The only way to accomplish monumental tasks

by | July 30, 2012

There are, to be precise, 471 tiles in my shower.

Every week, I’m faced with the task of scrubbing the entire shower. Every week, I inevitably feel overwhelmed by how much surface I have to cover with a tiny scrub brush.

I usually start with broad, sweeping strokes trying to cover as much area as possible. Until I realize how much I’m missing.

There’s only one way I can clean the shower effectively — and get over the mental block of how big the task is: One. Tile. At. A. Time.

Staring at an entire shower wall is daunting and discouraging. But I can easily and happily do one 4″ x 4″ area.

I start in one corner and focus all my energy and attention on one tile. And when that one’s done, I do another. And another. And another.

Until eventually I realize I’ve cleaned the entire shower.

I have a 39-year-old friend who is married, has three children, has a degree in economics, and has been working in the same industry for fourteen years.

Trouble is, his heart is pulling him in another direction. He feels called to complete advanced degrees in psychology and become a therapist.

But, understandably, he struggles with the decision because it’s such a daunting, overwhelming task to think of the whole process of going back to college and completely switching careers at this stage in his life.

He feels immobilized and frustrated.

My advice to him is to cultivate an inspiring, empowering vision of what it will feel like to be in his dream career as a therapist. Forget about the arduous journey and just see and feel the end result.

Then, drop his gaze from the future and focus all his energy and attention on one step at a time in the present. Take one online class at a time, one day at a time. And another. And another.

Until eventually he’s walking across the stage to receive his diploma.

In her liberating book, The Artist’s Way, creativity coach Julia Cameron reveals how to conquer mental blocks, discover your inner artist, and unleash your creative genius. She explains,

“Remember that in order to recover as an artist, you must be willing to be a bad artist. Give yourself permission to be a beginner. By being willing to be a bad artist, you have a chance to be an artist, and perhaps, over time, a very good one.

“When I make this point in teaching, I am met by instant, defensive hostility: ‘But do you know how old I will be by the time I learn to really play the piano/act/paint/write a decent play?’

“Yes…the same age you will be if you don’t.”

You know the quote from Lao Tzu: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

Another Chinese proverb makes his statement more accurate and complete:

“To get through the hardest journey we need take only one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping.”

It’s never too late to accomplish great things — the time is going to pass anyway. It’s not too hard–if you focus on one step at a time.

What great and noble task do you feel called to accomplish, but you’re hesitating to pursue because it feels too daunting?

  1. How will you feel when you’re standing at the top of your mountain?
  2. What is your first baby step? What tiny little task do you need to do right now, today, to move toward your goal?

Go do it. Put the whole journey out of your mind. Focus entirely on: That. One. Step.

Then take another step. And another. And another. And one day you’ll look up and realize you’re on top of the mountain.

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