On the death of goals and mourning dreams

I had a dream. Now, that dream is dead.

Five years ago, I wanted to serve as an infantry officer in the US Marine Corps. Last year, I wanted to coach mindfulness professionally to crossfit athletes. Most recently, I wanted to compete as an olympic weightlifter. Today, I am none of these things.

Each started as a dream—nebulous thoughts about living that life. As the dream took hold, a plan formed around how to achieve the dream, to make it a reality. This marks the transition from dream to goal; after all, a dream is simply a goal without a plan.

With a goal set, I had actionable steps to create my new world. For the Marine Corps, I attended Officer Candidate School. To become a professional coach, I began a mindfulness coaching practice. To compete in weightlifting (the snatch and the clean & jerk), I followed a training program for six months.

Each journey has its own story, its own path from dream to goal to eventual end. My dream of competitive weightlifting died a noble death.

The sport of olympic-style weightlifting focuses on bringing a barbell from the ground to overhead. Two different lifts achieve this goal— the snatch brings the barbell up in one explosive movement, while the clean and jerk lifts the barbell in two distinct explosive phases. These three movements take a lifetime to master: they demand strength, coordination, impressive flexibility, and above all, consistency.

I began to train exclusively in weightlifting about half a year ago— living in NH and coaching essentially full-time, I yearned for a goal deeper and more demanding than tackling the next crossfit workout or contorting myself into difficult yoga postures. I decided to follow Barbell Shrugged‘s Flight Weightlifting program, a holistic and thoughtfully designed training regimen that builds up an athlete over the course of a full year in order to eventually compete in weightlifting meets.

This goal satisfied my inner desire for purposeful physical training. With three lifting sessions per week, each one lasting about two hours, I had my plan in place. Throughout the following months, I added 15# to my snatch (175# > 190#), 20# to my clean and jerk (225# > 245#), and 15# in functional bodyweight. The trajectory towards competition seemed solid.

Then medical school happened. My schedule changed from delightfully open to stressfully busy as I moved from Lee, NH to Tampa, FL. With stoic determination, I adhered to my training regimen: three lifts per week, no matter what. While adjusting back into student life, my barbell practice took significant time and energy to maintain— and arguably contributed to my less-than-stellar Course One results.

During fall break, I reevaluated many of my routines and habits. I began this weightlifting program at a very different phase of my life— does it make sense to continue this goal through my medical career? Is my training worth the effort? Why do I want to compete? After considerable reflection, I came to the uncomfortable conclusion that my dream needed to die.

I could struggle to maintain my training program. I could battle through Course Two and register for a competition in December— but would I really find satisfaction from this? I decided upon this goal because I need purposeful physical training, but what is the purpose? Before medical school, I trained myself so that I could lead athletes by my example; to hone my physical skills so that I could better serve as a coach. As a med student and future physician, my purpose is to heal others. My physical practice needs to nourish me, not drain me.

With my rigid training program, I did not allow myself the room to play— I could not justify attending a yoga class because I needed to study and that time could be spent at a lift session. I avoided trying new activities like Judo because I felt I had to be fully prepared for my training; I internalized the conclusion that these novel physical practices would only be diversions from my overall goal of becoming a competitive weightlifter. This goal closed me off from life, rather than opening me up to new possibilities.

So, I stopped following my program. I will miss the regularity of these sessions. I will miss the online community that has supported me and coached me. I will miss the dream of approaching the lifting platform at a competition, with everyone silently waiting for my next move, as I take three steady breaths before executing a good lift.

I mourned my dream. I allowed myself to feel sadness from its passing. I wallowed in self-pity and shame for a few days, considering myself a failure for not realizing this dream. I self-identified with my dream— by having the goal of competing, I bound my self-worth to its realization. At the end of fall break, I ended my rut and began training anew. Now, I feel no shame in realigning my lifestyle with my physical practice; I have learned much about myself because of this program, and am deeply grateful for the journey.

Now, I’m diving back into the world of crossfit. I’m following time-efficient programming designed for the terribly-busy athlete, like a med student. I’m also allowing myself to trade crossfit training days for play, like acro yoga, judo, and rock climbing. This flexibility will help keep me centered and content throughout the madness of medical school and beyond. My dream of competitive weightlifting has joined many others in my graveyard of unfulfilled goals. I honor this death by continuing to move my body with the same focus, intensity, and drive.

The dream is dead, but the lessons live on.

4 thoughts on “On the death of goals and mourning dreams

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