Sometimes we get so focused on what’s not working and how insurmountable the contrived problem seems that we miss the steps right in front of us to easily lead us in a new direction – if only we were willing. It’s like we’re standing so close to the wallpaper that we can’t see the pattern. A kind of situational blindness.
Years ago I was at lunch with friends who were listing, once again the standard woes of their lives that they couldn’t seem to get any traction over or change for the better. Lack of expendable income, getting scary medical tests, an old broken-down car. Some of the problems were small and might have looked inconsequential to others and some were huge and may have looked like solutions were going to be difficult and take forever.
However, the solution to both types was remarkably similar.
- Name the Problem – I unfolded a paper napkin, cleared a space and wrote down one of the problems – get a mammogram. A friend had lost a mother and a sister to breast cancer and the idea of getting a necessary mammogram filled her with dread and weighed on her mind and had done so for well over a year. All that emotional and spiritual space taken up by what the test might say. The end result was she was frozen in place, wondering if she was sick and doing nothing about it.
- Break it Down into Bite-Size Pieces – Underneath that goal I numbered 1 to 5 and asked my friend to come up with five simple steps she could take in the direction of that goal. Not necessarily get to the mammogram but head in that general direction.
- Gather Information – Gathering information is less intimidating and a necessary step. One of the ideas my friend came up with was to ask friends where they got a mammogram and what did they think of the experience. One of the tools we can lose when we’re facing something we don’t want to do is to ask for help. Gathering information invites others in to the process from a much more positive perspective. We’re not complaining about the problem, which drags everyone down. We’re researching possible solutions.
- Share the small success stories – It’s amazing how energizing being part of a group with a like-minded purpose can be for us and how much more likely we are to achieve that goal. However, many of us think that only the news of reaching the magical goal is worth sharing and we struggle mostly alone on the journey to get to the mountain top.
- The Journey – Here’s a radical viewpoint – the journey is more the point of your life than the destinations. The journey contains more of the moments of your life than a goal and is filled with the memories of who traveled the road with you, what you overcame, the blessings you found when you least expected it or even, really hoped would be there and what you learned about your connection to your Higher Power, your loved ones and yourself. The goal is gravy. Celebrate and share the smaller steps all along the way with everyone around you. When we do that we become the light for those who are stuck in neutral right behind us just by striving forward, one step at a time.
After about a year something strange started to happen for all of us in that little lunch group. We started to turn our focus away from what we had decided in the past was wrong with our lives and started talking about what we might be able to create instead. Nothing had changed but our attitude and in that adjustment was our real power to move our lives forward. No problem was seen anymore as too big because all that we needed to know was the small step right in front of us. We stopped focusing on the outcome, where we had no control and talked about how the journey was going. We stopped offering how a problem wouldn’t work out and instead offered other possible small and doable solutions.
An unexpected payoff for me came when I found out I had cancer and lost a small section of my left leg that affected my ability to walk normally and cut short my running career. I had always been a slow runner but when I was running alone I felt as swift as the wind. Now, it looked like that was over.
However, I’d learned a few things about the power of a step and I applied the new ideas to literally learning how to do walk again. The process took nearly two years but recently I ran a slow 5K with a buddy, Cindy Biggs. A friend, Rana Husseini ran on to the course near the end with such a big smile, cheering us on. Carolyn Lagioia was at the beginning and the end of the race and Matt Koontz and Tracy Thompson were near the finish line waving us on as we passed under the big inflatable red victory arch. PROSkydiving in Rochelle, Illinois sponsored my run as a way to raise awareness for melanoma and Mo Wills at Infinity Multisport volunteered to teach me a new way to walk and then run.
I was so stunned to finish I kept asking Cindy if we were really done. We had gotten there, one slow step at a time and it’s the journey I’ll remember most. I’m already signed up for two more races and wondering what journey I can start next. More adventures to follow.