A Chinese proverb reminds us that “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” In our world of fast food, accelerated learning, and youthful millionaires, many people now expect instant success and want to succeed the moment they start. Yet many big business start small.
MacDonald’s was born of a hotdog stand whose owners had no ambition to expand. The world wide web started because Tim Berners-Lee wanted tofind information on other databases. The international Red Cross began with one man rounding up some villagers to tend the wounded in war.
Whatever you’re hoping to achieve, start small now and keep taking a step every day. One day, you would have gone a thousand miles.
1. Start small with habits
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle
When I first started journalling more than a decade ago, I was a perfectionist. When I missed one day of journalling, I deemed the whole project a failure and gave up, abandoning weeks of effort.
Years later, I started journalling again. This time I didn’t have all-or-nothing attitude of my youth. I journalled only when I felt like it, allowing days or even months to go by before the next entry.
These little steps started to add up, and over the years, I have reached the point where I now keep a gratitude journal every day. And I still don’t beat myself up if I miss a day here and there.
The same applies to exercise. Instead of setting a target of jogging three times a week, I simply jogged each time I felt like it, regardless of the interval in between. Over time, the small steps again added up and I now jog every week.
If you are trying to form a new habit right now, whatever it may be, you could consider starting small. While it is possible to form a habit in 30 days by doing it every day continuously, you can still form a habit over time by letting yourself start small.
2. Acquire small assets
Many people over-extend themselves when it comes to acquiring assets. Young people starting out in their careers will buy the largest property they can afford, and stay in debt practically all their lives just paying off the mortgage.
You would be so much better off if you’d buy a smaller first property, just enough to meet your needs. You could then either pay this off quickly, or use the extra cashflow left over from the smaller mortgage to invest in another property to rent out. The rental income could pay off the mortgage on the first property, or be used towards a downpayment on the next property. In this way, you could build great wealth over time.
Of course, doing this requires that you be willing to start small on your ego as well. Many people are financially ruined by what trying to keep up with the Joneses. If you could release yourself from needing to feel successful right away, you could do the smarter thing, and finish bigger than those Joneses.
3. Building Relationships
Speed dating is a relatively new phenomenon in our society. Even in our relationships, we want things to happen fast. Young women consider it a great compliment if a man proposes within a few months of dating, never mind how long the marriage lasts.
I sometimes fall into this trap myself, wondering why things aren’t ‘happening’ as quickly as I think they should. Then I started thinking about my closest friends. Most of them I’d known for more than ten years, and several I’d known over twenty years. Solid friendships take time to build, one meeting at a time. Bonds built over the years are hard to break, providing stability and the opportunity to grow in a safe environment.
4. Helping Others
How often have you heard someone, perhaps yourself, say that you will contribute time or money to society when you have enough to give? The thing is, you either already have enough now, or you never will.
You don’t have to wait until you have a lot to give. Just start giving what little you can now. If you can give only $1 a month to a charitable cause, give that. If you can spare only 5 minutes a month, send a postcard to brighten someone’s day. Give freely, for you have freely received of others who went before you.
Don’t worry that your contributions are small. In most fund-raising campaigns, the vast majority of donations are small amounts, but these add up.
So start small, but start now. Keep taking small steps and before you know it, you will have achieved more than you ever thought possible.
“Use whatever talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best.” – Henry Van Dyke