Pick a destination. Setting goals, and the power of preparing for success

The old saying, “failure to prepare, prepare to fail” has never been truer. For some reason, people always think opportunities for greatness or achieving a life dream come with “save the date” invitations. The opposite is the norm. Opportunities of greatness are only realized by those who have done the hard work, those who have prepared themselves mentally and physically. Hard work alone doesn’t guarantee success, but it sure doesn’t hurt. True to what Zig Ziglar espoused, if you want to go on vacation, you must have a destination in mind. And…if you’re taking a vacation, you better pack accordingly if you actually want to enjoy the vacation. How many people make a list of what to pack for their vacation and how many start packing days ahead? Imagine if you applied your vacation planning thoroughness to every aspect of your life?

Pick a destination and start preparing accordingly.

I’m a believer we should dream BIG, but obviously within some level or reasonability. As a man 5’7” (I used to claim 5’8” before I got married but the extra 1” seems insignificant now) with no vertical leaping ability, aspirations of being a pro basketball player are not in the cards.

However, nothing is keeping me from being a top 1% world ranked Ironman triathlete but my commitment to get better. To that point, I have now engaged a premier coach and mapped out my training/racing plan for 2015 to get me there. With my destination set, I have made my packing list and starting preparing for the trip of a lifetime.

Sadly, most people sell themselves short and set minimal expectations, limiting their achievements before they even wake up every day. People are scared to DREAM BIG for fear they will come up short. When I ask people about doing an Ironman they quickly say “no way I could ever do one of those.” I then say “how do you know, have you tried?” To which they always so “no, but …” I then walk them through 2 simple questions to illustrate my point. “If we met tomorrow morning, could you run/walk for 20 minutes? I don’t care about speed, could you do it?” They always answer yes. With them engaged, I then say “After tomorrow’s workout, if we meet the next day, could you ride your bike 30 minutes? Again, I don’t care about speed, could you do it?” They of course answer yes. I then look at them assuredly and say “guess what? In 30 weeks of doing this workout, you’d be an Ironman?” It’s 100% true and true about life in so many ways.

How many opportunities do we shy away from because we simply can’t fathom how we could ever do something so extreme. Low expectations arise from 2 deficiencies:

  1. Inability to articulate clear and precise daily, weekly and monthly goals that will help them achieve their goals.
  2. Inability to embrace the building process, the slow accrual of skill sets over a period of time that collectively are game changers.

When asked what their goals in life are, so many reply “make a lot of money, be happy, be a great parent, etc…” These are great but extremely generic and amorphous. Without specific goals to quantify what is a lot of money or how will I know if I’m happy or what is the determination for being a great parent, we will lack our sense of purpose and aimlessly pursue activities that don’t put us in a position to achieve our goals.

Specific goals are necessary and give us satisfaction our daily efforts are producing targeted results. For example, one could say making a lot of money means: have no debt, able to set aside 5% of my paycheck for retirement, able to take 3 family vacations a year and have $ set aside for emergencies. For measuring happiness, one could say: wake up every morning excited about going to work, exercise 30 minutes daily, smile when I see myself in the mirror or witness family and friends laugh when in my presence. Being a great parent is harder to quantify as it requires a longer term mindset and you may not see the outcome of your actions until they reach adulthood. But, you could measure your influence based on your ability to: say “I love you very much” to your kids at least once a day, spend at least 10 hours of quality time each week with them, help them achieve big milestones each year – riding a bike, hitting a softball or simply their willingness to talk openly with you about challenges they’re facing. If you don’t have goals, you will always be waiting on the affirmation of others as a scorecard. Trust me, I use my scorecard as the scorecards of others can be a recipe for failure.

My Big Hairy Audacious Goal

In 2008, I set a bigger than life goal of competing in the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii – the World’s hardest one day endurance event. 90,000 athletes compete annually for the coveted 1900 slots to swim 2.4 miles in the Pacific Ocean, then bike 112 miles in 40+ mph crosswinds only to then run 26.2 miles through a scorching lava field. Entry into the BIG DANCE in Kona required finishing top 3 in your age group at a branded Ironman event. Despite training year around for the past 4 years and getting into the best shape of my life, I came up short in my targeted qualifying race in May 2012. Everything that could have went wrong, went wrong. When I say everything, I mean everything: altitude sickness – migraines every day for 4 days straight, chain dropped at mile 5 on the bike course, loss of 2 critical water bottles at mile 10 on the bike – contained essential calories and electrolytes needed to maintain targeted pace, aero bars rotated down to front wheel when crossing a cattle guard and then culminating in severe dehydration when I started the run – urinating blood before I even started running the marathon on the world’s hardest Ironman marathon course. But guess what, I still finished the race, albeit 1 hour off my targeted finish time. I gave it everything I had and have no regrets. I even managed to get a big smooch from my wife at mile 14 on the run. In times like those you make the best of a bad situation and tell yourself it’s preparing you for something bigger.

Well that something bigger came just 2 weeks later. Ironman announced a new contest called “Kona Inspired,” a contest where a nationwide voting would select the 6 most inspiring stories to compete at the Ironman World Championship. When I learned of the contest, I immediately sat down with my wife, who is often regarded as a saint for putting up with me and our 5 kids under 9, and said “are you on board with me doing this contest because you know me better than anybody? If I do this, I’m in it to win it and I’m going to do everything to make it happen.” Without hesitation she said “yes, of course. This has always been your dream and I’m not going to prevent you from achieving your dream.” Great answer, couldn’t have said it better but trust me, if there’s one thing I learned early, it’s to get the full support and buy-in of your team (i.e. wife and kids) before you commit to anything life changing. Something told me “this is it, my one shot.” With no assurances whatsoever that I’d win, I started training with the conviction I was going to compete in the World Championship in just 4 months. To quote Eminem, I had “just one shot…” First thing first, keep in mind I didn’t even know if I would be selected as 1 of the 6 finalists, I made a plan of what I needed to do to have the best possible race experience and to transform my body to compete in the unfathomable heat that defined Kona. KONA – those 4 letters were all you ever had to utter and you immediately garnished the admiration of any triathlete. The transformation needed would be nothing short of miraculous as my body was poorly equipped for racing in extreme heat – inability to sweat on 1/3 of my body and inability to quit sweating on the other 2/3 of my body. Due to my severe burn scars (full burn story), body thermoregulation is a challenge to say the least, hence the urinating blood at my last race. As a lifetime athlete, I knew the only way to race competitively was to train in race conditions. Training I did; training as if I was a pro athlete racing for the $100,000 purse (full story).

It has been 2 1/2 years since I crossed the finish line in KONA. Those 10hrs 45min of pushing myself to the limit was more than just a race. It was living life to the fullest with no regrets. How many people can say that? How many people know what it’s like to achieve a life dream? You can and so can anyone. I was afforded the opportunity to realize a life dream because I was prepared… prepared to do what others were scared to do. Prepared to do whatever it took and not make excuses for why I couldn’t but instead focusing on reasons why I could. I prepared myself mentally and physically for over 4 years for the KONA experience with no assurances it would ever come to fruition. It was my preparation that enabled me to see an opportunity and take full advantage of it, never questioning or asking “what if I don’t win the contest, what if everyone thinks I’m crazy, what if colleagues think I’m neglecting my job responsibilities …” Good thing I didn’t because they did. People always question you when they’re personally scared to test themselves and their only rationality is that you’re obsessed or doing something you shouldn’t be doing. And to those people, this picture is worth a thousand words, at least a thousand.


Shay is an All American and World ranked triathlete, burn survivor with scars over 65% of his body and is a sought out national motivational speaker. Despite being told he’d never compete in sports again at the age of 8, Shay is living testament to “Anything is Possible”: 4x Ironman, 4x member of Team USA, ranked top 1% of Ironmen worldwide and has competed in 9 triathlon world championships, including the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. His mantra has always been to not merely be a “finisher” but to be a “competitor.” If you enjoyed this article, I encourage you to check out my other posts.

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