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A Game of Inches

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The day was getting hot and people were starting to slow down. I had recently completed the first mile of the five-mile race when I spotted it. The dreaded bucket carry was the next obstacle. Each athlete had to fill a bucket to the top with rocks, secure a firm grip around it, and carry it down and up a steep hill. Of course, the requirement was that we first carry the bucket down the hill, so by the time it had to be carried back up, there was virtually no strength left in anyone’s arms. It was one of the toughest obstacles of my second Spartan Race this past Sunday.

While I was walking up the hill, with the bucket squeezed tightly between my arms, I tried not to allow any negative self-talk to enter my mind. I had resolved before the race started that no matter what, I would press on, but when a human being is hot, thirsty and tired, negativity has its way of burrowing into the mind. “The hill is too steep!” “There is no way!” “Are they serious?” These were a few of the phrases I heard from those around me, and like crabs in a bucket, I started to notice everyone being dragged down by the persistent negative talk. Some people were spilling rocks, some were collapsing, and some were simply standing, staring and breathing heavily, probably thinking to themselves, “What in the world am I doing here?” But as I continued the climb, I suddenly heard a man shout from the top of the hill, “Come on, Spartans! You are almost there! Every step you take brings you closer to the top!” I thought about that phrase for a few minutes. “Every step you take brings you closer to the top.” How brilliant. That man is right, I thought to myself. As long as I keep taking steps towards the top, however small those steps may be, eventually I will make it to the top of this hill. Even if I have to occasionally stop to catch my breath, or allow the bucket to temporarily rest on my knee, as long as I keep moving forward, I will get there.

Often in life, people quit pursuing a goal because it seems unachievable. Perhaps it is too large, complex or difficult. However, if people would just realize that life, much like a Spartan Race obstacle, is a game of inches, perhaps they would not be so easily dissuaded. Step by step, inch by inch, they can get there. A number of years ago, I remember hearing Anthony Robbins, the famous life coach and personal development guru, say that people often overestimate what can be achieved within a year, but majorly underestimate what can be achieved within one decade. No matter what the goal, if it is broken down into small manageable steps, eventually, through hard work and persistence, it can be achieved. For example, learning all of the Talmudic tractates might seem like a lofty or even unachievable goal, but once it is broken down into one folio a day, suddenly that goal can be achieved within seven years. Putting money aside for a vacation or investing may sound impossible to many, but when a percentage of one’s income, no matter how small, is put aside from every paycheck, that goal can eventually be achieved as well. Losing 20 pounds would not sound attainable to most, but as long as an exercise plan is in place, calories are tracked, and self-discipline is maintained, many dietitians say that losing one pound a week is realistic. This strategy is a critical component in academic success as well. In graduate school I learned that a student who reads 20 minutes per night, five times per week, will have read for 21,600 minutes by the end of sixth grade! That is the equivalent of 60 school days of reading!

Aristotle, arguably the wisest philosopher who ever lived said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.” Goal setting, which is the foundation of success in any area of life, is a practical tool for realizing one’s potential and achieving one’s dreams. The advice is simple, but powerful. After setting a goal, resolve to take one step every day towards realizing it.

After making it to the top of the hill, I took a deep breath, put my bucket down for the next athlete, and ran on to the next obstacle. I did not see the man who yelled out those encouraging words of wisdom. I do not know his name, so I will never be able to thank him for helping me make it to the top of the hill that day. I do know, however, that those words will forever remain embedded in my mind. Every step you take brings you closer to the top. Step by step, inch by inch, the sky is the limit.

By Yaakov Samuels

Yaakov Samuels teaches history at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School.

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