Thoughts & Things

Journey of a thousand miles

April 9, 2019

A few years back I joined a typing institute after seeing their tempting advertisement. Learn typing in four hours.  As computers were becoming part and parcel of life, I thought fast typing skills would be of great help.  Further fast typing skill was always a thing of envy too.  Anyway, neither advertisement nor my four hour  efforts  produced results . I did not master typing from that  institute and  four hour mastery remained  a myth.

Mastering skills in the shortest possible time is an attractive slogan and a desirable thing for many. Sometimes we have an illusion that technological advances of this century have shortened the time required for mastering almost anything.  Every day  we come across such advertisements in our lives and many fall for that . Whether wealth, skill or power we love short cuts.  Huge tasks are a turn off for us. We stare at them and surrender before making the first move.  But in reality, life does not happen that way and in most cases life  favours long distance runners . It  offers its best gifts to those who can endure and wait . What life teaches is a simple lesson. Almost any task is achievable when we really make it into a thousand small ones and are ready to slog for a long time.

Bird by bird

American writer Anne Lamott who has written a beautiful book  “ Bird by bird “ on writing narrates an interesting anecdote from her personal life in her  book which incidentally took its title from this incident itself.  When Anne’s elder brother was 10 year old he was trying to get a report on birds written that he had three months to write , which was due the next day. The family was out that day and her brother was sitting in kitchen table close to tears , surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds staring at the huge task. His father sat down near him , put his arm around his son and told , bird by bird , buddy take it bird by bird. In fact, this sums up the way any writer has to direct his effort. If a great book is written word by word , a great institution is built  brick by brick. Small steps directed with focus and consistency achieve greater things for humanity. E.L. Doctorow once said  “writing a  novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlight.” When you drive a car at night all you can see will be a few feets ahead and it is possible to undertake the whole journey like that. You don’t need to see the entire route or even the final destination. Similarly, the challenges in life require the willingness to travel that small distance every day without worrying about the end.

The myth of overnight success

The overnight success is a myth. The sooner  we understand this ,  the better. How do we observe people who are victorious?   How many of us take the effort to understand the  hard work and relentless efforts behind each success story?  Anything really worthwhile takes a long time to build.  This is the thumb rule of life. In fact, though we are familiar with this idea, the fact is that we overlook it and we are not so keen to hear the long story of building up something.  Most of the time, our age is defined by a craving for quick results .

 We want to master as many things possible in the shortest time possible. This is a kind of pressure some of our kids are subjected to now .  We see parents trying to make their children excel in everything  they do in the minimum possible time . Here the point is that we must make the child ready for the long road ahead. Talent matters less and what is most important is hard work and the willingness to stay on in the race. In fact sometimes we will be surprised to see the hard work put by some of our geniuses. We may have a notion that genius does less work. But the contrary may be true. They keep a punishing schedule for themselves and stick to it.  Michael Angelo said once, if only people knew the hard work I do, they will respect me less….

The importance of a routine

The problem with a routine is that most of us do not like it. For many, sticking to a routine can be the most painful thing. It is difficult and boring.  However, a routine is absolutely essential when it comes to accomplishing huge tasks. Often what makes such things possible is our willingness to do it in small measure on a daily basis.  When we look ahead, months, years and decades will appear daunting. However, a day is within our grasp. The time between sunrise and sunset. We are masters of that few hours and what we do in those few hours will decide our output a few years later. There are a lot of writers who stick to a very interesting routine. Though  I am using a writer as an example, the idea of routine is equally applicable to almost any other profession.  Look at what Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami  does everyday when he is into writing , ” When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometres or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m. keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.”.  Now imagine he is sticking to this routine for months together and you will know what it takes for some creative minds to bring out their works. We need not imitate Murakami. That’s not needed also . What is important is everyone choosing their own  discipline and habits  .  

The takeaway

What Lao Tzu said hold true forever. The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Let me close this with another stellar example of a person who started small and made it huge. Maria Popova is running one of the most popular literary blog called brain pickings,  an absolute gem.  ( This blog which began in 2006 as a mail to seven of her friends ,  attracts millions of visitors per month now. When the blog completed 10 years she wrote a post on 10 learnings from 10 years . As the seventh item, she wrote: “  Expect anything worthwhile to take a long time”. Considering the single-minded devotion and the mindboggling hard work which goes into this blog every day for the last several years she is eminently qualified to say that.  She called for a serious retuning of the definition of success. According to Popova, “ the flower does not go from bud to blossom in one spritely burst and yet as a culture we are disinterested in the tedium of blossoming. But that’s where the real magic unfolds…. If we have any desire to capture the beauty of life, we need to make the one small step with enthusiasm every day and enjoy the long period prior to blossoming …….

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