Reaching Your Potential

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I love to swim. When I was young, we had a blow-up pool in our back yard that we filled with water to keep ourselves cool. Many times we rode our bikes to the local high school for swimming lessons in the morning, free swim in the afternoon, and swim team in the evening.  
 
One of my favorite strokes was the butterfly. One year I made it to the finals doing the 50-yard butterfly. I was very excited because my coach told me that I had a good chance of placing in the valley championships.
 
As kids, we licked powdered jello for a snack while waiting for our event. Everyone knows that sugar is a good source of quick energy, but little did we know that it doesn’t last long.
 
When the gun went off, I dove into the water high on adrenaline. My competitors were left behind as I plowed my way to the other side of the pool. When I came to the turn, I was excited to see that I was at the head of the pack.
 
However, on the home stretch my adrenaline gave out and so did I. My arms felt like lead. It took everything I had to pull myself up to catch my next breath.
 
I came in dead last, and had to be pulled out of the pool like a rag doll.  
 
What a let-down! I walked away from the event completely astonished and confused. What happened? I didn’t find out until years later. Nobody explained what happened to my body so that I could do something different. I felt discouraged and ready to give up competitive swimming.  
 
Every one of us have had this kind of discouraging experience. We start out with loads of energy and hope. We begin a new job with the highest of expectations of making our fortunes and getting out of debt. We even take a look around with confidence and see that we are doing great compared to everyone else in our view.  
 
Then something happens that we don’t expect, and we hit the proverbial brick wall. It takes everything we have just to gasp our next breath. Sometimes we even have to be pulled out of the water like a rag doll.  
 
What can we do? We can learn from our experiences and bring our newfound knowledge into our future.
 
It is said that “the difference between happiness and misery often comes down to an error of only a few degrees.”  
 
There once was a large passenger jet with 257 people on board going on a sightseeing trip to Antarctica and back to New Zealand. Unknown to the pilots, someone modified the flight coordinates by a mere two degrees. This error placed the aircraft 28 miles to the east of where the pilots assumed they were. 
 
As they approached Antarctica, the pilots descended to a lower altitude to give the passengers a better look at the landscape. Neither of the experienced pilots had made this particular flight before. They had no way of knowing that the incorrect coordinates had placed them directly in the path of an active volcano that was 12,000 feet high.  
 
As the pilots flew onward, the white of the snow and ice covering the volcano blended with the white of the clouds above, making it appear as though they were flying over flat ground. By the time the instruments sounded the warning that the ground was rising fast toward them, it was too late. The airplane crashed into the side of the volcano, killing everyone on board. 
 
This was a terrible tragedy brought on by a minor error — a matter of merely a few degrees.
 
Many times the difference between happiness and misery in individuals, in marriage, and families often comes down to an error of simply a few degrees — small errors with big consequences.
 
Once I learned about the effects of sugar, I could avoid relying on sugar as my only source of fuel for my workout. I also found a quality coach who taught me healthier ways to fuel my body and new techniques to improve my swim stroke. This gave me the ability to decrease my time, increase my strength and make it to the end without petering out and becoming discouraged.
 
“It is critically important that we become self-disciplined enough to make early and decisive corrections to get back on the right track and not wait or hope that errors will somehow correct themselves.”
 
However, the longer we delay corrective action, the more difficult it becomes to make restorative changes. The path back on the correct course becomes prolonged — even to the point where disaster might be looming.  
 
You have a great responsibility to check and re-check your direction. Identifying and living by your core values, plus having an increased amount of personal integrity are ways to propel you in the direction you want to go. 
 
As soon as you notice that you are off a few degrees, do whatever it takes to bring yourself to where you know you have a chance of reaching your goal. I tell my clients to do whatever is sufficient for the level of your resistance — just a little more than you think you can.
 
Trudy Ederle didn’t learn to swim until she was seven years old. At the age of seventeen, Trudy won three medals at the 1924 Olympics in Paris. By the time she turned nineteen, Trudy had set twenty-nine US and World records.  
 
However, Trudy’s next goal had never been done by a woman. Many people attempted to swim the English Channel, a rough, cold body of water that separates England from France. 
 
The first time she tried the swim, she fought a strong current for almost nine hours before her trainer pulled her out, thinking she had swallowed too much water.  
 
However, Trudy did not give up her dream. She found a new trainer. A year later, she was ready to try again. Coated in lanolin and heavy grease, Trudy stepped into frigid water and followed the boat with the words “this way, Ole Kid” painted on the side.
 
At about 1:30 that afternoon, it started to rain and a strong wind stirred the water. For a while, Trudy would swim forward a few feet only to be pulled back twice as far. By 6:00 that evening, the tide was much stronger. The waves were 20 feet high. The rough water made the people in the boat seasick. At times, the rugged water pulled the boats out of Trudy’s sight. She was scared. It was eerie being out there all alone.  
 
Against the odds, Trudy tackled the most difficult swim of all. She defied those who said it couldn’t be done by swimming the English Channel faster than any man. With her courage, endurance, a good coach, and a strong determination, Trudy Ederle became a symbol for women everywhere.  
 
In contrast, just three days before, Clara Barrett, failed to make the English shore by merely two miles. She had covered 40 miles of water and stuck to it for 21 hours — some 10 miles and seven hours more than Trudy. She could have made her goal, but for heavy fog. She swam 12 long hours in a thick fog that blanketed and bewildered her. The shore was not clear. The fog was too much. 
 
That did not make her less courageous or determined. The circumstances were simply different. The fog caused her to lose sight of her goal. If the fog had lifted, she would have seen how close she was to her goal. If someone else had sight of where she was and could encourage her, she probably would have finished those last two miles.
 
Each of us have ways that keep us on track. It’s not the end that determines your success. It’s the amount of effort you put into reaching your goals. You don’t have to know it all. You simply need to take personal responsibility by continually making small adjustments. 
 
You have all the tools you need. You simply need to use them.

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