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.