“At the beginning of every race and every book project, the same thought occurs: This is impossible.” -Rachel Toor
In an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Rachel Toor describes a number of things writing and running have in common. Both require discipline, determination and audacity. You have to both believe in your ability and keep working toward the goal even when you are tired and frustrated. She’s right.
Years ago, I learned an important lesson that applies to writing, running and to the work we do every day (and many other endeavors as well). One summer, I spent an hour most evenings coloring (yes, coloring) mandalas.
Originally, mandalas were Hindu and Buddhist symbols representing the universe. Today they are often used to focus attention or aid in meditation. I enjoyed that meditative and creative process of looking at the shapes and deciding on color combinations. Through that repetitive practice, I learned something about creative work that is applicable to so much else. On about 90% of the mandalas I colored, I hit a point of frustration great enough to think about stopping and pitching the paper into the trash can.
I was sure it was going to look awful and that I had picked the wrong colors. I wondered why I should take the time to finish it when it was going to be a mess. However, I kept going and most of the time they turned out fine; often the ‘worst’ ones turned out to be the most interesting. The low-risk exercise of coloring mandalas taught me to move past that point of not giving into doubts and negative ideas. I learned to trust the original instincts that initially inspired me.
Toor wrote about the difficulty of starting what seems like an impossible task – running a marathon or writing a book. In our case, that could be starting a new program or service, creating strategic or assessment plans, or tackling any number of challenges. All we need to think about is the first small step and then the rest will begin to follow.
Mandalas also taught me the second part of success – don’t let yourself quit before you succeed. You won’t know it’s a success or a failure in the middle of it all. You have to reach the end — however that is defined. All of us have been discouraged and wanted to give up on a project or a process, but what magic might we discover if we keep going?
Toor says running has made her a “more disciplined writer, and writing has reminded [her] to be brave when racing.” In the same way, coloring mandalas taught me not to give up in the middle when things are tough and I’m ‘sure’ the outcome will be a mess. All of these lessons apply to the work that we do. What have your hobbies and avocations, achievements and failures taught you that apply to our work? I hope you’ll share your lessons as Rachel Toor did so that all of us can learn together.
Taking steps with you –