It’s the beginning of football season – and with a dad from Texas that means in my family it was the beginning of the high holy season. One of my mantras is a quote from former NFL quarterback Archie Manning (also father of Peyton and Eli) who says he always played the game and tries to live life ten yards at a time.
In football, playing 10 yards at a time is a strategic choice, when working against a top-notch defense where you as the quarterback has to grind it out because if you get the ball too far out a superior cornerback could intercept the ball meant for your receiver. Then you have to start all over again and defend turf you just conquered.
In my life I have seen many parallels to this advice and way of looking at things. I was a young, 20-something Washingtonian in the late 1990s when everyone was all about goal-setting and telling everyone where they were going to be in 5, 10 and 20 years. For some people this may be possible. Some people have one trajectory, one purpose in life and they attack it like a straight line. I’ve often been envious of those people as I have aversions to change and messy situation and chaos. My path, like most people is much more like a circuitous drawing of a four-year old who just discovered both crayons and the concept of the shoulder as ball-and-joint socket. Big looping, colorful patterns that seem chaotic and leading nowhere. But when you step back and really look at the big picture, it is just as well designed and purposeful as the straight-line trajectory.
Needless to say, after about 5 years of being told to write down my goals and live my life to the fulfillment of those goals and feeling like an abject failure for not being able to stay on the straight line to those goals, I just gave up. And then, one Sunday afternoon at my parents house in Chicago (Go Bears) Archie was being interviewed…I think the path of the Colts-Bears Super Bowl had been set and they brought Archie in for analysis. I heard the above quote and it struck me as gospel. This is why I was a failure – because I wasn’t a failure, I just wasn’t built for a 10-year plan. I was built for 10 yards. And that’s ok.
Honestly, every good and interesting thing that has happened to me, that I have accomplished in my life has come after this epiphany. Sure, it still took a couple more years of learning to be fluid and embrace the zigs and zags of life, but I am now much more comfortable listening to my gut and jumping into opportunities because it feels right at the moment and it is something interesting, engaging and supportive of my overall life goals and purpose than matching up to something I wrote down at 22.
Some will read this and scoff and say, “writing down goals is important!” I completely agree! Goals are the key to a productive life. But the timeframe and how you achieve your goals is individual. It’s similar to the article on wellness I wrote – do not fall for the industrial complex that says if you follow one formula all your hopes and dreams and goals will be met. We are all individuals and wonderfully different in how we are physically, mentally, and emotionally constructed. What is right for one person is not for the next.
What are my overarching, lifelong goals? To be healthy and life a life full of wellness, resiliency, gratitude and grace & peace to my fellow human beings. To stay true to my faith, family and friends. To apologize when I am wrong and never stop striving to do and be better. The rest are negotiable details and I now embrace the joy of surprises in waking up each morning discovering how those details are going to form.