Literally Small Steps…
Written by Janis Collins
Colin O’Brady was nearing the summit of Mt. Everest when a dangerous windstorm forced him to turn back. If he failed to reach the top of the mountain, his 130-day effort to complete the Explorer’s Grand Slam by climbing the highest peak on each of seven continents would be in vain.
If he could finish this climb, he would have just one more peak to conquer. But with every passing minute it looked as if his physical stamina and chances for completion were blowing away with each strong gust.
But Colin was not a quitter. Earlier, on a backpacking trip to Thailand, he had suffered third-degree burns on his legs and feet – jeopardizing his ability ever to walk again.
With sheer determination and coaching from his mother he beat all odds. She set a goal: a chair placed a short distance in front of him. Just one month after his accident, he took one tentative step after another until he reached the chair. Every day the chair was moved a little bit farther away.
When the weather broke on Mt. Everest, Colin pulled his fatigued body out of his tent with renewed resolve.
“Our own minds are our biggest obstacle,” he said. “I had to think of Mt. Everest as just a stack of small rocks. And I just had to take small steps toward that imaginary chair.”
Colin made it to the top of the world and 10 days later summited Mt. Denali in Alaska, his final peak.
Colin had used the Japanese concept of Kaizen, or continuous small steps toward improvement to become an internationally recognized athlete.
I learned the concept of small steps from Kathie England of Time for Success.
Our brains are developed to shut down when we are confronted with overwhelming challenges or change. Our minds can be, as Colin says, our biggest obstacle. But we can do an end-run around that tendency by perceiving our challenges in small, digestible bites.
Whether our goal is political change or simply completing a huge writing project, we can achieve wonders when we take one small step at a time. Maybe it’s making one phone call. Maybe, it’s finding a small foundational piece of research. Before you know it, you are at the top of your mountain. Which, after all, is just a stack of small rocks!
Janis Collins, the author of this month’s post, is a gifted writer, storyteller, an amazing cook, and a very dear friend. As a storyteller, Janis participates regularly in the Beaverton Library’s Story Slam.