A friend of mine who recently found a job was reflecting on whether it was the right position for him. Could he commute everyday for the rest of his life? His wife reminded him that he had made such a commute in the past for a few years and it was okay, and that he didn’t need to decide on making the commute forever, he could do it for a couple of years and then reconsider whether it was really something he wanted to keep doing.
Whenever we are faced with a problem in our lives that looks endless, it overwhelms us. We feel like the rock climber facing a flat concrete wall that extends as high as the eye can see. It doesn’t present a challenge, it instead creates despair or apathy or cynicism, or all three in a weird cycle. How will we ever overcome? How can we even decide to begin?
These types of problems abound all around us –helping feed the hungry, solve poverty, or simply find a job. The problem seems overwhelming and progress feels fleeting. Each day passes and the distance seems just as far as it was the day before. Since we can’t measure progress, we can easily start substituting progress with “working hard” because it’s the only thing that we can measure. Answering a hundred emails feels like real work even though we didn’t actually make any real headway on solving the problem.
One way to help address this is to create milestones: mini-goals that break down the impossible into something that has real worth and value. It allows the eyes to focus on something closer at hand and see real progress toward them. Milestones provide us with a yard stick. We need a way to see and experience our progress. Achieving a milestone renews our energy for the next one, and the one after that.
Moreover, milestones provide great reflection points. We don’t have to get to the end to reconsider our objectives. Are we going the right way? Are we on the right wall? Plus we don’t need all the milestones established to get to our goal, indeed sometimes it’s impossible to see that far, but picking the next milestone provides that next handhold on the wall we are trying to climb.
All of us can break down our challenges into seeing that next objective. When we feel overwhelmed by the distance lying before us, step back and think what’s the next thing I can do to make progress and then reflect again about where I’m going.