The Verrazano was beautiful—the Atlantic on one side, the Hudson on the other. She whistled as gusts of wind raced between her upper and lower decks. And there, on those decks, over 50,000 of us ran the first few miles of the New York City Marathon.
For most of us, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge stretch was not our finest hour. It was frigid and windswept, and mists of urine from runners on the upper deck intermittently engulfed those unlucky few who decided to run near the outside of the bridge. The view was beautiful though. And we had a goal—a goal that kept us going no matter what.
The point of sharing this is not to flaunt our accomplishment, our athleticism, or our drive. (Social media is a fine outlet to let the popular kids from your seventh grade physical education class know that you ran a marathon, even if you could not finish a mile back then.) The point isn’t even necessarily that the journey was powerful and exciting. The point is the destination, the goal. And the collective consciousness of the runners of the New York City Marathon had but one—to be finishers.
When a person hears that you have run a marathon, he or she invariably asks, “What was your time?” This is a fine question. But I don’t think it gets to what really makes a finisher proud. I crossed the finish line after four hours, 48 minutes, and 36 seconds—slower than the average marathon time—but what mattered more to me is the 26 miles and 385 yards I ran in that time. What mattered more was the goal.
Getting there was crucial, of course. That’s where all of the growth happened. But what gave my marathon journey meaning was my final achievement: that when I crossed the finish line, I would enter the ranks of men and women who had successfully run hours for the sole purpose of covering an arbitrary, too-long distance.
26.1 just would not have cut it, and 26.3 would not have added much. The journey would have been much the same for either of those goals. But my goal was 26.2 miles, and that defined the journey to the finish line. To some, those 26.2 miles mean that they can accomplish anything they set their mind to. To others, those 26.2 mean another item crossed off their bucket list. For me, 26.2 meant that I control my own fate.
Crossing the finish line, I was hit with two distinct emotions. One was absolute rapture, and the other was uncertainty. We had crossed the finish line, what next? The post-marathon blues hit me hard, and forced me to question if I need goals in my life to keep me moving forward. What if I stagnate after college, with no goals in mind, just going through the motions of life?
Finishing the marathon taught me that the destination can give the journey meaning. It taught me that the way I envision the future changes the way I experience the present.
Setting goals is hard. Sometimes we pick bad ones, like goals with little behind them but a desire for recognition—an enviable social life or a prestigious career, perhaps. Other times, we fixate too narrowly upon our goals, and our tunnel vision causes us to treat other people as a means to an ambitious end, or even to neglect our self-care. And there are even goals we might not recognize because we make them subconsciously: to be happy, to get through a rough day, to support a friend to achieve one of their goals.
But no matter the goal, goal-setting itself lays the ground for a rewarding journey. Even as goals change—and boy do my goals change often—they frame our direction and growth. Goals guide much of our action, and they help us gauge whether things are going well or not. In order to know ourselves, we should think about what we are trying to achieve. With what intention do we act? What is our present purpose? Our goals reflect our values—and if some of them do not, then it’s worth noting that too.
When the runners of the 45th crossed the line, we were glad the race had happened, but mostly we were glad it was over. We did what mattered. We finished.
Samir H. Durrani ’17 is a Crimson editorial writer living in Currier House.
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