“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” (Chinese Proverb)
All great journeys, whether figurative or literal, begin when a person decides to take that first step. Until I have the courage to put one foot in front of the other for that first time, I will never get myself moving in the direction I want to be.
This morning a few journeys in my life come to mind as I reflect on taking the first steps.
The first is my journey to better health. Before I started on March 1 of this year, I spent years wallowing in self-pity, even self-loathing over my weight. I generally avoided mirrors and scales, but when I did accidentally see myself, or needed to weigh myself, it was a horrifying experience. If it was a straight-ahead mirror, like at the sink in the men’s room, it wasn’t so bad. But, if I caught a glance at myself in profile, it was pretty awful. And, I was certain I wasn’t the only one who thought so.
I remember back in the 1990s I was working on a team that did process improvement workshops. My supervisor and I would travel to supplier locations to put on these workshops and help them save time and money in their manufacturing processes. One day we were in a hotel and he was arranging for the plant manager to pick us up for dinner. He told the manager that I would be in the lobby when he arrived and described me as a “heavy set” guy in my 30s. I was a bit stunned. I’d never thought of myself that way before. Looking back, I was probably the weight I am today, or a little less. In the time since then my weight went up another 60+ pounds, so I knew people must be noticing and making comments.
All of this served as fuel on the self-loathing fire. Not a day went by that I didn’t hate what I saw. But, I couldn’t wouldn’t do anything about it. I wouldn’t start the journey, I woudn’t take that first step, until I was really ready. I remember the day of my doctor visit – February 28, 2014. That day I tipped the scale at what I thought was my largest weight ever (a recent check of my records shows that I once weighed-in ABOVE that weight). When I saw the 345, I was stunned. When my A1C came in, the news was worse. I have a great doctor and she tried to find encouragement for me, but I knew that the truth was I needed to lose the weight. I resolved over the course of that day to make a change. The next morning I took that proverbial first step. I was terrified. I was afraid that if I went public with my journey and I failed, I would not only be even bigger, but I would face the humiliation of failure. Despite this fear, I took the step, and now I am on a journey that will last a lifetime toward being a healthier me.
The other journey that comes to mind today is my marriage, and how it all began. Way back, when dinosaurs ruled the earth, in 1982, I was a very single college guy. Early in the year, just a couple of days before Valentine’s day, my girlfriend broke up with me (yes, I ate the entire box of chocolates, alone, in a single day). For a couple of months I bumped around in life. I went to class and to work, and did some minimal hanging out with friends.
There was this girl who used to hang around one of my study groups a lot. I knew who she was from our freshman physics classes the year before, and she had been in an electronics lab class with me. But I didn’t really pay any attention to her. One day a girl who sat behind me in my electronics class told me she knew someone who wanted to date me. She wrote a name on my notebook, and I had no idea who she was talking about. She added her last name – still nothing. Finally after class she told me that this girl sat behind me in my 8:00am class. My answer was “there is a girl behind me in my 8:00am class?”
That girl was the same one who hung out around our study group, and was the one from freshman physics, and from that lab class. I didn’t know much about her, and proceeded slowly. It took a few weeks of talking to her before I finally worked up the nerve to ask her out. She said yes.
The day of the first date, I arrived at her dorm room. Her roommate was there, while my date was in the bathroom getting ready. The roommate asked where we were going, and I said we were going to the movies to see “Richard Pryor Live”. The roommate frowned and asked if that was really a movie I thought my date would want to see. I told her she had said yes, and the frown deepened. She asked if I would think of maybe taking her to see “Chariots of Fire” instead. This time I frowned and said I’d seen that movie already. The roommate patiently explained that it wasn’t about what I wanted, but about what my date wanted.
We agreed to change it up, saw Chariots of Fire, and the rest, as they say, is a very long history. I am personally convinced that if we’d seen “Richard Pryor Live”, I would probably be a lonely bachelor today.
That first, shaky, tentative step, was nearly directly into a mud puddle. Who knows the real truth? Maybe she was so smitten with me that she’d have let me take her out a second time even after 2 hours of a profanity laced tirade by Richard Pryor.
The point is that my amazing journey through the last 31 years of marriage, through the raising of 4 amazing children, through all the ups and downs of our lives, began with that first step.
Every day presents the opportunity to take some first step along a new journey. Today I am meeting with a new manager in my organization. We’ve known each other some in the past, but never worked together. This will be the first step on our journey of working together. I have no idea what will be in store in the coming weeks and months, but I know it starts today.
On Friday I am starting a walking challenge. There will be a very literal first step for that journey. I don’t know what twists it will take, but I am excited for it.
All of these first steps have me reflecting on the many journeys in my life today, and how they all began, or will begin, with one, courageous first step.