Monday, January 9, 2017

Preparation, planning, and gates

In the new year I have a couple of "new" projects, some are "assigned" to me because of my existing responsibilities and others are my interests - being consistent with content for this Blog is indeed one of these projects. Last year at this time I had a single new project that required months of preparation, steady improvement, and the anxiety of the last few days before completion. My work preparing was constantly evolving in its nature - some days it was long and some days it was short. The long days were long - hours long, and the short days were heavy days - with taxing activities that wear you out. I was preparing to walk the Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP) from the South Rim to the North Rim and back (r2r2r)- in a single day (under 24 hours was our goal). I had a team (family members), and we worked together in preparing for the endurance and the logistics of the endeavor.

As I have begun 2017 and the "new" projects I want to accomplish this year, I have compared the effort for last year's singular big project to this year's endeavors, not for the enormity of the task but for how to allocate time, learn from my progress, adjust for time available, and enjoy the feeling of preparation becoming success. Already this year I have had to adjust my expectations of my timelines, just as I did last year in preparing for a 46 mile one day hike. Hiking the GCNP in a r2r2r manner includes 22-thousand feet of elevation change, over 100-thousand steps, more than 12-thousand calories burned during the day, beginning in darkness, and ending in darkness. As we planned for our hike we took all of these elements into consideration and trained for them. The three of us were in very different states of physical conditioning - mine being the worst, or least fit. My brother had recently completed an Iron Man triathlon and my son had completed his 10-week USMC OCS course at Quantico. I had been walking the dogs twice a day for several years.

I have trained and competed in distance races in the past, so I knew there was plenty of hard work ahead. I got a strength training plan from my son, he is finishing his Exercise Physiology degree and knows "a little" about conditioning and getting in shape. I also knew that if you want to prepare for a long walk, you had better get some miles on your feet. According to my Fitbit I walked over 1,000 miles in preparation for this 46-mile "hike" - including the day I went up-down Stone Mountain in Atlanta continuously for 10 trips. Stone Mountain is a 2 mile round trip hike up and back down the mountain, with 600' of elevation gain to the top, so 10-up downs is 20 miles with 6,000' of elevation gain (almost 1.2 miles) and 6,000' of elevation loss. I climbed stadium steps at my gym for hours, with a 30 pound sandbag on my shoulders. I climbed a stair climber on multiple occasions for 2 hours at a 15-degree incline going 3.4 mph - wearing a 20 pound sandbag. I walked 30 miles in a day - several times. I got blisters, I got hungry, I ate energy bars, fig newtons, jerky, fruit, peanut butter, snickers bars...I built a foundation of strength, endurance, and experience that I could leverage.

All of this leads up to my point, I learned in 2016 that if you want to achieve big goals you have to have a plan and work the plan. You will have frustrating days (rain), you will have days where you can't get done what your plan calls for (travel, sickness) - but in the end, if you are consistent in working your plan then the achievement of your goal is a foregone conclusion of success. All goals have gates and measures of success or lack thereof. When you reach your gates and measure your progress as success, then you are on track. If you reach your gate and measure your progress as "not" being the success you anticipated, do you quit? This depends, are you turning in a proposal the next day or are you learning a new skill?

Building endurance is a very different "exercise" than learning a new skill, or deciding if your team has the right solution, pricing, positioning, and so forth to compete for a sale. BUT...the gates you set for measuring your progress toward a goal AND the fact that you have gates are the key to your success. Sometimes success is NOT finishing - if two weeks before my GCNP hike I was not able to go up/down Stone Mountain 10-times without "much" challenge then I should know I am not ready for this challenge. I may have been stronger, fitter, and prepared for a 30-mile walk in the Georgia Mountains, but not for the endurance needed at GCNP. This is what I have figured out about my current projects. I cannot complete these projects sooner than I prepare to complete then. I cannot just dive in without a plan and expect success. I cannot finish sooner than I am ready!

I spent several hours this weekend trying to figure out how to create directories and files on my Mac using Python. I know I will need this programming competency to finish one of my 2017 projects. I have found several tutorials on YouTube to teach me Python, I have a 30-year old degree in Computer Science, I should be able to dive right in and figure this out...the same way that my 50+ year of walking upright prepared me for a r2r2r at GCNP. This is what I learned - just because I know where I want to be, does not mean I can get there with short-cuts, without putting in the work to learn, prepare, and practice. I'm going back to the tutorials for the rest of January to establish a foundation upon which I can build. I am going to practice, make mistakes, have "ah-hah" moments, and enjoy the process of learning and preparing.

It is as much the journey as the destination - and the preparation along the way will make the outcome all the better.

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