3+ME: Goals? Take the stairs

Most goals (like a second-grade research project) aren’t actually hard; they just take time

Here at The Herald News, we have a scary elevator.

From what I understand, it’s the second oldest in Massachusetts, and it took me a while to get used to its cage doors and loud sounds.

My stepkids don’t like it, though. When they come to visit me at work, they prefer to take the stairs.

Because unless you’re brave enough to take the elevator (or are somehow superhero-ly gifted like Spider-Man), to get to the second floor of a building, you probably need to find a set of stairs.

I mean, you can try to leap 20 feet in the air, but good luck to ya. We non-superhero types generally need something to climb, to get anywhere up.

Same is true with goals.

You can try to leap to the final product in one shot, but good luck to ya.

You have to take the stairs, because life doesn’t come with elevators. (Not even old creaky ones like ours!)

My stepdaughter is learning this. She has run into the first actual research project of her academic career, and it isn’t something that can be leapt to in one shot. Or finished in one sitting. It’s a goal, and she has to take it step by step.

Thankfully, her teacher has broken the project down into several different due dates, and we’ve taken it one step at a time. Like stairs to the second floor.

First, her subject was due. She chose to write about Amelia Earhart. That was easy.

Then, her plan for visual aids was due. That was slightly less easy, because she has to have some idea of who Amelia Earhart was, in order to plan what she wants to do. That took going to the library, reading, note-taking. A costume and poster board were decided upon.

Next, will be the facts. And that’s where it gets difficult.

She has to read (really read, not just skim) about this person in order to filter out what facts are important. And she isn’t too keen on it.

(She’s even less keen on speaking about it in front of the class, but we’ll cross that hurdle later.)

Reading takes time. Reading and comprehending takes even longer.

It’s hard, she says.

(“It’s impossible,” she insinuates.)

But really, when it comes to goals, nothing is impossible and very few things are actually hard. Often, the hard things just take time (and the hardest part about them is FINDING that time).

If she puts time into the research, the poster board will be less hard.

If she puts time into the poster board, the presentation will be less hard.

If she puts time toward a goal, that goal will be less hard.

The same is true for all of us.

It’s like the Chinese proverb, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

The journey to the third floor? That also begins with a single step.

So does the journey to a stellar research project on Amelia Earhart.

Or literally any goal ever.

Including drawing. I figured that out during one particular assignment in college, when we were required to do a piece with “perspective.” I took a photo of an aisle full of books in the library, and set to work.

The photo looked complicated. Lines and shades and textures were everywhere. It was overwhelming.

But I had to start somewhere. Ruler in hand, I measured and marked and connected lines, until I had an outline of everything. Then I shaded it all in.

And as I slowly filled in one patch of white paper at a time, it occurred to me that really, the drawing wasn’t actually hard at all.

It was taking a lot of time, but it wasn’t hard. All I had to do was draw shapes on a piece of paper.

When I drew this back in college, I learned that really, the project itself wasn’t actually difficult; it was just time-consuming. Boiled down, it was a bunch of lines drawn with a ruler, then shaded in.

Thing was, not all of the other kids in my class did. One girl in particular kept telling me she couldn’t draw like I could — when honestly, I bet she probably could — if she tried. If she put in the practice. If she spent the time. And making the time is the hardest part.

We want things instantly. We think quick means easy, and anything that isn’t quick we call hard.

Some things are, sure. Some things are genuinely difficult. Refraining from diving spoon-first into the Nutella when you’re trying to lose weight? That’s hard.

But reading for a homework assignment? Time-consuming, but not hard.

Learning an instrument?

Becoming a better cook?

Writing a novel?

One word at a time, one note, one meal at a time, it can be done.

One step at a time, we’ll get to the second floor.

Originally published in The Herald News on April 14, 2019.

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