Change Gently to Begin Strongly: the Giant Leap & the Baby Steps
There is an illusion in the field of change. That change, real change, must be radical. Especially when it comes to following our passion, we must follow our passion “passionately”. We must abandon the current life, and set sail like a captain in search of True North. There is something fundamentally flawed about this belief.
I have met plenty of friends who resent their work, their relationships, their lives. They have one good thing in common: they are hedging some big changes. They have one bad thing in common: they are not doing anything about those changes.
When being asked what is holding them back, they report a long list of what-ifs, insecurities, and fear: "What if the thing I’m hedging is not really my passion?" “What if I fail?" “What if I succeed?" “What if I waste all the money?" "I want to quit my job but what if I get starved?”
Giant leaps are thrilling and novel "One day, I will quit my job, fly to another city, set up my own business." "One day, I will move out to a cottage in the wood and write my first novel.”
That’s exactly the problem. Giant leaps are movie-like, more suitable for fantasizing than taking actions. They are also cool to talk about; and we do exactly just that.
“One day I will ___” (fill in the blank). But no. Not today.
What we fail to understand is that real changes – changes worth having – take time.
Most of the time, real changes aren’t so sudden and dramatic as they are on movies. To me, change is less of one giant leap; and more of baby steps.
I’m changing my life a little every day, putting one baby step in front of another, following the call of my heart. That change is simply the action of sitting down at 8AM to write, and of stepping on my yoga mat to practice. They seem somewhat mundane and unromantic. But to me, they carry enormous strength of conviction. They represent grit, zest, gusto for the art I’ve chosen. Every day, despite the churning stomach and the negative self-thoughts: "What's the point?" “Who do you think you are?”
We all love to dream. The bad news is that we have to work on those dreams.
Uh oh… Work?
Yes. You spelled it right.
There’s no other way. Instead of fantasizing a thrilling change, and ending up disheartened by its size; take small action every day.
If quitting the job and moving to a cottage in the wood to write seems too overwhelming; keep the job and the house; now write for an hour instead. If moving to another city to start a new business seems scary; stay in this city; now start something small of your own.
Do it now.
The size of the change doesn’t not matter a hill of beans. What matters is to take action. Right action begets right action. Each time you take an action, you gain strength for the next slightly bigger one. One day, you will feel that quitting your current job, or leaving your current city, is just as simple (or as challenging) as sitting down to write every morning at 8AM. It will become just the next right action in your chain of good karma.
You want to become a painter? What about putting 1 hour aside every week to pain? What about 1 hour every other day? 1 hour every single day?
Scary isn't it? Now you know what I mean.
Whenever I suggest this to others, I prepare my ears for an onslaught of excuses "But I have a family/ a demanding job/ a tight schedule/ no time etc."
The thing is: in our true souls, we know it is not time we lack. What’s missing is courage.
People get uncomfortable when I say this to them. But I must be honest. I'm glad you are still reading. It is uncomfortable because this strips us naked of excuses. We are now forced to stare in the face of a truth we’ve long avoided: either we wither away in fantasy, or we get down to business.
This is very very scary. Taking small action is always harder than fantasizing the big dream. It's easier to have big ideas. It’s easier to sit there and complain about our handicap. It’s easier to fulfill the victim role in our own drama. “I don’t feel ready!”
I learned that I don’t need to feel ready to take great actions because truth is: I am never going never going to feel ready. Perfection and total readiness are expensive illusions. So I show up and do the work anyhow.
“We don’t just put off our lives today; we put them off until our deathbed.
Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives.
This second, we can sit down and do our work.”
Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
8 months ago, a BA student - who was about to get her degree in Finance, had worked well in “Business” for 5 years, and who had no background in art - decided that it was time to get down to business. The business of the heart. She began to write.
That girl is me. I haven’t published anything, but I honor my devotion. What matters are the scars from the divine internal battles, to write every day since August 11th 2014. What matters is that I have become alive. For I am a wild flower; writing is my blossoming.
Flowers don’t blossom all at once. They open slowly, one petal at a time.
What’s your petal?