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That First Step Towards Your Goals

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step ~Lao Tzu

I just turned 42 years old and it has me thinking about my own journey and where I want to go next.  I’m looking at this quote from Lao Tzu on a bookmarker I bought many years ago.  I continue to be motivated by the reminder that to get anywhere we want to go we must start.  Whatever the goal, whatever the outcome is that I hope for it requires that first step.  It is this initial move that creates the momentum to overcome my inertia.  But what I’ve learned since buying it many years ago is that it turns out I have to make what can feel like that “first” step each day.  It’s the “one foot in front of the other” AFTER that first step of the 1000 mile journey that can often keep us from reaching the destination.

Around 8 years ago I set out on a journey to hike the 2,181 miles of the Appalachian Trail (3510K for my German friends).   I learned SEVERAL things during the 400+ miles that I did hike and only regret that I didn’t finish.  On the day I quit, I was so tired and it had rained what seemed like non-stop for so many days.  The idea of months more of it overwhelmed me.   What I learned from this is that my focus needed to be on the 15-20 miles I was going to hike on THAT day.  Reaching our big goals requires taking what often feels like that “first” step each day.  It requires focus on what we can do on this day towards reaching our destination.  Instead of thinking about how good I would feel when I reached Katahdin and how bad I would feel about quitting, I let what seemed like the enormity of another  1,700 miles overwhelm me. 

These daily first steps are things like committing to making at least one phone call to get started, doing at least 10 minutes of exercise and telling ourselves we can quit after that if we still just don’t feel like it, reading the first page of the manual, 15 minutes on our career development plan and goals, just committing to 20 minutes on the resume to rewrite that old objective statement as a value proposition…you get the idea.  Focusing on how great it will feel when you reach your goal, then switching your focus to “What can I do on this day?” and just take that first step.  Usually that is all it takes to give us enough momentum to keep going.

Some days on the trail were certainly better than others.  On particularly tough days the terrain seemed unforgiving, I had lived several days on jerky and ramen noodles, the rain poured and I felt like I would never be dry again.  It felt like just that one day was 1000 miles in and of itself.  Those were truly “one foot in front of the other” days.  Just keep going.  You’re going to reach your destination and every day isn’t like this.  Many days are sunny, with beautiful vistas and wonderful people and experiences.  I have wonderful memories of those days too. Those are the days where you feel like you can hike all 2181 miles because you feel so good.  Savor those days and celebrate your victories!  And please don’t try to hike all 2,181 miles in one day and kill yourself (you know who you are), know that you will reach your destination in your own time.  So we keep taking that first step, staying focused on reaching our goals each day, enjoying what the journey has to teach along the way.  Before you know it you’ll be at the top of your Mount Katahdin!