I mentioned yesterday that I recall at least two times that my goal setting efforts didn’t lead to satisfaction. The first was described in the last post: My ambition of becoming a PICU nurse was achieved, but it only led me to realize it changed nothing. Alexis was still gone, I was still here, and I had to face that when I completed my program and passed my boards.

The second time I was blown over by the “Now What?” syndrome happened a few years later. Dealing with the loss of our Son Emanuel at birth in 2002, I started running. I put on my headphones (and belted my clunky “Sony Walkman” around my waist), and realized I could really extend my “alone” time if I just kept running. I’d done some “jogging” in the past, but my new focus took over my schedule.

in 2002 I ran my first ‘Army Ten Miler’ in Washington, DC. Due to some type of security breach (and heightened awareness following 9/11 the year prior) the finish line was moved from its mapped location. The runners were not informed, and I didn’t realize anything was awry, until I noticed I’d exceeded my anticipated “time” to complete the race but I was not over the bridge to VA yet.

In the end, I’d actually run 11 miles by the time we were re-routed, and still made pretty good time. I realized, if I could run 11 miles, I could surely run a half marathon (13.1 miles) and started training for that. (Distraction, distraction, distraction…)

In early 2003 (I think I have my dates right) I completed my first 1/2 marathon in Arizona. My girlfriend who’d supported me all along, asked me why I was so quiet. I wasn’t too excited and in fact after my shower I remember sitting on her sofa, with the daunting “Now What” feeling bubbling up in my stomach (despite the hot fudge sundae I was eating to chase it back down.)

My friend was right. I wasn’t excited. I was petrified. Training had consumed my waking moments that were not spent working or taking care of Zach. I’d been running for a year straight and accomplished something I would have never imagined I could, just a few years before. Naturally, the best way to address this sludgy, morose emptiness was to set another goal. Before I’d even gotten on the plane to come home I knew my next target would be to run a full marathon (26.2 miles) which I did go on to complete.

The “Now What?” syndrome is real. Setting goals and somehow imagining that the satisfaction of attaining them will last more than a few fleeting moments is a recipe for major disappointment. Remember, I am lover of goals and have enjoyed pursuing them again and again. But the difference with the PICU RN and marathon examples is that I missed the process. I missed the experiences that were part of the every day studying, learning, training, strengthening, because my focus was solely on finishing.

I still feel that goal setting for me drives progress and inspires desired behaviors linked to an outcome I would like to achieve. But what I now know, is that getting to the finish line of any project without being present along the way leads to just another finish line. I love a good achievement and a celebration along with it, but I am not so naive to think that any moment achievement is more valuable than the time I get to spend pursuing it.

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