Not-so-S.M.A.R.T. Goals: my current reality & kayak adventure

It was 3:30 in the afternoon. The 50lb. neon green plastic kayak was scorching hot to the touch. The black oar was even hotter, but that couldn’t stop me. With my Nine West floppy straw hat and my Costas, I felt outfitted enough to take on the Florida sun that brightly beamed over our little canal. I splashed some saltwater on my vessel and paddle instrument, and then I dipped my legs int the ocean on either side of the kayak. The saltwater burned my skin, reminding me that I had shaved my legs the night before. Still, my heart yearned for an adventure, and the kayak was my ticket to going wherever I wanted on the flat waters behind Big Torch Key.

After paddling on down the winding canal where our family’s rented vacation home is located, I finally made it to the front. Like a painting, my view of the open bay in between the two main islands was flawless, with flat waters that sparkled from the sun’s reflection as far as I could see.

I made up my mind that I wanted to be smart about where I would go, knowing that I would be tired on the stretch heading back home. The wind seemed to be blowing westward, as the smallest of crinkles in the water moved steadily in that direction. I decided to then paddle east against the wind and towards the many oceanfront houses that decorated Big Torch’s edge. I paddled and paddled, pushing and pulling my arms forward and back in opposite directions. The front of my little kayak bounced up and down as cut through the small waves that pushed against it. I could hardly see the ocean bottom because of what little wind blew and blurred the surface, even though the water was no more than 2-3 ft deep and crystal clear.

But there was one house, one two-story tannish home with a long wooden dock out front that was probably 3/4 or close to a mile away from our canal that I had set my sights on. With everything within me, I wanted to reach it. I wanted to brag to my parents and parent’s friends who would be joining us later that evening that I had made it that far, that my arms and my kayak were enough to get there.


In FFA, the student organization that I was apart of for many years in middle and high school, there is a method used to explaining and teaching the concept of goal-setting. This method gives high-achieving students the opportunity to design a plan around their dream goal that will (hopefully) make it come to life. “S.M.A.R.T.” goals stand for: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. If your goal was all of these things, you were set to go forth and conquer; your kayak would be turned in the right direction and your destination would be reached soon enough.

However, as convenient and cute as the “S.M.A.R.T.” acronym is for the purposes of teaching goal-setting, I feel like there was yet a valuable question left out of the conversation. This question came to me as I found myself exhausted and half-way to my tan house goal. I then realized that even though the wind had been blowing against me all this time, the tide had been pushing me forward, making it easier to go in that direction. This meant that to turn around and head for home would require much more energy on my part than what I had expended to paddle that far. But there was no way I could stop before reaching my goal destination.

“WHY?” Why did I have to paddle that far? Why did I WANT to paddle that far? What was my motivation to reach this goal place? Would I be a failure if I turned around sooner? Would I feel ashamed if my parents asked me how far I went and I would point to halfway between where I started and where I only knew I wanted to end up? Why did I feel the need to pick a place to paddle to?


Prior to this kayaking adventure, I hit a wall. Not a literal one, but a wall nonetheless that had shattered me in pieces on the floor. The wall was reality, and I had been a fool to run from her. Every conversation, every experience in the last six months that had led me to the decision to move away for school, leave my friends and family behind, and force a break up with my boyfriend of three years was actually based on some of the most foolish pretenses you will ever hear. Sure, graduate school and the adventure that awaits with moving to a new state, Texas no less, should be EXCITING WONDERFUL THE RIGHT CHOICE AND MANY MORE!!! The road to get to this decision was glittered and paved with S.M.A.R.T. goals, for sure. Then why am I a fool?

Because I thought I needed to go to graduate school to compensate for losing State President in FFA so many years ago.

Because I thought I needed to seek an unconventional career path because all my family expected tremendous success from me and have spoken confidence over my future for years.

Because I thought I needed to have a real college experience at a university where my father did not openly loathe the school and thus provide me the freedom to fully embrace the campus culture.

Because I thought I needed the attentions of the males around me to feel loved and beautiful, along with the freedom to have fun wherever and whenever I wanted.

Because I thought my significance and kingdom-centered mission for the Lord had to come from a career path with a greater influence than that of anything I could imagine found back home.

That’s why. That’s why I’m a fool.

My kayak and I managed to reach the tan house and paddle back home in exactly 2 hours. I can’t say it was worth it, reaching my goal place and all, because my motivations were a little screwy from the beginning. I think the Lord knew all along that I would choose the path I have because He knew the lies that I’ve been listening to for the past six months. I also think He’s going to protect me and bless my coming and going as I venture out west. But, He also knows how painful it is right now to be realizing how I got to this point and how so easily it could have been a nice ride in another direction.

So for now, I’m going to kayak like crazy and treat it as soul-therapy while I fight to keep above water. The reality is deep, but at least I can float on top of it for a little while longer.


One comment

  1. Patricia Cooper · July 27, 2014

    Valerie,you are a very gifted writer and wise beyond your years. I love you and know that the Lord has even greater things in store for you as you fulfill His purpose for your life.

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