You’ve probably heard the old adage, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” It’s a great way to look at a giant goal and realize that you have to break it down into much smaller chunks.
Many of you followed my progress last semester as I went from Couch to 5K. Once I finished that program I set a goal for myself to run at least one 5K race per month for the rest of the year. And I’ve been doing that (with the exception of August due to scheduling challenges), with my most recent race being this past Sunday. And Sunday’s race was a game changer for me. It’s the first 5K race that I’ve run the whole way through. No walking breaks. Just slow and steady jogging from start to finish. That’s been a goal for me all summer. I feel like I just finished a chunk of my elephant. And now I can move forward to the next goal of increasing my distance so I can move on to a 10K next year. (And yes…my elephant is a 26.2 mile marathon. Someday.)
Many financial goals seem monumental at first. Repaying student loans. Repaying a car loan. Paying off a credit card debt. Saving up enough money for a down payment on a house. Saving for retirement. These are all really big goals. Elephant size. So it makes sense to break them down into smaller chunks. Set your sights on an intermediate goal, such as “I will pay off $1,000 of my credit card debt this year.” It’s not the whole elephant. But it’s a significant chunk. And when you achieve that intermediate goal, you feel good about yourself and want to work harder toward the next intermediate goal.
One bite at a time. Slow and steady. It’s the only way to get there.
Many of my regular readers have been following my progress as I moved from Couch to 5K and toward my first real 5K race. That race (the PILF Race Judicata) happened yesterday. And I finished. I’ve been working and working and working toward the goal of running this race, and I have actually achieved my goal. Was it perfect? Certainly not. Several times I slowed from a jog to a walk to regain some stamina. But I never stopped. And I jogged much more than I walked. And I finished somewhere in the middle of the pack. I have every reason to feel proud of what I have accomplished. And I was so excited by my success that I already signed up to do another race next weekend.
Putting in hard work to achieve a goal is something that you will do over and over throughout life. Many of these goals will be financial. Save up a down payment for a house. Pay off your car loan. Pay off your credit card debt. Pay off your student loans. Save enough money for retirement. These are all fairly long term goals. They will require you to slowly and consistently work toward them. It’s not always easy. Sometimes you want to run toward the finish line, but the reality is that you have to walk for a little while. But the important thing is that you keep moving forward. You keep putting at least something in savings. You keep making at least the minimum payments. You keep your eye on the finish line. And eventually you achieve the goal.
When I started my first 5K race yesterday, I kept telling myself that I was already doing better than most people because I was there. I had put in the work and set the goal, and I was ready to try. And I kept moving forward.
Set your financial goal. Put in the work. And keep moving forward at whatever pace you can. You don’t need to finish first. You do, however, need to show up and keep moving forward until you reach the goal.