Note: This is a personal reflection, not an advice column. Many riders would benefit from a stronger, clearer, and simpler set of goals. But if you are obsessing over your goals to the point that random and unavoidable setbacks are making your life miserable, then maybe paying more attention to the process might help.
Someone much smarter than me once said that there are two types of people on Earth: people who focus on the goals, and people who focus on the process.
In my own life, I set very high goals, and I often focus on nothing but achieving those goals. When I entered college, I decided that I wanted to graduate in two and a half years with a 4.0. Incidentally, I accomplished one of these goals and came pretty close to accomplishing the other. When I was 15, I accomplished my goal of riding in a two-star. This Spring, I decided that I wanted to start an eventing website, and here we are. Great, right? As Lee Corso would say: not so fast my friend.
Unfortunately, as I have learned, the only two possible outcomes of chasing a goal without a sense of purpose is to fail, or to achieve that goal and set another. The problem with my purely goal oriented mentality is that it has generally sent me on an endless, and seemingly pointless pursuit of the ‘next goal,’ which I often don’t understand and don’t care about. For example: am I moving up because the horse is ready or because the next level is the next goal?
Eventing is a particularly harsh sport for us goal-oriented types. Eventing is like baseball, except harder: batting .150 puts you into the Hall of Fame. The greatest riders on earth ride for 40 years and are glad to win two or three ****’s. Personally, I have failed to achieve a single one of my long-term riding goals over the past few years. Riders at every level have their goals crushed by injuries, bad luck, financial problems, or their fellow competitors. Maybe the most defining quality of an event rider is being able to get knocked down 100 times and still get back up. I’m thinking right now of people who have been through infinitely tougher hardships than you or me: Mike Winter, Lisa Peecook, Jennie Brannigan, Elizabeth Walters, and many more.
What I think keeps them and us coming back to eventing, loving eventing, is that magical process of building relationships with our horses and our fellow members of the eventing nation. Looking back, I realize that the times that I have stopped worrying so much about goals and focused on enjoying the process have been the most satisfying and often the most productive times in my life.
My New Year’s Resolution is to focus on the process of building myself as a person and a rider, and worry less about the goals. Did I work as hard as possible, every moment of every ride today? Did my horses enjoy themselves? Did I behave with kindness and respect to those around me? Did I have fun? Did my coach yell at me one less time than last time? If I can do my best to focus on the process every minute of every day, then hopefully I will find more satisfaction and perhaps more achievement.
Happy New Year!