Tuesday, July 10, 2012

July Goal Reached, Life Lessons Learned

I did it! I shot a bulls-eye from 15 yards away, using my homemade osage orange archery bow, but more than this, I have learned a few valuable life lessons.

However, before I get into what I learned, let me show you the process of shooting that wonderful bulls-eye. First, I had to repair my broken bow. To be perfectly honest, when my bow broke a few days ago, I was ready to throw in the towel. I couldn't see a way around the two pieces of fractured osage orange wood staves staring back up at me. Fortunately, my new archery colleague and friend, Guy, wasn't ready to let me give up so easily. He wrote me a long e-mail (which I posted in the last post). This e-mail gave me the motivation and encouragement I needed to get myself up, wipe off my bruised ego, and get going again.

So yesterday, I set a challenging goal. Not only was I going to fix my bow, I was also going to shoot my bulls-eye. Some people have asked me, "Why the rush to shoot your bulls-eye? After all, aren't there two more weeks left in July?" And to these people I reply, "I have to reach my goal early this month because my job as an English teacher will be starting back up in a month. I have to start rededicating my time to teaching preparations." Maybe once I retire in 40 years or so, I can dedicate four wonderful weeks to days of peaceful archery shooting...

But back to yesterday. To fix my bow, I had to address two major problems; the first being the stiffness of my bow limbs. To give the bow more flexibility (which it needed in order to prevent my bow cord from snapping), I whittled out both bow limbs more. This took about an hour, but when I was finished, I was pleased with the results. Second hurdle to fix: attaching the two separate bow limbs together. Previously, I had tried using a whole syringe full of Gorilla Glue epoxy. And while this epoxy had added strength, the smell of it had been difficult to deal with. Because of this, I decided to just use my extra bow string to wrap the two bow limbs together. This is all my bow needed. After wrapping the bow into one complete unit, it was finished. I added my braided bow string and was ready to begin my July challenge.

In my backyard, I measured out 15 yards from my back fence and set up my target. At first, my target was the large cardboard box all of my archery supplies had come in from Amazon. My bulls-eye was the tape in between the large "U" on the right and the fine print on the left. I walked to my firing location and cocked my first arrow. The bow string snapped. Quickly, I reattached the string. I pulled the bow to full draw length, my fingers touching my chin. When, whap! The string snapped again, causing me to basically punch myself in the cheek. Oww. It was beginning to look like I would never get a shot off. Rubbing my cheek, I had an idea. I decided to restring the bow, but very loosely. Most of the time, archers loosely string a bow only during a process called tillering, in which they measure and check the curvature of their bow. Very unconventional of me to string my completed bow so loosely.

Slowly, carefully, I shot my first arrow of the day. It flew a whooping five yards before skiddering across the dead grass. I picked the arrow up and tried again. And again. And again. The arrow shot 5 yards, 6 yards, 7 yards, less than half of the distance to my target. But with each shot, I grew more and more confident in my bow. I began aiming higher and higher, pulling back further and further on the bow string each time. 11 yards. 14 yards. 16 yards. 15 yards. Finally, I was consistently within a yard of my target. And, after a particularly well-aimed shot, I struck the target. I nearly cried with joy. Just hitting my target, after the hours and hours put into this bow, was amazing. I considered stopping my challenge there and just declare hitting the cardboard anywhere as a bulls-eye. But, I knew doing this would just be a diservice to myself.

So, I kept shooting. Slowly, blisters began forming on my right hand, specifically on my index finger and middle finger. The fingers that had the dual job of pulling back the bow string while keeping the arrow notched on the string. Eventually, these blisters popped. My fingers were on fire, every time I pulled back that bow string. But I kept going. Eventually, the pain became numbness. With my numb fingers, I kept shooting, slowly improving on my accuracy. About this time, I decided to remove the cardboard and shoot directly into the dog cage where the bulls-eye had been. I decided this would be a more rewarding bulls-eye to shoot into.
As the second hour of shooting crept by, I started believing I wouldn't be able to reach my goal. It was getting harder and harder for me to pull back on the bow string with my numb fingers. My arms were getting more sunburned with every minute. My time was running out. I'll be honest, it was at this point I started closing my eyes right after releasing a shot. I couldn't bare to see the arrow miss the target anymore. One shot landed very close to the front of the cage. I got excited. If I just aim a bit higher...I raised my bow, aiming just an inch higher. I loosed my arrow and shut my eyes tight. A split-second later, I heard a wonderful sound. The sound of rattling metal. I opened my eyes and was dumbfounded. Perfect bulls-eye. Amazing. Wonderful. Beautiful. The arrow had shot dead bulls-eye, six squares from the left, right, and top of the cage. Exactly where my previous bulls-eye had been. I probably stared at this arrow for a full five minutes before I snapped this picture. I can't do justice to the overwhelming feeling of relief that continued to flood over me. I had done it. I could stop shooting now. I packed up my bow, arrow, and target cage, went inside, and crashed on my couch, completely drained.

And so ends my July goal. Complete. This is not to say that I will stop shooting. Indeed, I plan to loose a few arrows today. But, there won't be the insane monomaniac drive to nail a bulls-eye in order to feel success. Which brings my train-of-thought around to the life lessons I learned yesterday. I hope they make sense when I type them here, as they were so clear in my mind as I loosed shot after shot.

Life lesson #1: Using inadequate tools and knowledge will never lead to consistant success. Sure, I shot a bulls-eye yesterday, but I'm not fooling myself. I will probably never be able to repeat that success, ever, with the bow and arrow I am using now. My bulls-eye was just as much of a fluke as it was precision and power. If I repeated that same shot, with the same aim and power, I would bet money I could never get a bulls-eye again. This may sound pessimistic, but it is the truth. My homemade bow works, but just barely. It does the job, but not very well. And what it lacks in precision, I have to make up with repetition, repetition, repetition. This truth, that inadequate tools and knowledge lead to inadequate success holds true in other areas of life. Without the right equipment in cooking, welding, auto mechanics, fishing, sports, etc., true success is barely attainable. If it is attained, pure luck played a hand in it. This realization changes my outlook on life. It explains one reason why I never had success in my childhood pursuits. I never used the correct tools, I never had enough knowledge, to bring the success that so evaded me.

Life lesson #2: Success is determined by effort, not goals. I finally understand why some of my students beam with pride when get a C minus on their math test. They worked dang hard for this grade, probably more hard than the student who consistently earns A pluses on his math tests. For them, a C minus feels so amazing. The work that went into that grade makes everything worth it. Success is determined by effort. I would rather have a student feel good about their work than a student who got an A without even trying. I can relate through my archery. I will never be able to compete with professional archers. Indeed, I have a few friends here in Nebraska who go archery hunting. I haven't shown my bow to them. Compared to their $500 dollar hunting compound bows, my loose stringed longbow is a joke. But, the amazing feeling of pride, relief, and pure excitement they feel when they take down a huge buck from 40 yards away I can now relate to, for I felt the same when I nailed my bulls-eye from only 15 yards away. This explains why people not as good in a hobby, sport, activity, job, or performance keep playing, working, building, and performing, even if they are not the best. Their goals, their successes are different. Yes, the goals are on a lower caliber, but they work just as hard to achieve them.

Does this make sense to you? Do you agree with my life lessons? I'd love to hear what you have to say about success and dedication. What are your goals in your work, hobbies, or your life in general? If you don't have any goals, create some and share them below in a comment to this post.

Thanks for reading!


  1. Congratulations, Brian!
    I'm glad you got back at it and figured out how to make it work for you.
    Unless I am mistaken, that slack string arrangement on the bowstring is common on some native bows where environmental conditions and the native materials they have to work with do not lend themselves to a fully braced bow.
    How does it feel to be an experimental archeologist?

  2. You are so right about having the right tools for the job. Crappy tools = crappy results. When I meet other jugglers I encourage them to spend the money on decent equipment. Only 1 out of 100 ever seems to listen though. Mime is a little more subjective though. How will you know when you've succeeded at your mime goal?


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