President's Letter: What Running Taught Me About Accomplishing Goals

March 8, 2022

This may come as a surprise to some of you, but I have never been very proficient at goal management. Now don’t get me wrong, I have goals. In both my professional and personal life, I have a vision and mental list of things I wish to accomplish. But despite having taken classes on SMART goals and being shown how to create a goal book or vision board, employing those goal management techniques has not been a strong suit of mine. I never connected with the techniques or found them necessary – until I committed to running a half marathon.

One of my son’s teachers recently shared an article called “The Praise Paradox.” It explores the unintended consequences of praising kids for being “smart.” When kids do something well and we call them “smart,” we are creating a mental connection between intelligence and success.  Though the label is intended to build confidence, it creates a diminishing perception of the value of effort. Further, kids who are “smart” often breeze through school without having to exert much effort, reinforcing the concept that success is a factor of intelligence rather than putting in the work.

We see a similar parallel with star-athletes – the ones labeled as naturally talented. Like smart kids, talented athletes often don’t have to try as hard to be exceptional in their respective sport, especially when they are young. When these smart kids, or talented athletes, experience challenge or failure, they are often less equipped with the techniques to keep pushing forward. Even if they’ve been introduced to good study habits or programs to develop their talent, without needing those techniques throughout their lives, the skills to study or practice often have not been developed.

I believe this concept applies to goal management as well. Those who have been relatively “successful” may be less apt to feel goal setting techniques are necessary for their success. I can personally relate to this notion. Throughout my time in academia, I was told I would succeed because I was “smart.” I have sat through goal-setting seminars subconsciously thinking, “I don’t need to do that” as it related to a specific technique to achieve success. I say this now not to be braggadocios, but rather to explore the limitations created by valuing talent over effort.

Back to running… In my January letter, I shared my sister-in-law convinced me to run a half-marathon with her. As a non-runner and with only eight weeks to train, this commitment forced me to practice goal management techniques. I set a specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound goal: on February 27, I would complete the 13.1-mile race within the 16 minute / mile time restriction. I read marathon training programs and developed a plan to go from 0 – 13.1 miles. I shared my goal and took steps to prevent excuses from limiting my training.

After a couple of weeks of training, I found myself in awe of the power of the human mind (and body). Each time I went for a run, I had specific distance and time frame in mind, and each time my mind willed my body to go the distance within the time allotted. I am happy now to report I did complete my goal! I finished the half-marathon on time and I am now looking forward to signing up for another race.

Speaking of goals, I wish to take a minute here to acknowledge the FNGLA CEO Search Committee. In August 2021, this group of individuals came together and set a goal to have a CEO recommendation to the Board of Directors in time for the February 2022 Board meeting. I am happy to report they accomplished that goal. Through their hard work and dedication to the process, we are blessed to have gained Talmadge “Tal” Coley as the next CEO for FNGLA.

Please consider joining me at the 2022 Annual Convention to welcome Tal at his first major FNGLA event.


Sara Spatola

Not an FNGLA Member?