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The loneliness of pursuing a goal

“If you want to be successful, you will have to learn to disappear for a while”

I’ve heard this quote over the years, but never quite grasped the meaning of it; until I later realized what it actually takes to be successful. I realized the extent of the sacrifice, the amount of hard work it takes, the dedication and commitment that is required, and the attitude of leaving no stone unturned that is demanded by your goals. Another crucial factor in this equation is the type of people you allow around you on this journey – this will play a big part in this.

Cycling is already a lonely sport; you train alone, suffer alone, and often on a hard day you are left only with your own thoughts for company. There’s no team to hide behind, and no little tricks to get you out of a tough place. The road doesn’t get flat because you are getting dropped, the wind doesn’t stop blowing because your legs are sore, and the required power to turn the pedals doesn’t magically get less when you want it to.

Burton Witbooi

I’ll use the example of a track sprinter out of personal experience. I think sprinting more than most disciplines in cycling is especially individual, and more so lonely. Each effort is maximal and only you can get that out of yourself. You’ll spend hours alone at the track in between efforts, hundreds of monotonous reps at the gym trying to get that 1% gain in strength, and need discipline on your slow recovery rides that no enduro will join you on. Even if you have other sprinters for company, you’re still alone on this journey. In sprinting there’s no back up, and the race happens so fast it’s done before you even realize it. Sprinting is 100% up to you!

Another example is of working family man training for the Cape Epic. You’re someone with a full time job, a family, and responsibilities; yet you have the guts to take on this challenge. It requires years of hard training, for you it’ll be early mornings and late evenings, it’ll be time spent away from your family, it’ll be pressure from work, and it’ll be the self-doubt and second guessing the decision along the journey. But when you get through the 8 days of pain, it’ll all be worth it, and you will not be the same person. You’ll end up stronger than ever before, and be inspiration to your family and friends.

Nate Koch by Drew Kaplan

On this journey to your goals, you’ll soon start to find that you’re losing friends; you have no time for fun and other activities other than what it takes to achieve your goals. The commitment required is so huge; there is simply no other option. The simple fact is that your priorities have shifted.

Due to the commitment and focus you have, you’ll soon start to realize you are receiving more criticism and judgment from others than ever before. From some people you’ll start to receive less support; and from other who you might not have expected it from, you’ll receive support like family. It’s truly a time of sacrifice, with the only thing on your mind – a goal!

“They want you to do good, just not as good as them”

What you’ll also notice is that the greater your goals, the larger extent these effects will have on you.

But why? What is the reason? Well, simply put – you change, you grow, you move forward on the journey. On this path you can’t hold onto the past and look back, you are moving forward, and fast! You need to realize the person who you currently are is not going to achieve your goals, it’s the person you are becoming that will achieve them.

“Change is hard in the beginning, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end”
– Robin Sharma

I think it’s important to understand that it’s okay to experience these almost “birth pains” on your journey, it means you are on the right path, and growing into your full potential as an athlete. It’s okay to outgrow friends, situations, places, etc. You are evolving, and that after all is the purpose of setting and pursuing goals: to transcend who you once were. That in my opinion is the definition of success.

Hendrik Grobbelaar by Robert Ward

If you can understand this, you’ll understand the importance of perseverance; this could be your only chance at achieving them, you need to immense yourself fully and make sure you have no regrets; but most importantly to embrace this journey. Just a few weeks ago, Azizul Awang won Malaysia’s first gold medal at the UCI track world championships in Hong Kong. After he won, still out of breath, the first words he uttered were, “I’ve waited 10 years for this moment”. How inspirational, a man who has been grinding at it for 10 years, come closer than a tire width to gold, made sacrifices few would make, and defied the odds due to his small size, can stand on the podium after a journey like that.

Not everyone has the privilege to have a goal, and the desire to actually go after it. You my friend are truly living!

Here are some practical applications to help you as an athlete get through tough times of loneliness and stay focused on your goals:

  • Make sure you have a clear action plan, one that you can go back to time after time for reassurance and guidance that you are on the right path. At times you will want to quit and doubt yourself, go back to the plan, re-focus on the goal, and carry on.
  • Don’t read too much into other people opinions, criticism or even praise. Focus on yourself, your own actions, and your own goals.
  • If you notice you’re losing some of your current friends, re-cap with old friends and family that matter to you, and that support your goals. Build your own support network, and be picky about it.
  • If you notice you’re changing, your interests, your perspectives, your opinions, etc., embrace it. It means you’re growing, and stepping further towards your goals. The worse it is, the greater the goals, and the closer you are to achieving them.
  • Free yourself from any negative person or situation, or anything that is hindering you from achieving your goals.
  • Find things that help you to relax, obviously things like drinking or high intensity activities won’t work (the latter maybe in the off season), but you can find new hobbies. Some pro cyclists have found interest in coffee and making movies.
  • Don’t forget the balance in your life, in between your training and other responsibilities (here’s the balance), find time to reflect on the process and the progress you’ve made. If you’ve neglected people, catch up; and if you need help, ask.
  • Realize and understand the privilege you have of having goals and the ability you have to go after them. Whether you achieve them or not, it’s a privilege simply to go take the risk and go after them.
  • Most importantly, enjoy every moment of it; you’re making memories that will last a life time!

I hope the above helps you in some small way to help you stay on your path. Remember it’s a personal journey to your personal goals. If you’re sitting alone, feeling lonely with only the thoughts of your goals to keep you company, reading and relating to this, maybe you should learn to like yourself a little more! And if anyone asks you how much you’d bet on yourself, go all in!

Matthew de Freitas

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