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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Small Steps

There's an oft-quoted proverb that I'm nearly sick of hearing: "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

It's widely attributed to Laozi (or Lao-Tzu), near-legendary founder of Taoism. And it's exceptionally well-known in China: When I Googled the eight-character Chinese phrase, I got "about 1,030,000" results!

It has become such a cliché that sometimes I treat it like banner advertising on a web page: it never penetrates my consciousness.

But recently I undertook a massive project: Visiting nearly 150 ancient temples across 25 of the Mainland's 31 province-level areas.

That's huge.

And after I committed to the project, I started to worry: How will I manage? How will I pay for it?

And the answer came: One temple at a time, just as I visited the 188 great temples of Japan, and walked the Old Tokaido Highway from Tokyo to Kyoto.

So here's my advice: Dream big. Don't let the size of a project stop you. Then, do it in small steps.

A fine example of this can be seen in Jean Giono's beautiful modern parable The Man Who Planted Trees, about a poor shepherd who turns a barren valley into a fully-functioning forested ecosystem by planting one acorn at a time.

So plant an acorn. Take a step. Lay a brick. Write a paragraph. These are the small first steps toward the completion of a big project.

And just by starting, you'll be happier.

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