To Plan, or Not to Plan

I often tell people that a big reason I was able to make a lot of progress in a short time with rowing was because I had a very specific plan. It’s true, I broke down the time between beginning to learn how to row and the 2012 Olympics into several mini-goals within the big goal of getting on that Olympic podium. In 2009, the goal was to learn how to row well enough to participate in the national championship later that fall. In 2010 the goal was to perform well at the nationals and earn a development funding card. Then I would receive $900/month to offset my cost of living expenses while I trained with the team full time in 2011. Once I had made the team, the goal was to switch from sculling to sweeping and establish myself as a top sweeper in the program.  After Kevin Light (08′ gold medalist) and I did well in a pairs time trial, the goal was earning a spot in the eight for the first World Cup in 2011.  And so on and so forth.

I also put in place a financial plan in advance of these performance goals. While training on my own for two years and learning the fundamentals of rowing, I saved every penny of my discretionary income from my full time job with TD Bank. I knew that if I made the team in 2011, I would need about $10,000 to cover off my living expenses beyond what my Sport Canada funding would cover as a development athlete. I also knew in 2011 that I needed to make the men’s eight team within seven months, so that I could compete with them internationally that year. Then hopefully, we would perform well enough for me to earn a senior funding card from Sport Canada, keeping me in a break-even financial situation instead of going into debt leading into the Olympics. Having a financial plan was as much about athletic performance as it was about personal finance because I knew any financial worries would have a negative impact on my focus during training.

But there were many other aspects of my Olympic experiment that did not go to plan. My progress in training was not the smooth progression that it may look like; it was erratic and forced me to let go of day-to-day performance goals–the anxiety was killing me–and think only about getting on with the next workout. A lot of the planning that got me there was on the fly. I’d think, Ok, my back is out again and I’ve got a two kilometer ergometer test in four days… how do I manage this? So yes, I had an overarching plan, but much of the daily grind of seeing it through was reactionary. A well thought out plan is necessary at the beginning to be sure your goal is attainable, but once you’re into it you must be willing to adapt. It will never turn out quite how you imagined in your big plan.


 

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

-Robert Burns, To a Mouse (Poem, November, 1785)