Placemat planning

Sitting in the restaurant, I noticed the green light flashing on my phone. I continued the conversation I was having with my parents while gracefully checking my message. It was from my good friend Hitch who was racing in Maine and had been texting back and forth while he waited for official results. And then came the news: With his second-overall finish in the amateur field he had qualified for his pro card (or elite membership status) with USA Triathlon. I believe I raised my arms in a celebratory motion and let out a hoot and a hollar. My parents were excited, too, and we did toasted Hitch. This was big. This was huge. This was a plan coming together.

And it didn’t come together easily.

A few days later, Hitch and I had lunch so I could hear all about the race. He was excited and happy, but not giddy and as he took me through the race he kept noting all the places he could have done better, all the areas he needs to work on. All the things that are going to come.

“I know I need to take some to really enjoy this,” he said. I’m pretty sure I may have said “YES!” a bit too loudly. (I’m noticing a pattern here.) I took a minute to recount for Hitch all he has endured over the last few months. Hitch is one of my best friends and I’ve seen what he’s gone through in pursuit of his dreams, including this step of getting his pro card. Several times we’ve engaged in what I call “placemat life planning.” Here’s how that goes: We meet up for lunch or dinner (block out a good 2-3 hours for this) and we start talking. We vent frustrations. We mention successes. We dream. We dream big. It’s one of the best parts of my friendship with Hitch — no dream sounds silly or ridiculous. It’s not what we want that needs tweaking. It’s that sometimes we need to find a new route on the map. And sometimes the best way to discover that new route is with a friend in a gluten-free friendly restaurant. (See: Hitch and his many nutritional requirements.) After talking about our big dreams we flip over a placemat and start brainstorming. We get out our smartphones and look up details. We start creating a plan.

It was through one of these placemat planning sessions that I knew what Hitch was up against this year. But he stayed focused. He was dedicated. He loved what he was doing, even on the days when it was hard and frustrating and demoralizing. Easy days easy. Hard days hard. He worked with what life gave him and moved forward.

So as he was breaking down his race and what he needs to do for next season, I gently reminded him that what he did in Maine was incredible. Yes, for sure, take time to learn from the experience. But first and foremost, embrace what you just did. The goal wasn’t performance. It wasn’t to hold a certain power number on the bike or run a certain split. The goal was to qualify for a pro card. Mission accomplished. And I can tell you from where I sat watching, that wasn’t an easy get. This is no time to discount anything with “yeah buts” or a gaze to the future. This is a time to be present and celebrate your awesomeness.

Of course, I can see this in Hitch because I do the same thing. Goal reached? Great. Now what? Because you could do so much better. But part of the fun of reaching our goals, part of the journey in fact, is the celebration when you’ve reached them. Because everyone dreams. But too few of us allow ourselves to take that next step beyond dreaming, into believing, into allowing ourselves to choose the person we want to be. I have an amazing group of friends who remind me daily that I get to make my own choices, the ones which allow me to fulfill the deepest capacity of my real self. I know they’ll have my back. But more importantly, I know they’ll be there to turn cartwheels with me when I’ve reached one of my goals. They’ll be plenty of time of more placemat planning. But first, we celebrate with cake.

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