This post starts a series called 5 Life Lessons Learned from the PhD. I learned much about education and instructional design during my PhD journey, but the most valuable of all were the life lessons learned along the way. In this 5-part series, I challenge conventional thoughts by looking at life a different way.
Lesson #1: Just Do it versus Just Start
“The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” – Lao Tzu
I’m publicly challenging Nike’s mantra, “Just do it.” Had I not changed that overwhelming call to accomplish into my own mantra, “Just start,” I might never be standing here on the summit of this mountain with my pile of lessons learned.
Before starting my PhD program, I was extremely overwhelmed with the huge mountain before me. It was not one of those beautiful, picturesque mountains with a clear path to the top; it was a dark, steep, and scary mountain with the peak unclear to my eye. It was a mountain that cast a dark shadow over me.
I did, though, always consider the disappointment of allowing the years to pass only to find myself still standing at the bottom of that mountain looking up. I knew, deep down, that I wanted to change my perspective of that mountain, and the only way to do that was to just start climbing.
Just start, despite the negative voices.
It was that first step that was the most important, the most critical – but also the most difficult. I had to gather my supplies, take a deep breath, grab hold of that mountain, and start pulling myself up regardless of the negative thoughts swirling in my head.
“I’m already too busy.” “The kids are too young.”
“The time isn’t right.” “I’m not smart enough.”
I was at first paralyzed from my own negative thoughts. I was my own nemesis. I had to silence those destructive thoughts and replace them with a more constructive motto.
What are your own negative voices keeping you from just starting? What constructive motto can you adopt in its place?
Identify and embrace your supporters.
It did help that I had supporters, some who had already climbed that mountain, standing there with me, cheering me on to just start climbing. The confidence I found from others certainly helped. There were times that their belief and enthusiasm was a surrogate for what I was lacking.
You can do it!
Who are those people in your life who truly believe in you? Are you listening to them? Are you embracing them? Are they aware of the mountain before you? Share your mountain with them!
Focus on the doing, not on the feeling.
Of all the steps during the climb up the mountain, the final steps felt most rewarding. Sure, there were small victories along the way that felt really great. I did take time to celebrate my progress. That feeling, though, was fleeting, and I had to force myself to continually look back up that mountain. It was the accumulation of all the steps in-between, my continual push up that mountain – even when it didn’t feel fabulous – that made all the difference.
Without that first step – as yucky and as scary as it felt – I never would have made the journey. I had to just start.
Are waiting to feel ready? Are you waiting for the mood to strike? Keep in mind that you might not ever feel ready. Recognize the difference between the feeling of motivation and the action of discipline. Being disciplined to just start even when it doesn’t feel great is when true progress happens!
So, what’s the life lesson?
This lesson to just start can be applied to most tasks, big or small, that face us daily. Let’s not focus on the entire mountain; let’s focus on just the first step.
What is it that you face today? It might be a literal mountain of dirty laundry on your floor or of paperwork on your desk. It might be a metaphorical mountain of a goal you want to reach or of a situation needing resolved. What is that first, critical step that must be taken?
The lesson here is that without the FIRST step you will never reach the top; this is certain!
Are you ready? Don’t wait! Just start!
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