How thinking small takes you big
“My wife and I have been reading The Conscious Creator,” my friend says, “and it’s got her really worried.”
“Oh? Why?” I ask.
“Because she sees that it’s got me thinking big again.”
“Why is that a problem?”
“Because the last time we tried to go big we lost everything. We thought we were going to get rich with some investments and we ended up failing big time instead.”
“Ah, I see,” I nod my understanding. “I’ve heard this story before — in fact, I’ve lived it. So she’s afraid that if you think big again you’re setting yourselves up for big risk.”
“Exactly. Do you have any insights for us to help us get past that fear of failure?”
My advice to him and to anyone who feels gun-shy about going big because of previous big, painful failures is this:
Trying to go big is exactly the wrong thing to do. Don’t go big — go small.
Most people (including myself) have failed big precisely because they tried to go too big too fast. Their big dreams and desires exceeded their knowledge and skills, so it was unsustainable. They didn’t have a foundation in place. To reference Thoreau, they built their castles in the air, and they naturally come crashing down.
Coming from a person who has learned this the hard way, there’s a difference between big thinking and mere foolishness. It’s the difference between flashy fireworks and magnificent cathedrals. Fireworks shoot up high, fast, and loud, dazzle the night sky, and then fizzle out as quickly as they erupted. Cathedrals take decades to rise but they last for generations.
Let me state it more precisely: Think big but act small.
Create a big, inspiring, compelling vision of where you want to be in ten years. Then backtrack it all the way back to the baby steps you have to take today, and tomorrow, and this week, and the week after that, and every day for weeks, months, and years.
See your cathedral of accomplishment in your mind’s eye. Now start laying your foundation, one stone at a time, day in and day out.
Going legitimately and safely big is the natural development of working small but patiently and consistently for ten years or more.
I have several friends who have climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, which stands at 19,341 feet. Every one of them has told me the same story about how their guides teach them to ascend.
When hikers try to walk too fast, the guides caution them by saying, “Poli poli,” meaning “slowly, slowly” in Swahili.
Overly-confident hikers who ignore the advice pay a heavy price. They typically crash and burn and don’t reach the summit.
So it is with life: Fast and furious is the path to failure. Patient, consistent poli poli is the path to success.
- Step One: See the top of the mountain of accomplishment you want to climb. Envision it so clearly that you can feel what it’s like to stand on top of that mountain. Refer to that vision daily.
- Step Two: With your mind’s eye never leaving the top of the peak, turn your real eyes to your feet and take one step at a time.
- Step Three: Never, ever stop walking toward your peak.
The third step is by far the most underestimated and hardest, and the one that very, very few people can keep up for long enough. It requires a minimum of a ten-year time horizon, which most people simply do not have. (There’s a reason why get-rich-quick schemes never disappear.)
I’ll never forget this advice I received from my mentor, Oliver DeMille, over ten years ago: “People far overestimate what they can accomplish in a year, and far underestimate what they can accomplish in ten years.”
When you go big the right way, it takes a long time to notice any progress. Patience and consistency, then, are far more valuable skills than the ability to dream big.
The last stanza of Longfellow’s classic poem, A Psalm of Life, reads:
“Let us then be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.”
Sound advice from a man who clearly knew how to climb a mountain.