I am Determined… Not Driven


When I started training for Ironman Louisville in early 2009, many people asked me why I was going to try such a seemingly impossible race. The answer… I’m just determined to finish.

Sure, I love the sport of triathlon and I love the community that surrounds the sport. My friends I train with are all one of a kind and a blast to be with. But most of all… It was my next big challenge in life. Something I never though I would do in a million years. But determination set in…

Over the course of 9 months of training I logged in over 2,000 miles on my bike, a few hundred miles of running, and some where in the ball park of 200 miles of swimming. It was a daunting task to say the least but I was determined to do it.

My challenges? Staying injury free for one, staying focused on relationships and work, but the biggest challenge? My travel schedule. From January to June I went overseas for work 7 times for at least 5 days at a time. That takes a bite out of the training schedule, but I was determined to do it.

There was even more travel domestically, but I was determined to do it.

Add in the normal challenges in personal and professional life and you find yourself in a very tight spot on free time and energy to function as a normal human being. In bed by 10pm and up early in the morning to ride, run and swim then work a full day or travel all day… but I was determined to do it.

The weekends… even earlier and longer days training, sometimes up to 8 hours of training in one day… but I was determined to do it.

Then it hit me.(I kept seeing this word determined pop up in my thoughts and conversations with people.) I had never once considered this to be something that driven people do. In fact, I would dare say that most driven people would not be able to finish such a challenge.


Driven people seem to plow right on ahead no matter the cost to themselves or those around them. One definition I found says this about the word Driven ~ having a compulsive or urgent quality.

Let me tell you… there’s no room for urgency in training for a triathlon. If you rush it, you’ll get hurt.

Life is much the same way.

Most fiercely driven people I know urgently race through their careers and sometimes their relationships leaving damage in their wake while burning out before they finish meeting their goals. If you rush through life and aren’t aware of what’s happening around you then most likely you will fly right by the sweetest parts in life or hurt someone in the process.

The determined ones finish what they start but they might be nursing an injury along the way, a set back in their plans, or they have to start all over just to get a fresh-start.

In the end I learned this about myself, determination comes with some sweat. Not just physically, but mentally as well. It comes with knowing the cost of the road ahead and knowing when to change course in order finish well.

This might be you. You might be struggling to get to your finish line or to reach your goal, but just because it’s challenging doesn’t mean you won’t get there. It just means you have to keep going even if you fall on your face a few times getting there.

Don’t worry, it’s ok. Your friends will still love you and support you.

I have the greatest friends and family and I have an amazing coach. I have surrounded myself with several close friends who will pick me up when I fall and push me back out there when I need encouragement or a kick in the pants.

I can’t stress enough how hard this training was and what a hard day Ironman Louisville really was, but I was determined to do it.

I had to change my strategy all through out the day…

But I did it.

It wasn’t pretty.

But I did it.

The support from family and friends to get through it was amazing and at times was the only thing that got me through.

But I did it… and you can too.

All it takes… is a little Determination.


The views expressed here are those of a personal nature and do not reflect the corporate view of my employer or anyone else who employee my services.
  • http://intensedebate.com/people/torybee torybee

    I don't like this post. I know; I'm supposed to say something nice about it, and I can do that. Everyone else will love this post; say way to go Spence! You're awesome. Truth is, that's true. What you did was definitely an accomplishment. And this post is provocative, inspiring, challenging and well written.

    Which is why I don't like it. I don't want to hear about this. Be challenged. Hear that anyone can do something if they set their mind to it. You have joined the realm of Perfect People. Organized. Disciplined. Determined. Those that have their life together.

    My husband is one of the Perfect People. Organized, goal oriented, disciplined, determined. He's loving and sweet and even balanced. Actually, he's a beginning triathlete as well, training for a half ironman this spring/summer. (It's difficult to train that hard and still be part of family)

    My point is: I don't think that "all it takes is a little determination". There are the Perfect People and there are people like me. Sorry; I just don't agree with you today.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/SpenceSmith SpenceSmith

    hey tory! i'm glad you dont like this post actually. It makes for good conversation for sure. You see… i think something i didn't go into is that what brings me to be determined is the fact that my life isn't perfect at all. I mean really not perfect. I have a great job, great friends, and a fun life… but none of that says much about any other failure i've had in my life… for instance. I was married for 8 years… been divorced for 4 years. that alone is just the start of imperfection and struggle. but me doing the ironman is just a small part of the journey. You see… i did 11 other triathlons before that and trained for i don't know how long and i'm still not the all that fast.

    i'm the furthest thing from being one of the Perfect People… it's just that i have been on the failing side so many times that i finally decided to do something about it and keep going till i start succeeding at something… anything.

    determination is not about finishing perfectly… it's about finishing even if you are bloody, bruised and broken when you get there. sometimes you have to stop what you are doing then pick it up again. sometimes you get pissed and cuss like crazy until the frustration takes you to the edge. Sometimes you realize… i'm not organized or disciplined… but i need to do something about it… because its just me now… no wife… never had kids… just me.

    i'm a very relational guy… not very organized. which means i'm a people person and don't do well sometimes tackling things on my own… training for triathlon… you husband will see this… is frustrating and tough alone… but when i train with friends and makes the goal very real.

    so that's ok with me if you don't agree with me today. I don't mind it at all… but just know. my determination came from years of failure to do something about me and my circumstances and to not let them get the best of me.

    it's a daily process. to me "prefect people" would like you to think they are driven… the imperfect people are determined to beat the odds.

    • Joe Willoughby

      Well-said… thank you.

    • http://beautygirlblog.com Britt Trotman

      What you said right here is inspiring!

      • http://www.spencesmith.com Spence Smith

        Hey Britt… thanks for your comment!!!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/torybee torybee

    I know you are right and I thank you for sharing your imperfection and motivation. I've often struggled with why I don't change even when I think I so want to and I wonder if it's just because I don't (yet) want it enough?

    Loved what you wrote about finishing even if you are bloody, bruised, and broken. I suppose that is a good perspective; just hanging in there and finishing.

    I'm sorry to hear about your divorce and what you describe as failings but obviously it got you to a good place. I read the tweets; it seems you lead a fun, good, full life with lots of friends and laughter. I just assumed you were truly one of the Perfect People. Some people are born Perfect, you know…..

    Anyways, I thank you for your reply…… and you actually may have even inspired me. Not towards Perfection but towards setting a goal and striving to complete it…. bloody bruised and broken!


  • http://intensedebate.com/people/SpenceSmith SpenceSmith

    Hey Tory… Thanks again for responding. I completely get what you are saying. For me the hardest parts in my life have sometimes turned out the greatest results. It's weird when I look back on it, but my divorce was the hardest thing I had ever experienced and yet it might have been one of the best things to happen to me to get me into a really healthy place emotionally and physically.

    The whole process was met with struggle and heart ache, but I was one of those who wasn't about to let it do me in. Ever since then, life has taken on a whole other way for me.

    well… i know you can do whatever it is you really want to try to do… just take a few bandages with you:)

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/torybee torybee

      :-) Thanks. I bet I'll need a lot of bandages!

  • http://brettt.me Brett Tilford

    Tory and Spence, thanks for dialoguing on here. I really enjoyed the honest give and take.

    I think there is a fine line between being driven and being determined. I do think you're onto something Spence with looking at the fruit of someone's life to see which they are. Good insight.

  • StephanieinLex

    Oh Spence, you're such a kick in the pants. (That phrase always cracks me up because a dear college friend used to say it, and it's a dual-purpose phrase. I love it.)

    Anyhow, Tory & Spence, thank you both for your transparency. This exchange reminds me of something I've become acutely aware of in the past few years: This season of life–20s-40s of figuring out who we are and who God wants us to be as adults–seems to be fraught with comparisons (especially we women). We compare ourselves to everyone around us: "Do I measure up?" "Wow, they really have it together." "Geez, if only I could do A, B, and C." And I think that's where insecurities creep in and we start thinking of ourselves as "not enough." Some days all it takes is looking at a Pottery Barn catalog and then looking at the pile of clutter on my kitchen table, and I'm like, "Wow. Huh. I'm a mess."

    Like you, Tory, I'm surrounded by quite a few Perfect People, and quite a few of them are accomplished businesspeople, triathletes/other types of athletes, or simply anointed Christian leaders with a countenance of peace and grace that I wish to emulate. The cool thing is that in our moments of authenticity with one another–when we really lay it all out there– we realize that often we think the other person has it more 'together" than we do and has qualities we admire and wish we could attain. For example, I look at you, Tory, and after a few of your sentences I'm like … wow, sounds like she has a really admirable relationship with a great man. Gosh, I wish I could find something similar. And as a 32-y-o with a desire to one day be a wife and mom–this is an area I'm always falling into comparisons, when I should really just be (pardon the cliche) celebrating my differences and how we're all in different seasons of adulthood. Instead, I seem to be always looking ahead to "when I get it together."

    I'll use that very Ironman Louisville race as an illustration of where these comparisons creep in: I was cheering on about 4 close friends that day, 6 acquaintances, and about 4 "tweeps" I'd never met (Spence being among them). After cheering two close friends to the finish line, I went back out on the run course and continued cheering people on, even ones I didn't know. I love to encourage people. I met Spence at about mile 13. He looked like he'd been through a short war (about 127 miles or so!), but the man still had a smile on his face, even bloody/bruised. (Lesson #1 in that for me–thanks, Spence!) He wasn't letting the impending nightfall darken his outlook. I could've walked along with him for a few minutes and offered more than just 4-5 words of encouragement, but suddenly I felt like, "Holy crap. He's doing an Ironman, something I will never accomplish. I'm not worthy to relate here. He's one of those Perfect People with a really cool job and probably an entire support crew from Franklin. I'm just a distraction and will be of no help, so I'll just stand right here and let him carry on."

    Later, several of my newly minted Ironman friends told me something both surprising and affirming: that they couldn't have carried on and finished that race if it weren't for my uplifting words and constant reminder that I believed in them. My following their progress around the course and taking photos of them all day was exactly the role I was intended for that day and my strengths were needed and appreciated. (Lesson #2 from that day.) So what if I will never run even a half ironman … so what if I'm a completer and not a competer (I honestly do shorter tris only occasionally so I can fit in my pants). God has a role for me and my "together" might look a heck of a lot different than someone else's "together," as might yours. Whereas some will finish their goals quickly and with panache, I generally limp to the finish, as Spence was describing. :) I encourage you to look around yourself right now and see how you complement your friends, husband, coworkers, etc. … and how they complement you, and celebrate it. As you seek out what you're supposed to do, your specific goals will rise to the surface. They might look different than others', but they'll be mighty. And you and those around who love you will recognize them as such. :-)

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/torybee torybee

      Stephanie, I thank you for your perspective. You are right; I think I do complement others well. It's interesting…. to be in a society that celebrates leadership and extroversion, yet be a more quiet, introvert, it's hard to figure out one's place and value in life. But I do complement others and my husband. I love my kids. Since my husband only (so far) has done olympic distance triathlons, I have gotten up before 6am, dragged 3 kids around the race course trying to take photos of my husband and his friends, cheering them on. It's easy to forget the value in that; playing a supportive role but you are right.

      I thank you for your great perspective. It's true; we all do compare and those that seem perfect on the surface oftentimes are not.

      But some truly are!

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/JeffHolton Jeffrey Holton

        Hey, Tory. I hope it's okay to jump in here.

        I think I'm more like you than like Spence. I'm in my late 30s and I'm finally popping my head up to look around and figure out why everyone else passed me by professionally. I think I got it: they knew where they wanted to go and they got up and went there.

        I didn't really much care where I went and so I wound up right there where I wanted to be: nowhere.

        I'm an extrovert, but I've been one of the excuse makers. Excuse-making apparently isn't very reputation enhancing. (It's been a hard but necessary lesson to learn as I've been largely out of work the past two years.) It actually takes more effort to come up with an excuse for why I didn't do something than it does to go do it.

        I have some advice. And I hope it's good advice. (See, I haven't even given it and I'm already second-guessing myself. Confidence is reputation-enhancing, too. I should work on that.)

        My advice is that if there's something you'd rather be doing, go for it. Start by sharing it with someone inspiring. It sounds like you're in awe of your husband's ability to accomplish what he sets out to do. I hope you celebrate that instead of growing resentful of it. I think it's easy to grow resentful of it. Does he know what you'd rather be doing? Would he understand if you told him? Would he encourage you? Would you trust his recommendations to achieve what you want?

        There are lots of introverted leaders. I don't think extroversion is a requirement for leadership. (Was Jesus an extrovert? I can't answer that one. I'll leave it to an expert.)

        I hope you and I both find out what our dreams are and enjoy the unexpected, amazing blessings of being wildly and insanely pumped as we approach them.

        • http://intensedebate.com/people/torybee torybee


          Of course it's okay to jump in; I like conversations and appreciate your input. Yep, I'm also in my late 30's, and figuring out where I fit in. I'm a stay at home mom and I love it. Except today because it's Veteran's day and I have 3 kidlets crying and not cleaning their room like they are supposed to. But that's another story.

          I'm not a leader but I like to be in the know. This can pose problems. I love information, read a ton of books, listen intently and remember much. I oftentimes know more than the person in charge. Sometimes that is good; other times bad.

          I like your advice. I don't know what I want to do; that's part of the problem but I will reflect on that. I'm not resentful of my perfect husband, and in reality I know he's not "perfect" but in the definition we're working with here, he is. I can't even begin to say how wonderful he is to me and what a blessing I have in him. He supports me in my photography, encourages my questions, gives me free time, breaks from the kids, and encourages me to figure out what "I want to be when I grow up." He loves that I read a lot and enjoy learning and not being complacent. He's quite encouraging. The only time I resent him is when he encourages me to go running or do a sprint triathlon! ;-)

          I thank you so much for you insight. For all these comments really. I shared with Spence that I was really close to deleting my initial comment but he replied before I could do so. I just really thank everyone for your kindness.

          • http://www.pattymullins.blogspot.com/ Patty


            I think you and I have a lot in common! I'm so glad to know that I'm not the only one in her late 30s that still hasn't figured out what "I want to be when I grow up." ;-)

            • http://intensedebate.com/people/torybee torybee


              I'm happy we are now twitter friends! It's good to know I'm not alone.

  • http://www.pattymullins.blogspot.com/ Patty

    I really enjoyed this post, but I think the banter between you and Tory really brought on even more understanding and inspiration. Personally, I tend to get frustrated because I know what needs to be done but many times burn out or just give up before I cross the "finish line".

    Being a wife, mother of three, and having a home-based business really requires some focused determination… so imagine how disheartening it is when I can't seem to finish the laundry, make customer care calls, or just remember to take something out of the freezer for dinner. Throw a little autism in the mix and you have the makings of a very chaotic life.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/torybee torybee

      Patty, I also have 3 kids! So I so identify with what you are saying! I'm glad you reminded me about dinner; I'll go take it out of the freezer to thaw right now! ;-)

  • http://www.pattymullins.blogspot.com/ Patty

    But maybe I'm just not there yet. You had to go through a lot to get to where you are now. I had no idea that you had been married before. I thought, like Tory, that you were a guy who had it all together… that you had chosen the single life and all the things that life had to offer. I've often read your tweets and envied the freedom that you have to travel.

    I guess what I took away from this post is that we are all on a journey, and though we may not cross our finish lines at the same time, we will get there if we choose to be determined and not give up. I would like to think that I have that kind of determination in me somewhere… now, if I can just find it.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/SpenceSmith SpenceSmith

    Patty and Stephanie… thank you for your comments. I feel like i'm meeting people all the time that seem to have their stuff all together but when you start to dig into their lives you find out they are just trying to get through each day one minute at a time.

    Stephanie… thank you so much for cheering me on when you did in the race. Your friends are right. Every little bit helps and it was cool to meet you. Even as i hurt. :)

    • StephanieinLex

      You're very welcome. Sorry I didn't keep walking with you for the next quarter mile or so.

      (p.s.–I wonder how many new triathletes you're going to recruit??!)

      • jbussell

        I have been saying I was going to do a triathlon for several years now. Since following Spence's training and completion of the Ironman as well as his encouraging posts about triathlons in general, 2010 WILL be the year I complete my first. Hopefully it will be the first of many.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/JeffHolton Jeffrey Holton

    Long post. But I read it.

    Years ago on "Touched by an Angel," Della Reese's character said, "The problem with driven people is that they don't know who's doing the driving."

    I think I took the wrong takeaway from that and decided for a long time that ambition wasn't a good quality, that self-promotion was egocentric and destructive.

    These days I'm more *determined* to build a reputation for myself as a communicator and leader. Thanks for your post!

  • http://www.rebrev.wordpress.com bob garbett

    Thanks, Spence. __I have been looking for the right word to describe where I am right now – and determined vs driven is it. __I had a heart attack about 7 months ago. Thank God, there was no permanent damage. But there are still some issues which are hindering me a little. On the positive sive, I have lost 40 lbs.__I hope to train for a half marathon but for now the running is on hold. But, I walk sub 15 min miles to keep the cardio up. __Some have told me to let it go, but I can't – not because I'm driven, but because I'm determined. Thankfully, my cardiologist is determined as well.__Enjoy your tweets also. Keep on keepin' on.

    • StephanieinLex

      Go, Bob, go! :-D And be kind to those joints (this coming from the girl who only jog/walks because of knee issues and breaking my back 7 yrs ago). Spence is right: even many ironpeople walk portions of a race!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Lindsey_Nobles Lindsey_Nobles

    Loved the conversation. Wondering if I am determined or driven? I give up to easily. I don't like pain. I need to work on follow-thru.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/JasonWert JasonWert

    I've read the post and the comments and I'm just floored by the amount of wisdom and grace in this thread. I'm just going to say "thank you everyone" and bow out because I can't contribute anything to enhance something this good.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/SpenceSmith SpenceSmith

    Bob, Jason, Jeffrey and Lindsey… thank you for the comments. Jeffrey… That's a great line you quote… can't really believe you pulled out a Touch By An Angel reference either! but a quote of deep insight no doubt.

    Bob… the great thing about running is you can train with walking thrown in… It doesn't matter if you do a half marathon and walk it or run it… it just matters that you finished it… there were times on my ironman run where i was walking a sub 15 minute mile pace. Don't let anyone tell you can't. We do this one mile at a time… one step at a time. The benefits physically are obvious… but the mental side of what happens to you is amazing. the process in which exercise takes your brain into a clearer way of thinking which leads to more confidence which leads to a 5k, a 10k, a half marathon… i'm really happy for you. just don't stop…. but do give yourself time to rest on the off days. Your body needs it.

  • http://www.culturesmithconsulting.com/news Cheryl Smith

    I love the distinct differences between determination and driven! Congratulations on doing something you never thought you would do, and for writing about it in a way that encourages others to do the same.

  • Jeffrey Windsor

    I read quite a few blogs and this one here by a longshot is one of the best I have ever read. I am inspired by all of you! I just completed my first marathon and reading your comment Spence, "determination is not about finishing perfectly… it's about finishing even if you are bloody, bruised and broken when you get there." sums up the experience for me. Finishing was what I wanted and no matter what else happens in my life, I will always be able to say that I finished a marathon.

    10 months before the start of the race I was 50 lbs heavier and depressed. I had never run more than 6 miles at a time (4 years earlier). I was determined to lose the weight first and train to run a marathon before the end of the year. I focused on nothing beyond the race and trained and trained and trained! By race day I had convinced myself that short of a major injury I would finish. That knowledge I gained about nutrition and running convinced me that I could do it. And I did! If any of you out there want it bad enough you too can finish anything you set your mind to. From a 5K to a marathon and beyond!!!

    Thank you Spence you're an inspiration!

  • http://www.marcosapenedoamaral.blogspot.com marcos

    Amazing words! Simply true!

    • http://www.spencesmith.com Spence Smith

      thanks Marcos!

  • http://wetfishdesigns.com Cyndi

    I am stubborn…probably more in the "determined" catagroy

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  • kevinbanks77

    I keep coming back to this post, Spence. I'm incredibly inspired by your determination. I chuckle at Tory's belief in "Perfect People," but at the same time I understand where she's coming from. There are some people in my life that seem to have it all together, and that really discourages me sometimes. I've got to remember to focus on my life and stay determined to reach my goals.

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