Take Just One Step to Succeed

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If I could share 500 words to inspire, this is the important wisdom I'd want to pass along to others...

  • There’s a little mountain in a state park near my home. It gains about 1,500 feet in two miles. So, four miles round trip. About two hours out of my life, not counting the drive. Even if you wouldn’t take this hike today you can probably accept that you could work up to it.

    I’d estimate that in the past eight years I’ve climbed this one little mountain 40 times. I’ve done lots of other mountains. More dramatic ones. Mt. Katahdin in Maine. The Grand Canyon, rim-to-river and back. Half Dome. The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. But I’m putting the others aside for this illustration. I’m just concentrating on 40 trips up that one 1,500-foot mountain. The cumulative elevation is the equivalent of hiking from sea level to the top of Mount Everest. Twice.

    If you had asked me eight years ago if I could climb as high as two Mount Everests, I would have said, “Of course not. No one can.” But I could, and I did. It just took me eight years to do it.

    It sometimes seems that we-both as individuals and as a society-don’t put enough value on gradual, deliberate progress. In my opinion it’s how most genuine human progress is made: very slowly, one step at a time.

    When we say we can’t do something, we really mean we can’t do it right now. Better to do it over the course of eight years than not at all.

    When we say we can’t change the world, we really mean we can’t change it completely. Better to change it a little than not even to try.

    We want to leap, or fly, to the top of the mountain, but we almost never can. But we can get there, if we want it badly enough. It just involves thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of small steps.

    Here’s something I find helpful: I try to avoid the very human temptation to keep looking up at the summit, gauging its distance. That sets off a torrent of negative internal voices.

    Instead I try to return my focus to the current step. The summit is almost always overwhelming. The next step almost never is. So I take the step. Then I take another. And another.

    And when I do stop to gauge my progress, I don’t look up. I turn around and look behind me. At how high I’ve already climbed. That sets off a very different internal dialogue. It’s amazing how those little steps add up.

    Next time you feel overwhelmed by the sheer height of a figurative mountain, try coming back into the moment. Don’t look up. Just take the step in front of you, and the one after that, and the one after that. When you do finally turn and look back at where you started, I think you’ll be amazed at how high you’ve climbed.

    Catherine Ryan Hyde

    Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of 23 published and forthcoming books. Her newest releases are Where We Belong, Walk Me Home, Subway Dancer and Other Stories, When You Were Older, Don’t Let Me Go, When I Found You, Second Hand Heart, The Long, Steep Path: Everyday Inspiration From the Author of Pay It Forward, and Always Chloe and Other Stories. Forthcoming are Take Me With You, and Pay It Forward: Young Readers Edition. Other newer novels include Jumpstart the World, Becoming Chloe, Love in the Present Tense, The Year of My Miraculous Reappearance, Chasing Windmills, The Day I Killed James, and Diary of a Witness. She is co-author, with publishing industry blogger Anne R Allen, of How to be a Writer in the E-Age…And Keep Your E-Sanity. Older works include Earthquake Weather and Other Stories, Funerals for Horses, Pay it Forward, Electric God, and Walter’s Purple Heart. These backlist titles rereleased digitally in October of 2012. Pay It Forward was adapted into a major motion picture starring Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt, chosen by the American Library Association for its Best Books for Young Adults list, and translated into more than 23 languages for distribution in over 30 countries. More than 50 of her short stories have been published in The Antioch Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, Ploughshares, Glimmer Train, The Sun and many other journals, and in the anthologies Santa Barbara Stories and California Shorts and the bestselling anthology Dog is my Co-Pilot. She is founder and former president (2000-2009) of the Pay It Forward Foundation. As a professional public speaker she has addressed the National Conference on Education, twice spoken at Cornell University, met with Americorps members at the White House and shared a dais with Bill Clinton.

    For more information, please visit cryanhyde.com.

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