Lao Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
His point was that even the longest expeditions have to start somewhere — and certainly, he’s right.
My issue is that I’ve rarely had a problem with that first step or even the first mile. It’s mile no. 627 that usually gets me.
The middle is hard.
Beginning is easy enough. The ending isn’t necessarily a cakewalk, but the middle is tough. Learning the lesson of how difficult the middle can be has taken me decades to realize. But finally, I know that somewhere along the way in almost every project, there comes a point that is so clouded, so difficult, so seemingly unresolvable — that most of us just want to throw our hands in the air and say, “Forget about it.”
In fact, I believe that most of us do just that.
Walking away, starting something else, quitting or saying, “Well, this wasn’t where I really wanted to go, but I guess this place will do,” comes easy. Murkiness and hesitancy in narrowing our options, identifying the right direction, choosing which fork in the road to take can be almost paralyzing — or, at the very least, discouraging. Sometimes we want to run the other way, and sometimes we want to plop down where we are and just stay there — regardless of its appropriateness, comfort or general desirability.
For me, in those times, the project has seemed doomed or impossible. To be fair, I suppose, some projects are truly unachievable and should be forsaken. But like Kenny Rogers said, the trick is knowing when to hold ‘em and knowing when to fold ‘em.
However, perhaps we “fold ‘em” too often because that’s the easiest option. In the last few years, I’ve come to learn and appreciate that having the fortitude to keep going in the midst of such opacity and “project despair” can lead to amazing places.
I suppose some readers might apply this story to a relationship — and you’re welcome to do so, but my personal experience around this phenomenon has been more in the professional realm. For example, publishing a book is hard. Writing the book turns out to be one of the most do-able aspects of the whole process. After the writing is complete is when the going gets tough. Editing. Getting feedback. Gaining consensus. Working with other people to make it a better product — that’s the hard part. When I’ve persevered, the path has gotten easier and more clearly marked. I’m not completely sure why, but acknowledging the struggle of the middle has made things better. Now, when I get to the hard part of a project, sometimes I catch myself saying, “Wow, this is hard.”
Then, a bell sounds in my brain, and I say, “Oh, this is the middle. I’ve got to keep going. I may not see the end right now, but if I keep going, things will clear up” — and, amazingly, they do.
I wish I could have learned the lesson long ago.
Perseverance is a powerful thing.