This week, I’ve finally gotten around to reading Bird by Bird, a book that has been recommended by many writers I look up to.
The concept is a timeless one.
Anne Lamott, the author writes:
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”
Her father was a writer, too, and understood all too well the perils of her profession.
When I was younger and facing an obstacle that overwhelmed me, my mom dropped a similar truth bomb on me.
“You know how to eat an elephant, right?” she asked.
I stood speechless.
“One bite at a time.”
Words of wisdom slipping out in a southern accent.
Now that I’m in my 30s, I have to remind myself of this gem constantly, and it being the thesis of my current read came with perfect timing.
While just a few chapters in, I already understand how much it applies to almost anything we try to achieve in life.
I’m building a new business, with a new team, and simultaneously trying to keep writing and producing creative content, manage client projects, find new clients, and focus on the larger, more important tasks that will allow our business to grow.
I’m running a rental property that’s currently under renovations, undergoing staff changes for groundskeeper and housekeeper, and with which I am in constant battle against moisture creeping (or sometimes cascading) into the crawlspace.
I’m writing a book, that I desperately wanted to finish in the first quarter of 2019, which requires of course doing the writing itself (a gargantuan task), as well as working on cover design, choosing the most effective and marketable title, and a million more things.
All of these have me overwhelmed at times. And by “at times,” I mean every day.
I asked for this life, and I feel like I navigate it well, but it’s only because I keep reading books like Bird by Bird, keep hearing my mom’s voice in my head, and keep telling people I lead in workshops the same thing.
(I repeat it to them often so I can hear it myself.)
Whether we are trying to lose weight, save money, start a new business, finish an old project, write our story, or face any seemingly insurmountable obstacle, the solution is the same.
Write one paragraph. Save ten dollars. Workout for 20 minutes. Buy the domain name for your business.
Take that first step.
Then take another, and another, one foot in front of the other.
Establish good habits that make it easy for you to accomplish that one task at a time, and then, most importantly, keep moving forward relentlessly.
Just starting is half the battle.
Write a paragraph.
Workout for 10 minutes.
Read an article.
Cook your own breakfast.
Buy the domain for your business.
Whatever it looks like, take that first step.
— Rain Bennett (@rainbennett) June 4, 2019
It will get easier as you go along, but not because the task itself gets easier. You get stronger. You get conditioned. The discipline is in place and the temptations recede.
Then, eventually, because you persisted, you will finish.
Shel Silverstein said it well (his version with a whale) in his poem “Melinda Mae”.
Have you heard of tiny Melinda Mae,
Who ate a monstrous whale?
She thought she could,
She said she would,
So she started in right at the tail.
And everyone said, “You’re much too small,”
But that didn’t bother Melinda at all.
She took little bites and she chewed very slow,
Just like a good girl should…
…And in eighty-nine years she ate that whale
Because she said she would!
Let’s hope it doesn’t take us 89 years to eat ours.
Featured image via Lisa Parkinson
Rain Bennett is a two-time Emmy-nominated filmmaker, writer, and competitive storyteller with over a decade of experience producing documentary films that focus on health and wellness. His mission is simple: to make the world happier and healthier by sharing stories of change.
You can read the rest of “Right as Rain” here, and check back every Wednesday on Chapelboro for a new column!