This time of the year is a busy time in the gym as most Americans find themselves replete with goals for the new year—mostly recycled from last year’s unsuccessful attempts like weight loss. As the days go by, fewer and fewer people find the personal resolve to take the next step, and the gym becomes less crowded. It’s difficult to realize and appreciate any progress in such a short time frame, and bad habits are hard to break. This creates an environment that often cuts a journey of a thousand miles into just a few misplaced steps, leaving the goal in an abyss and in an unreachable and mysterious state…until next year’s haphazard attempt.
Lao Tzu once said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” This quote emphasizes the importance of small and humble beginnings towards accomplishing monumental goals. Whether learning to crawl, walk, or run, an individual must first find personal strength and courage to take the first step, regardless of how small and insignificant it is.
Each year people across the globe take time to celebrate a period of rebirth and exploration, setting goals and attempting to change their life. People pack the streets of New York City to party and watch the ball drop, waiting impatiently like an Olympic sprinter waits for the sound of the gun, to begin their race to the finish. All the anticipation and excitement of the first step makes subsequent steps less eventful, more mundane, and less enjoyable.
While it’s true that a long journey begins with a single step, it’s also true that a long journey ends with a single step with many single steps between the two. Each step is equal in its contribution towards the finish line. It takes discipline and hard work to take one step, regardless if it’s the first or last. Each and every step requires the same personal resolve and positive attitude to move forward. However, most people focus their efforts on the first step and consume their time dreaming of the last step. They envision monumental finish lines and celebrations like those depicted on television, instead of the humility required to overcome adversity and trepidation to accomplish the goal; taking each day as a single step toward the goal.
In nursing school, I observed people who were in addiction recovery programs and met a man who epitomized humble progress. His mindset and attitude provide a unique perspective towards accomplishing any goal. This man has been sober for decades and is a pillar in his community, helping others achieve success and overcome affliction. However, talking to him about his success he details a unique mindset. He doesn’t talk about his struggles of yesterday, or his foreseen difficulties of tomorrow. He only talks about today. He can’t tell you how many days he’s been sober, only that he’s fighting to be sober today.
In life, it’s important to set goals and to grow. Reality is stranger than fiction, and there are countless reasons and excuses for not accomplishing goals. Sometimes goals are unobtainable, sometimes they’re within reach, and other times they are simply anticlimactic—a goal where the pursuit and anticipation of success is more enjoyable than the achievement itself such as a vacation where the journey proves to be better than the destination.
This year I want to run an ultramarathon. It’s something that I’ve been working towards and training for over the past few years. I’ve been doing strength and conditioning when motivation was high and forcing myself when it wasn’t. Even after a few years of running and training most days of the week, I need motivation because each day is a new day, and today is the only day that matters. Someone asked me what you get for finishing such a big race? I said a blister… what’s your goal?
Eric Keller is an RN in the emergency department at Cleveland Clinic Akron General in Akron, Ohio