30 March 2017

Small Steps

One of the most important lessons of my lifetime is one that I'm very thankful that I've learned well--that of taking small steps, and even more importantly, being satisfied with those small steps.  I've always tended to want things done now, or even five minutes ago, but life has been very good at teaching me that not only is that not always possible, but it's usually not even desirable.

I've always been the kind of person who would take a painting class and want to paint a masterpiece on my first outing.  I'd start to build a bookcase and want it all done in an hour, and I'd want it to be perfect.  I'd start a school program and want my degree in a matter of months, but I'd be told that it would take years.

Don't worry--I'm not the kind of person who would rant and rail about things being "too slow"--all of my discontent was inside of me, more in the way I felt than the way I acted.  One of the problems that contributed to this bigger problem is the fact that I'm usually pretty good at whatever I do--I learn very quickly, and I'm almost always able to work at an accelerated pace, so slowness frustrates me a lot.  But I do realize that not everyone learns at the same pace; many people need things to go more slowly, so it's important that I be patient and understand that things won't always go at my pace.

I notice that my students tend to have a hard time with this.  They also want things done now, and to move on to the next thing.  I often have them write just one paragraph of a paper at a time, and they're usually pretty astonished to see how well developed their finished essay is because they gave attention to the individual parts instead of trying to write an entire essay at one sitting.

I've seen this ability reflected in the work that goes with writing novels--inside, I often feel impatient when the novel isn't done as soon as I start chapter one, but the process is obviously much more involved than that.  You don't write novels as a whole or even chapter by chapter--you write them sentence by sentence, and often word by word.

Cooking is another activity that allows one to focus on the process instead of an immediate finished product.  Even something as simple as making a salad forces one to work first with the lettuce, then with the tomatoes, then with the cucumbers. . . .  It can't be done immediately.  Unfortunately, though, we live in the age of meals in a box, and people don't have to learn the process any more--they just have to boil some water or throw things into the microwave.

Is it any wonder, then, that we have a hard time honoring the processes of life, and allowing ourselves to flow with them at the speed they take naturally?  We're so used to getting everything done at once that we don't have time to take the small steps and actually enjoy them for what they are--pieces in a larger process that leads to a finished product in which we can take pride.

The ability to be satisfied with small steps is a reflection of my growth in letting go of control of situations over which I have no control, especially as far as time is concerned.  I don't see doing something slowly as a reflection on me any longer, and I don't see not being finished as a negative, no matter how someone else may look at it.  I can't tell you how many times people have asked "You're not finished yet?" when I've been taking my time through a process so that the finished product is as good as I know it can be.  If I can take an extra day or two on something and know that its quality will be immensely greater, then I will take the extra time; I haven't always been this way.

There's something very liberating about finishing a chapter and not thinking, "Only twenty more to go!"  It's a good feeling to recognize the accomplishment of having written the chapter and knowing that it was an important task that soon will contribute to a book as a whole

Life is a process, and we must honor it.  All of our years don't come at once, so we must learn and grow as the lessons come to us, and we must let them change us at their pace, and not try to force things to happen.  If we can do this, we'll find the peace that the gardener feels knowing that the vegetables won't be ready for harvest for months, and the peace that the rancher or farmer feels when new calves are born and they must grow and develop before they're a productive part of the ranch or farm.  It's the peace that comes from doing what we can do when we can do it, and leaving the rest for the right time to do the rest.

No comments:

Post a Comment