We all remember the story of the tortoise and hare. They both had the goal of crossing the finish line but the tortoise won because he simply kept moving while the hare stopped and goofed off, believing that he could make up for lost time later. Lately my own work has felt a lot like the story of the tortoise and the hare, except I’m playing both parts. There have been days during this whole COVID thing where my inner hare wins. On those days I find myself saying dumb things like “I’ll have more time tomorrow” or “I’ll wake up early and get this thing done.” Neither of which happen.
Then, there are the days where my far more sensible inner tortoise wins. I know what my goal is and that taking small consistent steps, no matter how broken up they are, will bring me closer to reaching that goal than not taking the steps at all. It’s these days that make all the difference in the long run.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had plenty of crazy inner hare days where I do end up in a dead sprint towards a goal I’ve procrastinated on. This type of rush feels icky and the work that comes out of it is less than great. At the end of a spring I am exhausted and often can’t bring myself to do any sort of work towards the goal for days, if not weeks, afterward.
Looking back, taking the tortoise approach makes much more sense. Maybe there is only fifteen minutes to spare in that space between lunch and a meeting. Maybe it’s a half hour before bed, or right as you wake up. Using these small chunks of time might not feel like much, but as the work they produce accumulates, these small efforts can really add up.
Another perk of having a tortoise mentality is that it helps you seek opportunities that you might not consider otherwise. If you are always waiting for that perfect evening, or that free weekend to work towards your goal, it might never happen. On the other hand, if you are content with the small pockets of time you can find, you stand a much better chance of getting things done.
Dean Wesley Smith has famously talked about the idea that you should always set optimistic goals with the drive to get as close as you can to reaching them. He talks about it at length in his article Failure Must Be An Option. He says the only way to move forward is to try, and fail, and try again, over and over. This forces us to lose the hesitation of trying something new, or doing something that frightens us. Growing requires trying lots of things and failing as many times as it takes before we learn. Failure is an option, quitting is not.
Often those of us who haven’t quite figured out how to reach our goal will look on those who do and how easy it looks. It’s like watching a professional ice skater, they make ice skating look so effortless and dreamlike that it seems as natural as breathing. What we don’t see is all the hundreds of times they’ve fallen and the thousands of hours it took to get to where they are.
One of the best quotes to come out of Indiana Jones is, “It’s not the years, honey. It’s the mileage”. It’s not time that grants us the experience we need to finish a big goal, it’s sitting down and doing the work and being willing to mess up and fail from time to time.
So, when the days feel like they are crawling by and you aren’t making much progress, remember the tortoise the hare. Lots of little efforts still add up and being willing to try matters.
You got this.
Book #2 in the Shadow Barrier Trilogy
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couldn’t agree more, great post!
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