“I ALWAYS MADE EVERY team I tried out for,” lamented a college freshman after failing to make the lacrosse team.
I tried to make him feel better. “I never made any teams,” I said.
His reply: “You’re used to failing. I’m not.”
That response took me by surprise. But I thought about it, and realized he was right. I had struggled all my life in academics, sports, socializing and with the opposite sex. I was getting used to others around me always being better. That needed to change. Just because you’re used to something doesn’t mean you have to accept it. I decided that I would work toward being better in everything.
I developed a new dedication to my education and studied harder. I even became a study-holic, which meant I didn’t enjoy the college experience as much as others. But I was determined I would complete my education with the highest grade-point average possible. It wasn’t high, but it was high enough to graduate without ever having failed or dropped a course.
My love life consisted of only single dates. I would ask a girl out. She would agree—but then never agree to a second date. This changed when I met my first wife. She was a freshman and I was a senior. We dated until she graduated and then we got married. The marriage only lasted four years. But at that point, I had overcome my shyness and had the courage to pursue my next chapter in romance. It was wonderful.
My athletic life improved when I noticed that, when I attempted something, I didn’t always suck. The first aha moment occurred in my college swim class. I had grown up on Long Island, New York, swimming in the ocean rather than a pool. I’d never before had access to an Olympic-size swimming pool, so I never swam for speed.
The class had a relay race among the swimmers. I hadn’t practiced the proper breathing technique when swimming the crawl, so I was hesitant to try it at that moment. Instead, I dove in, held my breath for the length of the pool and didn’t embarrass myself. That minor triumph gave me the confidence that maybe I could be more athletic.
I had learned how to run when I was training to enter the U.S. Coast Guard’s Officer Candidate School. My military career ended with a medical discharge, but that training experience showed me I could run. This was a big step forward from seventh grade, when I tried to run a mile nonstop in gym class, but couldn’t. I had come a long way.
My greatest athletic achievement occurred when I took up recreational running after my military career ended. A fellow coworker was looking for an athletic challenge and signed up for road races. I decided to join him. I began running for fun and trained enough so I wouldn’t embarrass myself in these races. I didn’t need to be first. Instead, my goal was to finish strong, and then reap the beer reward after each race. This method of training led me to complete various road race distances, culminating in the completion of four consecutive New York City Marathons.
As I mentioned in my previous article, I also wanted to be rich. That’s another goal I achieved—despite losing my job on 10 occasions during my career.
There have been many other achievements in my life that I’m proud of. Not succeeding every time is different from never succeeding. I have used goal setting as a method to achieve those things in my life that I’d previously believed I could never accomplish. It reminds me of the children’s story The Little Engine That Could. “I think I can, I think I can.” Believing is achieving. You just have to put in the time and effort, and you will.
David Gartland was born and raised on Long Island, New York, and has lived in central New Jersey since 1987. He earned a bachelor’s degree in math from the State University of New York at Cortland and holds various professional insurance designations. Dave’s property and casualty insurance career with different companies lasted 42 years. He’s been married 36 years, and has a son with special needs. Dave has identified three areas of interest that he focuses on to enjoy retirement: exploring, learning and accomplishing. Pursuing any one of these leads to contentment. His previous article was My Unemployed Life.