1991: After spending a long day travelling over unbelievably rough roads and seeing wild Karabair horses running free on the northern Uzbek steppe, I found myself in a strange world walking with a strange man who speaks no English toward the shore of Lake Aldar-Kul, nestled between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The lake proved to be only waist deep, covered with reeds as far as the eye can see, but produced fish for this camp as large as sharks.
The man’s name was affectionately coined as Kutchkar, which we were told means goat, and his eyes were as kind as his soul, which made it uncommonly easy to communicate even though we shared no common language. He was taking me to share a tradition that was as refreshing in body as it was in the fellowship that resulted: a mudbath on the shore of the lake, followed by some time in the steam hut, after which a self-inflicted flogging with stinging nettles across the back ensued. “For good circulation,” was the implied reasoning.
Seeing me looking down and struggling to walk along the gravel road in my bare feet, Kutchkar touched my arm and pointed to his eyes, then to the horizon ahead. I understood: don’t look down. I straightened up, put my eyes forward and began to walk with confidence.
As unimportant as this little exchange would seem, it has become one of the most memorable moments for me of my time in that place. Why? Because that lesson becomes more significant to me as each year passes: to look straight ahead, and keep your eyes on the destination. It’s a philosophy I am repeating more and more these days- not to go around the mulberry bush, but go through it. If you have a specific goal, take the most direct path to it, not wavering to the left or to the right.
Distractions abound; once in a while a potential opportunity might feel golden, only to realize upon closer examination that it’s simply a rabbit trail- a deviation from the ultimate goal or an investment with minimal or no return that will only prolong the journey. These are moments to consult the map and make sure you’re on the right road. Not to say that we shouldn’t enjoy the surprises that life can bring; success in life should certainly include a sense of adventure. Compromise in the right places, and keep your compass with you.
When setting goals, like so many of us do with each renewal of the passing years, keep it simple. And remember that nothing is achievable without sacrifice. I have specific goals for this year, and I know that I won’t reach them without discipline and dedication. It will take time from other things, and I know there will be times that I will just have to push through doubt, disappointments and multiple failures. To fail to try is the only sure-fire way to not find your destination.
So when the distractions come, and they will, be firm in your walk. Don’t stray from the map. The key is in keeping your eyes forward; like walking in your bare feet.