I was paddling as hard as I could but going nowhere. I was making no progress that I could tell. The next bridge seemed to be getting no closer and I knew there was at least a mile to go after that. And it was getting dark. Then I remembered she had said they would open the floodgates. No wonder – we were rowing against the current.
But there is a lesson here that can help us all accomplish more every day.
My 14-year-old son had planned a wonderful day: kayak on the lake, go to his favorite book store, and have a little dinner. We had arrived at Lady Bird Lake, which flows through downtown Austin, a little later than we meant to, but that just made the view of the evening sun on the water and on the reflective downtown buildings that much more beautiful. We kayaked east toward the South Congress Bridge and sat on our kayaks as a band played jazz on the green of the southern bank of the Lake. It was a perfect day. We enjoyed it so much that we lost track of time and noticed how low the sun was in the sky almost too late. We said goodbye to that perfect spot and started paddling back to the West – upstream. It was then that we noticed how strong the current was flowing against us.
For quite a while I focused as far down the Lake as I could. As I got more tired, I thought about just focusing on the next bridge (there were four bridges between us and where we were going). I had been looking down and just paddling as hard as I thought I could, but when I looked up the next bridge was no closer. It was getting dark and all I could think about was that mile-and-more I knew I had to go before I could return the kayaks. That is when I remembered myself; I remembered that I talk about the power of small steps all the time. Why was I not using that power?
With the water flowing by me, there was no landmark except the next bridge to measure myself against. I looked around and then moved close to the shore. There, I was next to stationary objects and I could see myself moving, ever so slowly, forward as compared the bushes on the shore. That became my measurement: “How fast could I make it to the next bush?” I mentioned earlier that I thought I had been paddling as fast as I could, but in these small sprints to get the next bush and then the next, a little faster and a little faster, I found extra energy I did not know I had. I played that game for a while and then paddled under a shadow – I was at the next bridge. I kept focusing on the shore, the next bush, and crossed under another bridge. There came a point I got tired and considered trying to pull the kayak out of the water and carry/drag/pray it back to the check-in. I told myself I would consider that after a few more bushes.
All of a sudden, I rounded a corner and there was the check-in dock. Now the end was in sight and my afterburners kicked in. I pulled up to the dock exhausted. It had been an amazing workout and an important reminder.
Have you ever been in the middle of a long project? Maybe a tough situation? The death of a loved one? A divorce? Have you ever figuratively or literally had miles to go and you were already tired? This was not the first nor will it be the last time I will be in that position. But hopefully I am learning to more quickly practice what I preach about incremental steps succeeding more easily. And if you have never tried Incrementalism, I am only that much more convicted to strongly encourage you to give it try. You’ll look up and be surprised how far you’ve come.