15 August 2008

On Time and Experience

I recently watched an interview with Bob Bowman, Michael Phelps' swim coach. While the training and preparation for the Olympics was the intended focus, there was one question and answer that stayed with me. (I'm paraphrasing the interview here.)

The interviewer asked Bowman "You discovered Michael when he was eleven and had never coached Olympic-level swimmers previously. How did you know that you could?"

Bowman replied, "Well, first you have to understand that that was twelve years ago."

The conversation moved on at that point, but to me, his meaning was clear. Twelve years of learning and growth and change and challenges were necessary to get to the point where Bowman is the coach of one of the most elite athletes in history. It's well-known that Bowman recognized Michael's rare talent and competitive spirit upon first meeting him, but did he imagine just how extraordinary Michael would become?

Regardless of what his earliest vision was, Bowman's response shows his understanding that time and experience are necessary to achieve great things.

I am beginning to learn that myself. Throughout my life I've set what appear to be unrealistic goals, at least from the position I was starting at. I would compare where I was to where I wanted to be and despair at the enormous gap. I believed my goals to be impossible and would cast them aside.

But I've changed. I am still setting goals (and they are no less ambitious), but now I believe that I can actually achieve them. Why? Because I've learned the value of time and experience. I don't expect to immediately climb to the summit of a mountain while I'm still learning to crawl. But I can see a progression: I need to learn to crawl, then walk, hike, and climb small hills before I can even attempt that mountain.

I may or may not ever reach that peak, but that doesn't really matter. Isn't the journey--rather than the destination--the point of life anyway? And if I achieve something great along the way, well, that's even better. But I'll enjoy the journey either way.

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