“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
That saying is attributed to Lao Tzu, a Chinese philosopher whom historians believed lived in either the 6th or 4th Century BC. Without scooters, bicycles, or Uber, I imagine they did much more walking (and possibly reflecting) back then.
The saying has lasted because of its simple truth: to get anywhere you want to go, you have to start with the first step. Until the Star Trek transporter becomes a reality, the need for intentional action and directed effort will be necessary if we want to reach our preferred destinations.
If the first cut is the deepest (h/t to Sheryl Crow), the first step towards improvement or change is often the hardest.
Why is that?
Based on my almost thirty years in the people business, I’ve found it’s one of several reasons. First, let me debunk a few of the myths and then offer a few suggestions.
There is only one right first step and until you find it, you can’t go anywhere. This assumption that there’s only one way to a preferred destination has paralyzed many people. I have several friends and clients who took the scenic route to their dream career. One started with a business degree but found out they really wanted to be a teacher. Rather than say, “Well, I missed my opportunity to get a teaching degree” they searched for alternate routes.
It’s too hard to change. I won’t lie to you: change is hard. But do you know what is even harder than changing? Not changing at all. All good and positive change usually comes with a cost of either time, money, or energy. But rarely do we count the cost of not changing (missed opportunities, unfilled dreams, regrets).
I don’t know where to start. When looking at a career change or developing new habits, it can feel overwhelming. In the age of Google, we have access to more information than ever before, both good and bad. Here’s the key: you might not know where to start, but someone does. Find a coach. Ask someone who is doing what you want to be doing how they got started.
I can’t just take one step; I have to know what the next ten or one hundred will be. This is one is closely related to the first myth. Both appeal to (or tempt) our need to be in control. People who decide to live on faith soon realize that God may only light your next step, then the one after that. Very rarely does he illuminate the whole mile or next five years.
Pro Tips to Getting Started
Think progress, not perfection. One imperfect step forward moves you closer to your goal than sitting perfectly still. Rather than putting pressure on yourself to make the perfect choice, just make a good choice and then another. Before long, look back and you’ll be amazed at how far you’ve come.
Chunk it. Not out the window. When possible, breakdown your next step into several smaller mini-steps. It’s what we do when traveling. Even when I book a direct flight from Denver to Los Angeles, I still have take many other steps before arriving in LA. I have to pack, find a way to the airport, make make my through security, find coffee, etc. This can be done with habits, diets, and much more.
Adapt and adjust. Every now and then, life will pause and let you catch your breath, take a stroll, or nap for a few hours. But quite often, it is the adjustments we must make on the fly that determine whether we reach our goals or not. Since the first step will likely be an imperfect step, learn from it and adjust your next step. That’s called wisdom.
Don’t step alone. When it comes to achieving your dreams, there are two things to avoid: stepping on others and stepping alone. When the change ahead is difficult, finding a stepping partner will help you stay motivated. This is why I believe in coaching. You can be prideful and not admit to others you need help. You can also be prideful, try to do it by yourself, get discouraged, and quit.
Get a good pair of shoes. When I decided to start running on a regular basis with the goal of running a 10k, the best advice I received from nearly every serious runner was this: don’t go cheap on your shoes. Go cheap and you’ll pay a painful price. What kind of shoes do you need? Well, in some ways that depends on your destination. But I’ve found that people who complete their journeys of a thousand miles, have certain shoe characteristics in common: attitude, a willingness to learn, humility, and perseverance.
Let me close with a few questions to think about:
- What step do you need to take?
- What is keeping you from taking it?
- What do you need to start doing today to reach your destination tomorrow?
"I'd love to help you create the life you've always wanted" - Ken
I’ve been helping people and organizations get unstuck for nearly 30 years. Whether it’s a one-on-one coaching session or speaking to hundreds at a large conference, I find great satisfaction in helping people reach their God-given potential.