Pursuing Failed Goals
A recent running experience teaches me about engaging with past goals.
Failed Goal: a personal ambition that was not reached because of a lack of individual effort and was therefore dropped continuous pursuit.
The Falcon Loop
In 2019 I turned thirty. It felt like a milestone event, so I wanted to do something that created an experience that would make the event stick out in my memories. I came up with running the 13-mile Falcon Loop trial in the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. I failed to reach it because I didn’t prepare enough to be able to complete the task on my birthday. My excuse was probably along the lines of “I can do this later.”
Running that specific trail had been in my mind sense, I started training for a marathon in 2015. I have no personal connection to the place, but the trail looked challenging and noteworthy. It was also far enough away that I would have to plan to make it happen. I didn’t run it during my marathon training in 2015, yet that’s when I set it in my mind as something I’d like to do. 2020 came; I ran with no plan, so hitting the Falcon Loop never crossed my mind. In 2021 I picked up thoughtful running again, so I entertained the idea of reaching back to that personal goal, but decided to keep it in the closet of failed attempts. In 2022, I decided to run a local half marathon in early May. It was a great experience, and I fell into a pretty steady training cycle. It felt natural to reach back to the three-year goal and make it happen.
In June of 2022, I ran the Falcon Loop. The realities of planning around a demanding set of work deliverables and traveling with a family meant that I ran the loop from 12-3 pm in what had to be close to 100-degree weather. I ran out of water about halfway through, felt the threatening physical force of heat exhaustion, dealt with leg cramps and lightheadedness, and ended up walking close to half the total distance. I had prepared well for the distance and got my ass kicked by the heat. By the end, it was just about getting out without passing out. Details aside, it happened. I made it around the loop. It provided a slightly frightening but memorable experience. Plus, that goal of three years was accomplished.
Completing a Failed Goal
I expected to feel an added sense of accomplishment or satisfaction from reaching back and completing a past goal. The experience has been on my mind for years. I committed to doing it and made it happen. That has to mean I’m a more direct or self-motivated person than I was in years past. Yet what I feel about the event is mixed and lead me to ponder the value of approaching the lost goals of sorts.
Do your failed goals matter?
It depends, right. The most correct and simultaneously least satisfactory answer there is. If I’d had to pick, I’d say that running the Falcon Loop made me switch my side on this hypothetical question. I don’t think past failed goals matter and here is why.
Failure associate: Failed goals represent an obvious failure. Therefore, many negative emotions and memories are connected to those experiences. Reengaging with those goals requires that you parse through those negative emotions. While this can be beneficial, it does have a cost. The whole time I was planning the Falcon Loop run, I kept fighting against that feeling that I should have done this right the first time.
What’s the actual goal: Engaging with a failed goal has the potential to flip your motivation from completing the goal at hand to trying to rewrite past mistakes. It’s very easy to fool yourself into believing that you are doing this for the same reasons you set the goal in the first place. I didn’t realize this till after the run, but I saw this effort through to bring closure. That’s a fine thing to do, but it’s a very different goal than the one I started out with.
Is it a persistent goal? As its name implies, a failed goal is something that you sought out and give up on seeking out. If you didn’t, then it’s just a current unobtained goal. If the goal is not with you over time, it means you have changed as a person, so a failed goal can’t mean the same thing it did when you set it.
All this leads me to believe that I was lying to myself about what this was really about. I wasn’t seeking this running out an interesting place to pursue a training run or a celebration of a milestone birthday. It was about proving that my ability to do something when I committed to it has improved. Not understanding my real motive going into the experience meant my motivations and expectations were all off. I was seeking something like revenge which, having fooled myself into doing, leaves a sour taste.
- Achieving failed goals will give you the same reward you would have experienced had you completed them the first time.
- Failed goals come with the baggage of negative emotions.
- Failed goals are things that you gave up on at some point. Saying you’ve had a goal for three years when you haven’t worked toward that goal for most of that time is a lie.
- Persistent goals can be maintained for years if you consistently apply effort to them. Effort ensures that you are changing with your goals, and the meaning behind the goal will still reflect who you are once you accomplish it.