• How can I challenge myself to reach a little farther than I think I can?
• What is my first micro step going to be?
You never know where your steps may lead you or who they’ll impact. The key is to walk into territory that excites you, savor the challenges, and keep going.
JASON FREEMAN is a Professional Speaker and the proud owner of a Speech Impediment. He is also the author of “Awkwardly Awesome: Embracing My Imperfect Best” and a Perseverance Coach.
He excites and encourages his audience to break through the barriers of their own limitations using a method he created, called “doing your Imperfect Best ™”.
His Imperfect TEDx Talk can be viewed here.