As a kid I was never the fastest or the fittest or what anyone would consider to be “athletic.”
In first grade my parents enrolled me in a co-ed soccer league. I was not (nor will ever be) the fastest or the fittest or what anyone would consider to be “athletic.”
On the first day of practice one of the boys came up to me and promised to be “my worst enemy.” Whether this was him picking on the small kid or that weird form of flirting that kids favor, I’m not sure. However, it also served as a crystalizing moment when I decided sports weren’t for me.
That doesn’t mean I became a couch potato. My natural flexibility drew me to gymnastics, though my overthinking perfectionist mind never allowed me to progress to more daring stunts. I enrolled in dance and became all too aware of my lack of grace and ability to move to the rhythm.
Partly from short stature and partly from my preference to exert my mind more than my body, physical endurance wasn’t a strong suit of mine. Which became all too apparent on family trips to national parks and long hikes in the Missouri woods. My legs would grow tired, my calves would burn and stiffen, and I’d want to stop and melt into the trail.
During those moments peppered with whining and pre-teen angst, my dad taught me a very valuable technique: One step at a time. Count your steps to ten. Start over again.
So many lessons are embedded within that small directive.
The power of breaking an overwhelming challenge into manageable chunks. The importance of focusing your attention on the here and now. Being clear about what you can and need to do without passing the frustration along to someone else.
Thinking about all of the thousands of steps until the end made me want to concurrently crumble into a ball until rescue came and lash out so I wouldn’t have to keep all of that discomfort as my own.
That simple practice serves me constantly. It was great during extreme uphill South American climbs when my short legs struggled to keep up with my long-legged friends. It serves me constantly in business. And I think it’s particularly valuable now amidst this crazy pandemic, politically-frazzled world we’re all living in.
Is anyone else struggling right now? I am.
A week ago my iPhone wanted to rub my nose into what life would have looked like in an alternate universe. It sent me a Summer 2019 montage of photos from conferences, concerts, trips to visit friends and family, all set to upbeat music. Not cool, Apple.
So I’ve been doing what I can to focus on the next ten steps. Sometimes those ten steps are about getting things done: hunkering down to complete the most pressing task on my to do list, taking a walk to strategize, or throwing myself into the types of projects my travel-packed schedule never allowed in the past. Other times, those ten steps are finding little ways to experience joy: silly photo shoots with Pickle (our dog), an afternoon spent playing Splendor, our new favorite game, or getting excited about my favorite seasonal custard flavor that drops next week (if you haven’t tasted a key lime pie concrete at Andy’s, please go treat your taste buds to it).
Tensions are high. We’re all stressed and scared and overwhelmed. And if you’re like me, on top of it all you’re pining for what could have been.
It’s clear that this isn’t and never was some minor inconvenience. Things feel broken. And a lot of us feel broken too. And as fears increase and stresses boil, we’re wont to find a way to diffuse that discomfort. The quick “fix” often involves passing that discomfort along to someone else. Of course, that doesn’t really fix the problem. But the momentary release may trick us into believing it has.
What if we all just focused on the next ten steps, instead?