‘Every journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step’
I have to confess that I am quite partial to a quote or two. To my mind, the only good thing about Facebook anymore seems to be the plethora of feel good quotes that appear on a daily basis in my news-stream. I have even started collecting them in their very own word document, with the excuse that they will be good for my book, but really that is just a ploy to be able to waste a bit of time cutting and pasting
But if I am brutally honest, much as I love them, even the best of quotes very often illicit little more than a knowing a sigh or an appreciative nod before I simply soldier on with my daily life, grappling with the same old issues and no more enlightened than I was before I had happened upon them.
But occasionally, very occasionally, I read something and it seems to magically apply to something I have been thinking about for some time, and then the quote comes alive. I think that’s what they mean when they say ‘serendipity’.
It happened to me at the weekend. I was taking my kids to the Ashmolean museum in Oxford – which incidentally, if you live near by or happen to be visiting I could not recommend more highly. It is beautiful, possibly one of the most beautiful museums I have ever been in- cleverly curated, beautifully lit and really well laid out. And as a helpful bonus they have really fun ‘treasure hunt’ trails for kids, which mean that even a six year old can be suitably entranced for a well over an hour on a snowy spring day.
On the wall in one of the first galleries was Lao Tzu’s famous quote ‘Every journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step’. Its not the first time I have read it, nor I suspect will it be the last. It is one that seems to be standing the test of time (to put it mildly).
On this particular occasion though, whilst I was standing in the moodily lit gallery and being dragged towards the really quite incredible Egyptian mummies, it may as well have been written as a pink neon sign. I had one of those proper ‘light bulb’ moments.
At this point, you probably need a bit of back story.
So, I am writing this book on motherhood. Or at least that’s what I say I am doing. And I genuinely have been doing a lot of research and thinking about it an awful lot, plus- as you can see- I am blogging, which – I tell myself- is all part of the process. I have even brainstormed chapters and worked out, tentatively, what will go where. The truth is, I am ready to write. Not to say that I won’t keep researching, or brainstorming, or changing things around. But whichever way I look at it, I need to start getting words on a page. And yet, I haven’t been able to. In fact, for several weeks now I have found every excuse under the sun- sometimes as banal as ‘must put another load of washing on’- in order to avoid the simple act of sitting down to write.
But there’s the thing. It’s a simple act. It’s Lao Tsu’s ‘single step’. It could be as little as a sentence or a word, and I would have begun. I do not, as I have been saying to myself, have to ‘write a book’. I have to write some words, some sentences, and then some more sentences which become paragraphs and chapters and on an on.
And the key thing is, everything in the world is like this. Not just the more grandiose projects ike ‘I am going to write a book’ or ‘build a rocket’ or ‘learn slovenian’, but everything everything everything we do or need to do can be broken down into tiny little, bite-size and eminently do-able chunks- be it making an easter bonnet ( this afternoons endeavour), throwing a children’s party ( the hardest by far, give me a book anyday) or running for parliament.
The implications of thinking like this are HUGE. In fact, borderline terrifying because it means that the world really is our oyster and we can, in theory at least, do just about anything. But it also means that nothing needs to be that terrifying, massive, impossible project that we can’t even possibly start.
In fact, rather aptly, it reminds me of another quote by Goethe- who is apparently considered to be Germany’s Shakespeare – which goes something like this
‘Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now’
And thanks to Lao Tzu, there really are no more excuses.