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Turning Milestones into Stepping Stones
by Craig Harrison
January, 2002
edition of
The Toastmaster

Milestone:           An important event or turning point in one's history or career.

Stepping Stone: An advantageous position for advancement toward some goal; something that assists an ambition.

Great marathon runners started the same way we all did.  As infants they crawled before they walked. They rose, teetered and fell, then rose again and steadied themselves on an object.  Once they could stand in place, the view changed, as did their perspective.  A new goal was established…standing without props. Once this was achieved, they started to ambulate.  They fell.  They struggled back to their feet, and tried again. They had the confidence and hunger to set new goals…and thus they walked. Then they realized they could see more if they picked up the pace.  They set a new goal and thus they began to run.  Then it became a question of whether they were going to be held back by others' limits or test their own limits of endurance and stamina.

Dream…goal…try…fail…retry…milestone…new goal… failure…retry…success 

And so it goes, seemingly unreachable milestones are achieved, and thus become stepping stones to further achievements.  Whatever our goals, the formula can work for us as well.


It all starts with a dream.  You dare to imagine doing something, going someplace, becoming someone, and making a difference.  Without the aspiration nothing can happen.  Yet how far do you get?  Do you allow setbacks to slow or stop you?  Do you lose confidence?  Lose momentum? Lose faith?  Many do.  A marathon runner knows that theirs is a long race broken into many little races.  Marathoners also know that sooner of later they will hit "the wall."  Their ability to continue on is the key to their success.  The wall is something to be overcome.  It is not a stopping point, but simply another milestone along the way.  They step over it, using it instead as a stepping stone to ultimate success.

Step One: Goal Setting

The best way to achieve milestones is to have them in your sights from the beginning.  We can do this through setting goals.  As children our parents and teachers set goals for us. Yet since our youth we've set goals for ourselves too.  In Toastmasters we set goals upon joining.  Why did you join?  Was it to acquire a new skill? To overcome an old phobia?  Was it a personal challenge?  Did your boss send you?  Whatever the reason for joining, you arrived with at least one goal.  Perhaps you set new ones once you filled out your member profile, met with a mentor and learned about the many programs Toastmasters offered. 

Your club's educational vice president may also have set goals for you, in concert with your own goals. EVPs know the curricula and know how to help you turn your aspirations into achievements.  Common goals could include the ability to make a speech at work, to be perceived as a strong communicator in the office, to gain confidence meeting and conversing with strangers at social gatherings, or other goals as well.

Our goals help us become focused and give us purpose.  Each goal we set can be pursued, and once achieved, itself becomes a milestone.  It then becomes a stepping stone to further accomplishment.

Step Two: Getting Started

According to the great American novelist Mark Twain: "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do.  So throw off the bowlines.  Sail away from the safe harbor.  Catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore.  Dream.  Discover."

We've heard so often how a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  Once we make that initial step, we're on our way, however far we must go.  When you think about it, attending your first meeting is a milestone.  You might scoff at the notion that just showing up at a meeting is a milestone.  Yet for many people, fear overrides their ability to do even the simplest of tasks.  Lack of confidence will keep people from socializing, exploring new environs and meeting new people. Your gracious welcoming of such strangers opens the door to their future success.

Speaking for the first time from the lectern is another milestone.  When a new member joins a club, he or she is shepherded in and carefully nurtured.  They often are given a simpler assignment for their first role, so they can experience success, get their legs under them, and not taste defeat in their initial time out. Wasn’t that your experience?

Step Three: Gaining Momentum

Every new year we announce with excitement our new resolutions. Within the month many of them have fallen by the wayside.  Our intentions were good, yet our resolve was not firm.  With every milestone we pursue, some days we'll make discernable progress, other days we won't.  Sometimes the milestones require weeks, months or even years of effort to realize.  For club officers, it’s the pursuit of distinguished club status, for governors, it’s a Distinguished Area, Division or District . For some speakers, the status of Accredited Speaker is your ultimate goal. None of these can be achieved overnight.  The key, then, is maintaining resolve.  We must keep our goals in sight at all times, and endeavor to make progress every day, every week and every month.  An object in motion will stay in motion. An object at rest will remain so. So…get moving! Inertia is what it’s all about. 

Step Four: Perseverence

But how do we keep the momentum going?  How to we persevere? The secret comes from maintaining focus. In our clubs we look to fellow club members to help keep us focused.  We make contracts with our club’s Educational Vice President to pursue and achieve certain goals by the end of term or end of year.  At work and at home, we often write our goals down and then post them in visible places is a constant reminder of the milestones we’re pursuing. For some, “going public” is a way of leveraging a bit of friendly peer pressure from our supporters to help us maintain focus. No doubt the recognition and support we receive along the way also helps us persevere.  And as we near our milestone a new form of motivation occurs as we see, sense and smell the finish line.

Step Five: Success

With the finish line in sight we plan our last triumphant steps.  Sometimes we sprint for the finish line, and dash we do, crossing the line of our self-defined goals, achieving our milestone.  And then what?  We take our bows, triumphantly accept the congratulations of others, and graciously bask in the recognition given by others.  And yet, this success is not the final chapter at all.  Success is just another weigh station. The great college basketball coach John Wooden put it well: “If you go as far as you can see, you will then see enough to go even farther.”

Step Six: A New Perspective

As we survey the new heights we’ve attained, the view is discernibly different.  Suddenly we see new mountaintops, new peaks, new possibilities.  With our newfound confidence, what once seemed unattainable now is a fait accomplit. We did it. And now new challenges await. Our once high milestone is now firmly underfoot. Now we use it as a perch to step even higher.  We can turn our latest milestone into a stepping stone to further greatness. With our CTM achieved, we set out to master new forms of communication on our way to our ATM.  Having served one role in the club we volunteer for new and often greater responsibilities. The greater the challenge the more satisfying the accomplishment.  The greater the milestone the more powerful the steppingstone it becomes to ultimate success.

Runners…On Your Marks

What goals have you set for yourself?  What milestones are you pursuing? Have you gone public with your aspirations?

Poet Thomas Carlyle said it best: "The block of granite which was an obstacle in the path of the weak, becomes a steppingstone in the path of the strong.”

Step forth boldly!

© Copyright 2002 Craig Harrison. All Rights Reserved.

Professional speaker Craig Harrison, DTM, is a member of Pro-Toasties (#7146-4) in Redwood Shores, CA. Craig keeps setting new goals for himself, including founding a humor club.  His website www.ExpressionsofExcellence.com offers a variety of tools for Toastmasters setting new milestones within and beyond their club.

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