When hitting your goal feels like a failure…and what to do about it

This month I completed my first Spartan Race Trifecta – which means that I finished three different race distances: Sprint (5km+), Super (12km+) and Beast 21km+) in one calendar year.

Woo hoo, right? Well done, Jennifer! Awesome job!

Regular readers know that I love Spartan Races (inclusion, diversity and CSR)! The last two years, some of my most memorable moments, greatest friendships and biggest laughs have come whilst Obstacle Course Racing. I’m a huge fan of the brand and the experience and always recommend the experience to others.

Getting a Trifecta should have been an amazing moment of pride for me.

But it wasn’t. When I reached the finish line, the achievement was not all it seemed.

A bit of back story: This was a goal that I had set myself in February 2019. I was specific that I wanted to do it in Japan and not travel overseas so I had a hard limit beyond my control in terms of timing and scheduling. I had “no choice” but to race Super in May, Sprint in July and the Beast in September.

Maybe it was because after 8 hours and 46 minutes of endless inclines at Gala Yuzawa Ski Slope, I was suffering from exhaustion so great that I had nothing left to celebrate with, but getting that medal was not all I imagined it to be.

I had made the plan. I had organised the logistics. I had trained regularly.

So why did I feel so empty?

After breaking it down with some self coaching processes, and with my own coach, these are my learnings about why sometimes achieving the goal is not as great as you thought.

  1. When my goal is purely about the outcome, I forget about the process and all the interesting growth and learning that comes with that. I didn’t get better at the obstacles, develop new skills or get any stronger. Was I a better Spartan at the end of the year? In honesty, I can’t say that I saw any change…and change was what I really wanted.
  2. When the stated goal is not really the goal that you want. This goal ticked all the SMART goal boxes but achieving it ended up feeling not that great. Why? Because it wasn’t really the goal – it was SMART but actually what I want for myself is health, strength, energy and growth.
  3. When I make the goal about the reward, the reward might not be as awesome as I expect. My medals are cool and yes, I can now connect the three parts together but, at the end of the day, it’s just stuff. How important is it for me to have a physical manifestation to validate and recognise my achievement? It’s lovely to look at but is it necessary.
  4. When I make the goal about ticking a box (do the three races) and forget to think about the why. It can feel empty to achieve the box ticking.
  5. I need to check in whether my goal is a “should goal” or a “gift goal” and reframe accordingly. I think I might have moved towards the “should goal” in this case.
  6. If FOMO is ruling my goal setting, I’m not sufficiently emotionally engaged to do the hard work.
  7. And maybe the most important point – have fewer expectations! Just be!

Completely fake smile for the cameras around 17km. Moments before I was scowling and nearly in tears. At the Dunk Wall, my nemesis, I had a full on breakdown and cried like a child.

So how about you? When did you hit a goal and go “huh? Is that it?” Do any of my learnings explain why you might feel that way? Would love to hear your comments and ideas.

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