What Triathlon Has Taught Me About Pursuing Your Dreams

The key to self-acceptance comes from a person’s ability to persistently grow and improve. It comes from taking on new challenges and overcoming obstacles which were seemingly impossible. Happiness comes from the persistent pursuit of the unknown and progress towards a goal which is unattainable. It should come as no surprise that the happiest and most successful people in this world are those who consistently try, fail, persist, then overcome.  Although each challenge is unique over the course of their lives, they have developed a repeatable approach and a set of values that enable them achieve the impossible. While each person’s motivation, values and approach may be different due to the other beliefs and values, there is an overarching characteristic that is common across all these people – after truly deciding what they want, they try and then fail. From that failure, they learn and adjust – then they try and fail again. Then they learn and adjust – then they try and fail again, until they finally achieve their goal. And then they try and fail again.

When a person realizes that failure is not only acceptable, but necessary, their perspective on learning and growth becomes much different. Our society puts such a focus on flawless execution – our education system stresses our students to the point of nervous breakdowns and suicides, asserting that failure will constitute the end of the world. And yet failure is really the only way to growth and self-acceptance.

I have always been a rule-breaker, always seeking freedom from others’ power over me. Call me a rebel, call me anti-social, call me a people-hater and you would be wrong – I simply want my freedom from others’ expectations – this is my primary motivation. Unfortunately, society has brainwashed me like most others to believe that societal conformity and rule-following is necessary for survival in society. My internal battles with these paradoxical belief systems are visibly apparent in my lifestyle struggles and choices – I want to be considered a successful business man with all the luxuries and eccentricities of life, yet I dream of the cabin with no electricity in the middle of the woods. I attend debutante balls in the most formal black-tie attire and dance with the upmost elegance and formality, yet with the same people I dig latrines, poop in the woods, and don’t shower for weeks. I take on the most challenging part-time business school program in the nation, yet I criticize and bash institutional education.

Taking on the ironman was the first truly challenging goal that I decided to do for myself, instead of for others. And from that experience, I gained more knowledge and self-acceptance than any other difficult experience or pursued goal I have ever encountered. All of my seemingly praise-worthy accomplishments throughout my life, I never felt were truly deserved. The praising people around me mistook my humility for a false-sense of acceptance since I did not feel true ownership of the result. I did well in school because I was lead to believe by my upbringing of family and teachers that it was necessary to get good grades. But I never did extraordinarily well or really worked as hard as I could have because of my internal rejection of others’ peoples control over my life. Why should I truly dedicate myself to getting perfect grades in school if it wasn’t my choice to take ownership of it? Practicing piano for the sake of avoiding humiliation at a concert only motivates a person enough to not make noticeable mistakes.

And yet all of these sentiments and self-understanding only came when I did the opposite – when I decided that I wanted to do an ironman not for anyone else, and not because I wanted praise and attention from anyone else, but because I wanted to do it. I chose it, I took ownership, I decided, and I went for it.

I knew that it was impossible when I made the decision, but I had decided and I knew that I would do anything necessary to accomplish the goal that I set for myself. It would be OK to fail, because I knew that I would try as many times as necessary to reach the goal that I set for myself. I decided, and that was that – I was going to do an ironman.

Sports and athletic, physical pursuits are, in my opinion, the first step to self-realization. It forces an internal debate/ conversation between your body and your mind. It makes you realize that you can talk to yourself and convince yourself of anything. It makes you realize the power of mental fortitude. When forcing your physical body to experience pain and then changing your perspective on that pain to feel pleasurable is the most fundamental manner in which you can learn to program yourself. As you develop this power and control over conscious thought, you can program yourself to accomplish anything. There is always that fundamental voice in your head from our primal days of instituting fear of the unknown. Our brain sends our body signals saying to not take risks or set ourselves up for failure. But as soon as you develop your ability to ignore that part of your brain or at least harness it and realize it’s there, you gain incredible control over your own destiny and happiness. As soon as I realized that I can control the way my brain reacts to pain while training for the ironman, I became much more aware of how my brain reacts in everyday life. I realize that I chose not to follow through on new ventures because I feared failure. I took the easy way out by handing over control over my destiny to my bosses, my teachers, my parents, my friends. If I failed at something, it wasn’t my fault – I didn’t chose the goal, someone else did. Choosing your goal forces you to take ownership of your results, and then failure in front of people no longer matters.

There is an incredible amount of self-satisfaction in taking control over your own life, and accepting freedom from others’ control and influence over you. Your life becomes your own. Your guilt, your self-sabotage tendencies, your unhappiness, your stagnation and mediocrity all go away. Taking control of your own life gives you the ability to feel pride and satisfaction when you accomplish things, and not because others tell you that you are amazing – but because you did something that you didn’t think you could do. So go out there and fail, then fail again – I choose to fail.