When you combine a burning passion with a clear goal and add in a strong level of persistence, you will be able to achieve almost any goal you set.
My Olympic experience was a clear example of this. And surprisingly, it was not watching the amazing athletes move towards their goals (although these points would certainly be evidenced in many of their stories) rather it was the pursuit of a goal that my friends and I set out to achieve.
The event I most wanted to see at the Olympics occurred on the very first day of competition: The Cycling Men’s Road Race. The race contains the top professional cyclists, most of whom have just completed the Tour de France. At the Athens Olympics, the Road Race took place through the streets of downtown Athens past the Acropolis and other historic sites. The race had been sixteen laps so my friends and I wondered the course watching the athletes go past at a variety of key places and making sure we ended up at the finish line for the final lap. Athens was perfect for spectators as the race was very easy to watch.
Not so in Beijing. Everything about the race made it difficult for spectators. To start with, the official Olympic website was very vague about the race. In fact even now, after the Olympics have been completed, the venue information on the website shows the race as TBD (To Be Determined)! Eventually in the weeks leading up to the games a prominent cycling website posted the map. The race, of 245 kilometers, would start off in downtown Beijing and end at the Great Wall with 7 laps of a finishing circuit. Getting to the Great Wall has some challenges and can be fairly expensive on a normal day, but in the Olympics and when an event is happening made it seem nearly impossible.
Our pursuit of the goal of seeing the Road Race began almost as soon as we arrived in Beijing. My friend and I went to work trying to figure out how to get from downtown to the Great Wall. Our goal was to see the start of the race and then move out to the Wall to catch the finishing laps from a position along the track. Our first option was to find a bus or train that could take us there. We knew this would be the cheapest way, and from the Lonely Planet travel book we knew that a bus was supposed to go from near our hotel to this particular location on the Great Wall for only about $3 a person. I went to the bus stop and after scrounging for someone who spoke enough English to understand me and waiting as several Chinese volunteers worked to find the information, I discovered that the busses would not be running during the race. My friend found out the same information about the train.
We were not completely surprised by this, so we started looking at other options. We naturally thought about a taxi, and while taxis in Beijing are very inexpensive they have a maximum capacity of four and our group had five people wanting to see the race. Instead we started making use of all of our local contacts to find another option. Until the day before the event we did not have an option that would work. Thankfully our hotel manager came through and was able to arrange a minivan and driver for us to hire. The cost was higher than we would have hoped, but there was little other choice. The government restriction on vehicles (each vehicle could only drive every other day) had lowered the supply available thus increasing costs.
The day of the Road Race came and the real adventure began. Sure we had to have persistence to arrange for the vehicle and driver, but that was nothing compared to what was to come. The driver first took us to the Start Line where we had hoped to see the start of the race. Leading up to the Olympics everything published about the race stated that it was a “free event with no ticket required”. When we got to the start line we quickly found out that to the surprise of everyone except about 200 locals they had placed a ticked section around the immediate start line. We were there in plenty of time so we showed the volunteers the Official Olympic Guide Book where is stated clearly that there were “no tickets required”. We were shuffled from one volunteer to another as they each tried to find someone in authority that could help us get in. No one was able to make a decision and so they all stuck with the rule as they understood it. We needed a ticket.
The start of the Men's Road Race
Thankfully, I eventually found a local willing to give me a free ticket to the starting area. The rest of my team settled for watching the race start from about 500 meters down the course. Getting in to the ticketed section was amazing. I was able to watch the cyclists getting ready and warming up. Seeing many of my heroes up close like this was awesome. The cyclists were eventually introduced one country at a time and came out and took their positions at the start line. It was neat being able to watch them interact with each other while they waited for the full field to be announced and the race to start (about 15 minutes of a wait for the first riders to be introduced).
After the race began my friends and I reconnected and found our driver. We set off to get to the Great Wall. We had hoped that we might get to the primary road to the Wall before the cyclists did so that we could beat the road closures. Unfortunately we missed them by only a few minutes. As we were being forced off the road by the blockade we actually saw most of the riders enter the road up ahead of us. The road to the Great Wall was about 70 kilometers which meant that it would take the cyclists most of two hours to get there. We spent those two hours in our rented minivan with our driver trying anything he could to get us closer to the wall. Unfortunately all the traffic normally going on that road was trying the same thing and so we spent as much time sitting in traffic as moving.
Eventually our driver persisted and found us a way to get passed one set of blockades and to the town nearest the finish line. Unfortunately at this point all the roads were closed except to local traffic (and no taxis). We saw that other foreigners were getting out of their hired vehicles and taxis at this point and starting to walk so we had no choice but to join in. We realized very quickly that the finish line was still 8 kilometers (or 5 miles) away so it would be a long walk.
What would you do in a foreign country, where almost no one speaks your language and you need to get 8 kilometers as quickly as possible? Stick out your thumb and hitch hike of course! Almost immediately a local picked us up. I don’t think she had any idea about what we were doing or where we wanted to go but she did drive us a short distance until another road block stopped her. We got out and continued walking. After going the wrong way for about 10 minutes we eventually found ourselves on the correct road. At least we assumed it was the correct road because of the scattering of other foreigners walking towards the supposed cycling course.
The day was hot (close to 100 degrees) and very humid, and the road was uphill so the walk seemed to take forever. Occasionally a car would pass us and we’d try to hitch a ride. Every car seemed to be either already filled with foreigners who they had picked up, or was an official Olympic vehicle that was in no way going to stop for anyone. After about 45 minutes of walking we were finally picked up by a local. She drove us rapidly towards the Great Wall. We quickly became very thankful for the ride as we realized that it would have taken at least another hour to walk that distance.
Even after arriving at the course things were difficult. The spectators were restricted to a small section of the course and were not allowed to walk the entire course as we had hoped. We didn’t care too much by this time. Our adventure had taken us by rented minivan, hitch hiking through a foreign country, and through a long walk. The section we were at was a great spot to watch the race come through and we made it just in time to see the second of the seven laps. We didn’t miss much and had an amazing adventure to go with it.
Looking up the course to the Great Wall
That night I reflected on what it took to achieve that goal. The day was a success but it didn’t come easily. In fact the adventure we went through became as important to us as the race itself. By the end of the Olympics we all chose that day as our highlight. Success truly was a journey more than just a destination.
The first key was that we had a clear goal. We knew exactly what we wanted to achieve. Not only did we have a goal but we had a high level of passion to achieve it. How passionate about your goal are you? If we didn’t have a strong passion to achieve our goal we could have given up at many points. Thirdly we committed ourselves to achieving the goal. After we spent the money on the car and driver we were committed. We had spent the money and were going to get our money’s worth – no matter what we had to do to get there. Finally we had persistence. We never gave up. We moved passed the each obstacle that was presented to us.
What is your goal? Take your goal and get clarity. Develop a deep passion to achieve your goal and you will do everything you can to achieve it.
Have a great day!
The Success Professor
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