You’ve probably heard “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” as encouragement to get started on an ambitious endeavor. Likewise, you may have heard the response “one bite at a time” to the question “how do you eat an elephant?,” jokingly indicating that a series of mini-actions can lead to a big result.
Sure, taking a single step or consuming one bite, followed by more of the same, could bring success for thousand-mile trips or make-believe consumption of large animals.
Why, then, are we reluctant to take that first step?
If you are like me, you may worry about getting sidetracked or stymied in some way. Your comfortable life abandoned, you’ll find yourself stranded in the middle of nowhere or with a partially eaten elephant crowding your living room.
And if you really think about the single-step and one-bite analogies, you’ll realize that most of your potential undertakings are complex and require capabilities beyond perseverance involving repetition of simple tasks. To finish what you have started, you need more knowledge, more time, more money, and more support than is available at this moment.
But there are reasons you should take that first step anyway:
Small steps are enough
Sometimes, more often than not, small steps are enough. They can help you achieve results all by themselves, not simply as a precursor to something greater. You may hope to go further but more is not required.
For example, you may want to start an exercise program and get strong enough to run a 5K without stopping to rest or walk. But right now, all you can do is walk a few steps. So, you simply start walking a mile, then 2 miles, then 3 miles every other day. Sure, your goal is to run 3.1 miles. But walking a few miles on a regular basis can have a tremendous positive impact on your health.
First steps build momentum and illuminate the next, more complicated and difficult ones
Certain actions prepare you for the future in ways you can not imagine or anticipate.
Continuing with the basic exercise regimen as an example, if you are now walking 3.1 miles regularly, you’ve accomplished the following:
- learned to carve out time to exercise on a regular basis
- discovered a route or several routes where you can walk (or run) on a regular basis
- most likely, strengthened your body
- gained confidence from accepting and conquering a challenge
Training to run a 5K will be demanding but you’ll be much more prepared than if you had done nothing.
Your small repetitive steps provided a foundation for further progress.
First steps show willingness to respond to God’s call
There may be the times when I’m called to accomplish a certain task or take on a complicated project that requires knowledge or connections I don’t have. My job is to respond by taking the first step and letting God open doors and show me what’s next. The more I respond and move forward, the more direction I get.
In these situations, I may feel like I have a street view whereas God has satellite view. But just as I trust my GPS to give me turn by turn directions, I can trust God to direct my path. He wants me to agree to the trip and then he’ll let me know how I’m going to get there.
For example, last year, a friends was led to gather blankets and distribute them to the homeless. She did enough groundwork to get started, which involved putting out collection boxes at church, publicizing the project by asking for gently used blankets from church members, and organizing people who could sew labels indicating the church’s name on the blankets.
When she gave the blankets to the homeless, she began to form friendships and learn more about people’s needs. Church members gave money to fill many of those needs and her reach began to expand. She then organized a clothing closet with space donated by a local business. Just a few months in, my friend is forming bonds with those who live in and serve this community. God nudged her to take the first few steps; then He could move people to respond and assemble the resources needed to carry out future steps.
Similarly, when I started the strategic planning process for our church a few years ago, I knew little about what to do, only that I felt a call. Just to get ready for the first few meetings, I did a lot of research and sought advice from key people. After each series of steps, I came to see what to do next and pushed through until we had a completed plan. During this time, I was often confounded but never worried as I knew to simply respond to prompts, remembering that the project (and its outcome) was God’s deal, not mine.
I may wait to act as I seek clarity and assurance about what to do after those first few steps. But clarity never comes and assurance is evasive. Simply acting on what I know already can help get me to the next level.
Sure, there are times when first steps seem like walking blindfolded. That’s not comfortable, and I may think I can’t even make the distance of a thousand feet, much less a thousand miles. But what I have discovered is — after taking first steps toward a long journey — I am likely to meet people who are happy to walk with me for a while, lend me a map (or let me follow), and offer provisions for the adventure.
Are you hesitant to take a single step toward an unknown future? Have you succeeded by taking that first step? What did you learn?