The Possibilities Are Endless

“The thing I admire about you is that you can do anything you set your mind to.”

This was something my sister told me about 5 years ago, when I had just completed my first 100-mile ultramarathon. She thinks it’s a combination of luck and determination, but she was unaware of the most important part to my success…

I had slowly built up my training miles from a strong marathon foundation, slowly increasing to longer 40-50 mile training runs. I studied nutrition and blister repair. I practiced running while cold, wet, and sleep deprived. I monitored my body and learned everything about each muscle and joint.  I even learned techniques for recovering from temporary low morale.  But all of this hard work and dedication wasn’t enough. All of this preparation only got me to mile 70, a point where over 50% of the field had already dropped out of the race due to the grueling conditions.

All of this training would have been for nothing had I not done the single most important step in my training: I made the decision that running 100 miles was a worthwhile pursuit and that it was possible.

At mile 70, I was trudging up a 3 mile long hill that was at a 15% slope (if you want to feel what 15% is like, you can get on a treadmill and turn it to it’s steepest incline). The hill was made up of smooth wet rocks, causing me to regularly slip and fall. My leg muscles were weak and throbbing, and I had no skin on several of my toes causing a pain so intense I lack the writing skills to describe it. But as I slowly made my way up that mountain, I reminded myself that I had a choice.  Since I had decided that finishing the race was possible, now I just had to make the choice of whether I was willing to endure the pain required for me to finish.  Nothing short of a broken bone could take that choice away from me. And so I spent the next several hours in severe pain and mental torture – but I finished. And the accomplishment has made me a far stronger person than I could have ever imagined I’d be.

Deciding that something is possible is exactly what makes it possible. Conversely, if you decide something is too difficult or impossible, then it is. This is an incredible power that is so often wasted.

When I started my career, I decided that becoming a lead engineer within 5 years was a worthwhile goal and that it was possible. It required an unprecedented career trajectory at my company, but I believed I could do it. Not because I’m smarter, but because I had such a strong belief in the possibilities.

When I was 22, I decided that it was possible to retire with a savings of 2 million dollars by age 40, while doing it all on an engineering salary. I remember saying this at a party with some co-workers and they laughed. “Wait until you have kids” they all said. My goals have changed, but I’ve proven that hitting $2M would have been very easy if I were to stay in engineering. Instead, I’ve changed my goals to something I believe is far better.

At the beginning of this year, I decided it was possible to reduce my expenses down to less than 50% of the expenses I was currently living on. And so my wife and I made a plan, executed it, and here we are living on far less than 50% of what we were spending as recently as 8 months ago.

My question is this: what have you previously declared as impossible that you are willing to reconsider?


(You don’t have to leave a comment if you don’t want to, but at least spend a few minutes thinking about it)

14 Responses to The Possibilities Are Endless

  1. krantcents says:

    Some of the people thought my financial independence goal before 40 years old was impossible, It took me a little over 7 years to achieve it. That was 27 years ago! I have been doing the things I like to do and enjoying my life. All goals are reasonable with a plan!

  2. @K – I’m interested in learning more details of your specific story. Hit me up if you’d like to post about it here. You’ve been a frequent commenter with some good things to share, but I want to know more about where you’re coming from.

  3. Only yesterday me and my husband were talking about our financial independence. We always thought its impossible for us to live on no salary. We took a look at our income and expenses. What we realized is that its very possible for us to live on no salary. We’ve been building our passive income since our twenties. I am on semi retirement spending time with my two kids and he can fire his boss too if he chooses to work on his plan of being an organic farmer. He thought that leaving his job was impossible. Hard work and living with purpose will ALWAYS win.

  4. Chris says:

    I like the way you think Brave. I too, subcribe to this mindset. It’s funny that most people are willing to brush most difficult goals off as impossible. Retiring early, running a marathon, saving 100K. It all requires setting a goal and making realistic steps to achieve that goal. I had a physics teacher back in school who when confronted with whiny students who would repeatedly say, “I can’t do this, it’s too hard or long.” His reply was, “How do you eat an elephant?” “One bite at a time.” I think life is like that, most worthy goals are elephants, and you have to figure out how to eat them, one bite at a time, and suddenly difficult tasks become possible!

    • Excellent point. The first step is to realize your goal is possible. The second step is to break it down into smaller steps.

      Your quote is apropos to my ultramarathon example because we have a similar saying. When someone asks how we can run 100 miles the answer is simple:

      “Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.”

    • bdub says:

      Agreed. It seems to me if you truly embrace the fact that you can accomplish anything that someone else already has, you can have a good and fulfilling life. Good examples are ultramarathons, large savings goals, FIRE.

      If also seems if you believe you can do ANYTHING, regardless if it has been done before or not, you will lead a remarkable life.

      To be honest, full acceptance of the 1st point is challenging enough for me.

  5. jennypenny says:

    I can relate to this post. I spent 2008/09 having to use a walker or cane to get around. I finally decided to ignore the pain and started running. Since then, I’ve completed 2 half marathons and I’m going to try a full. Looking back, I think believing that I could run was the hardest part. Once I decided I would run, the rest was just details. (It’s just like FIRE. People don’t believe they can retire early, so they never get to step 2.)

    I also had to realize that the pain of not achieving the goal was actually worse than the pain of working hard to achieve the goal. The pain from a long run only lasts a couple of hours–the pain from failure or inaction stays with you 24/7.

    What’s the old story about G. Gordon Liddy? He used to hold his hand over a flame at parties. Someone asked him “What’s the trick? Why doesn’t it hurt?” Liddy said “It does hurt, the trick is not minding.”

    • That’s an amazing story improving from a cane to completing a half marathon. Well done!

      • jennypenny says:

        Ha, there’s nothing amazing about completing a half compared to an ultra! But a couple more years of running and I might give a 50-miler a try. At least now I know the most important part is believing I can do it.

      • Jenny – if you ever decide to run a 50, let me know. For now, I’ll give you the first of my many secrets about running a 50M (actually 2):

        1. Training for a 50 is identical to training for a marathon, except that instead of one weekend long run, you run 2 back-to-back runs on Saturday and Sunday. Weekdays are identical. In other words, it’s not a lifestyle changer. If anyone tells you differently, they are dead wrong and I will tell them so.

        2. The only difference between finishing a 50 vs. a 26.2 is that with a 26.2 you will feel like crap at 20 miles and it won’t get better. With a 50 miler, you will feel like crap at 20, but sometime later you will recover and feel great. (You have to believe it) That’s why it’s more fun, but also harder for the weak minded!

        Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself… But regardless, I still think your accomplishment from cane to half marathon is awesome. More awesome than a perfectly healthy adult running an ultra like I did. I appreciate the humility, but I’m not buying it. :)

  6. Shawn says:

    Be it a curse or an endowment, I rarely deem anything impossible. Although from time to time my disregard for convention has been regarded as disrespect, I have never been hampered by the limiting advice of others. I was lucky enough to marry someone with basically the same belief so there is rarely an “obstacle” that is out of the question. This unharnessed overachievement has been at times, unchecked and has left me occasionally spinning my wheels. Focus is coming as I age!

    As I have mentioned previously, I completed an Ironman in 2011 after 5 years of signing up and 4 years of half ass trying. The road was rocky and had numerous detours. One of my favorite set of words from my study related to endurance training was that, in an endurance event, no matter how high you feel or how low you go neither lasts very long.

  7. Money Infant says:

    My story is rather one of making what others think is impossible, possible. 5 years ago my wife and I decided we were going to move to Thailand. At that point we were roughly $60k in debt and had just one income. Everyone we knew said there was no way we could make it happen, especially not within our goal time frame, which was 5 years.

    We cut our expenses, increased our income, paid credit card companies mounds of money each month and then later saved and saved and this past June me, my wife and our 1 year old daughter boarded a plane headed for Thailand.

    Not only was our goal possible, but we accomplished it 6 months earlier than planned and I have to say that we couldn’t possibly be happier.

    Believing in yourself and staying focused can make many things that others think are impossible, possible.

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