In early August I agreed to take part in a team challenge to raise money and awareness for a local refugee resettlement organization. The goal: Each team member would walk or run 100 miles in eight weeks. I opted to walk, and I knew it would be tough, but I wanted to give it a try.
When the eight weeks were up, I had fallen short of the goal, but I had still logged 80 miles of walking. Even now, a month after the challenge ended, I’m still not quite to the 100-mile mark, but I’m getting closer with every step.
At the beginning of the challenge, 100 miles seemed like an impossible dream. How could a few days of one- and two-mile walks ever amount to anything? But they did. Those seemingly small numbers added up, and together, they made something significant.
I’m beginning to think this is the way of all things.
When I want something big to happen I want it to happen all at once tomorrow, sometimes today. I want to wave the wand and change it all. Lose the weight. Pay off the debt. Clean the house. De-clutter the e-mail inbox. I don’t want it to take time because time is so precious and I have so little of it and besides some of those things take TOO LONG. (Do I sound like a whiny child yet? My son, when he’s in his prime will often sigh loudly and say, “Why is it taking so long?” It doesn’t matter what “it” is; it always takes too long for him.)
I am smack dab in the middle of a writing challenge this month. November is known to some writers as National Novel Writing Month and the goal is to write 50,000 words of fiction between November 1 and November 30. I’m always excited to start, but when I logged my first 1,000 words on Day 1, I thought, this is going to take FOR-ever. Now, a third of the way through the month, I’ve got a solid 21,000 words on a new project, but I still wonder if I’m ever going to get there. (Reminder: I did it last year, so it is possible!)
A few words. A few miles. A few of anything doesn’t seem like much, but day after day, they add up.
And then one day you look back and realize how much has changed with those consistent movements over time. Eight weeks after I took the first step on the walking challenge, I could walk 2 or 3 miles without much effort, and I missed being out and walking when I couldn’t do it. My body had adapted and changed.
Eleven days after writing the first word, I have more than 20,000 words and the start of a story that isn’t finished yet.
All change takes time. I have yet to find the magic wand that does the work instantly. And I think if I could remember this, that the small steps will add up and lead to bigger things, then maybe I wouldn’t have such a hard time starting.
It won’t be long before we’re talking about the New Year and I’m sure we all have changes we’d like to make in our lives. I say, start now. Make a small change today and stick with it for a week or more. Then maybe by the time the New Year hits, you’ll already be changed and be ready for more steps.
Most mountains aren’t scaled in a day, and while a marathon can be run in a few hours, the training starts long before race day.
Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu is quoted as saying “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Sometimes when I start something, I am so focused on the end that I lose heart before I’ve even started. But the starting is key. Don’t worry about finishing before you’ve even begun. Just start and see what happens. Maybe you don’t make it to the finish line. Or maybe you’re the last one to cross. Maybe you don’t see the top of the mountain, but you’ve got an incredible view along the way. Maybe you don’t meet the goal you set, but if you started and continued and pressed on, then you’ve accomplished something good.
This pressing on is what fuels me now. In the things that matter most to me, I cannot bring about instant change, but I can take one step forward and then another and see where it leads. And looking back, I can celebrate how those small actions added up to something bigger.