Tips from Olympian Adam Kreek on academic goals

“Doing the thing is like the candy you earned.” – Adam Kreek, at Science North 2013

Twenty-nine feet long, six wide; four men sharing less than 100 square feet; a boat, an ocean, a journey. Could you do it? It takes adaptation and an adherence to a belief. For Olympic gold medalist Adam Kreek and his teammates, this adventure had its joys, tribulations, and a guiding belief in an achievable goal. Did I mention they attempted to row, yes, row, from Africa to the Americas?

They lived this cross-Atlantic journey for more than 70 days. I salute their stamina and strength. While we know today that the world is round and finite, this is still the stuff of legend. Though marvelous to celebrate the attainment of each day, their ultimate destination, Miami, was not to be reached. After all, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it . . . and isn’t that true of so many things in life? It may even apply to your university career.

When asked whether the passage through bachelor’s degrees—and then graduate studies—may be advanced by an Olympic model of expertise and goal setting: “Yes,” Kreek says, “This is an ideal platform for this discussion. Formalized education is like any other project in that it starts and moves along towards a destination.”

Kreek says that firstly, we all need an easily-communicable objective. Too often we swim in a pool of words and phrases that dilute our vision. Can you craft a mission statement that is clear and concise? Does it summarize your program or thesis? No fluff. Can you do the one-minute elevator talk so that the listener knows what you are doing and why you are doing it? Kreek and the team had to be able to do this with each sponsorship request, and every media contact.

“The months of planning and lead-up are the unseen elements that sometimes take the real toll and chew the collective energy and spit out your enthusiasm. If you can survive that . . .”

So, his the second point is that it is no walk in the park. It is hard work. It requires energy and effort.

Yes, long before you submit a paper, defend your research, or cross the stage at convocation, there have been weeks, months, or years of effort. For the athlete, it is all in the training. The longer the duration, the easier the diversion; off-track can be magnified into a crash.

Olympic dates are carved in stone, but the graduation horizon can almost be pushed off forever. Use a calendar, generate a time-line and work towards an end date.

Break the journey into a series of doable tasks with fixed dates. Put it up on the wall, stick it to your mirror, or use a magnet to attach it to your fridge. “Establish metrics to note your progression,” says Kreek. This must follow your blueprint for success or it will get you nowhere. Don’t be afraid to think in the long-term, but don’t neglect the baby-steps. Acknowledge the reality of the potential plateau or diversion.

As in the world of sports and fitness, Kreek is adamant that you get a coach. Semantics aside, the role of the advisor is to mentor and guide. The will to succeed is internal; however, external motivation sometimes breaks the cycle of procrastination.

The ups and downs can be smoothed by someone who has been there before. This is not the time to do self-diagnosis no matter how self-aware you are; a coach can carry out systematic analyses and know what is complete and what needs attention. They help you on the path to the next level without straying.

Inventory your initiatives and resources. Just like rowing and other sports, there is a discipline and strategy to winning.

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