I frequently risk being the prisoner of my ambition. I dream big and often, then wake up exhausted with a long to-do list and a sense of dread. How will I get it all done? How will I climb this mountain I have built?
I sit at its base, exhausted by the possibilities, wrapped in a sense of failure before I begin. That sense threatens to keep me from the first step. And the longer I wait to begin, the further away the summit will stretch.
Not doing can easily become a reflex. Like a hoarder with newspapers to the rafters, like a 700 lb. man trapped in bed, like a refugee clutching a trash bag of possessions and a child’s hand, it can all seem too big to tackle. Submission to failure and the monkey can seem the only possible recourse.
But doing, like failure, can be incendiary. I start by taking on one challenge, maybe the easiest, teeniest one on the pile. When I have surmounted it, one checkmark on the epic list, I feel a flicker of hope. I pull the next task toward me and the flicker starts to smolder.
I make the bed, I got to the gym, I do a drawing, I write a blog post, I arrange a lunch meeting, I write a chapter, and soon the flames are roaring, wheels are turning, we are half-way up the peak.
Not doing can easily become a reflex.
Then, I sift through the list. I discard the pointless, the distracting, the indulgent. I break the most overwhelming obstacles into a small series of do-able tasks. I beaver on. Soon the list is a scaffolding, a set of pitons leading me hand-over-hand to the top.
Last night we watched The Martian. It’s a great move based on an even greater book. It deals with an impossible challenge: surviving on Mars, with rescue years away. The solution is increments — tackling one small problem, then the next, and so on. The more bite-sized the problems, the easier the whale is to digest.
Dream big. Start small.