The Courage to start

Our courage is tested when we come up against what I call a BIG TOUGH, and we have to put on our big kid pants,and just simply START!

If you’d rather hear this message via podcast, it’s all yours!  Either search on iTunes, Stitcher or Google Podcast for “igniting courage” (look for the flaming o!) or click this link!

It was June of 2016.  We were on the work site of the first high school we built in Malawi with the Warm Hearts Foundation.  Being a very poor country, Malawi has a shortage of public secondary schools.  Often a student passes the 8th grade exams and is eligible for high school,but there isn’t a public high school close enough.  If they can’t afford a private school, which most can’t, their education ends there. The Warm Hearts Foundation is making a push to change that!  The Koche School that we were building would eventually serve 400 kids grades 9-12 from 16 nearby villages.  (Called Form 1-4 in Malawi) 

The truck arrived on site and unloaded a mountain of wood….30 sheets of plywood, each needed to be cut into 3 pieces. 

Gift, the Malawian carpenter, gave us the measurements, and handed us a measuring tape and  two hand saws.

Old, rusty, dull hand saws.

I ran my finger along the teeth of one of them and thought ‘There has GOT to be a better way.’   I locked eyes with several of my fellow American expeditioners.  They were obviously feeling the same way.

“Is there an electric saw at the lumber yard?” Russ asked Chimwemwe our Malawian project manager. 

“I don’t know.” Chim said, and walked away to check on the masons.

We continued to stare at each other.  With no flat surfaces, no vices,no electricity, no modern conveniences, this task seemed insurmountable.  Everyone seemed frozen, not sure what to do.

Finally, Jonathan spoke up.  “Ok, let’s do this.”  His usual cheer and optimism, out of place in the moment, was just what we needed to unfreeze our bodies.  “How about we stack up cinder blocks to hold up the 4 corners of the wood, and 3 of us will sit on 3 corners, and one will cut, holding the 4th corner.  What do you think?”

That was as good an idea as any of the rest of us had, but I was still completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task.  90 five-foot cuts through thin plywood with no flat surface and something akin to a butter knife to do it with.  We couldn’t possibly get this done.

“Here we go!” Tammy clapped her hands and hopped over to grab the first cinder block and started stacking.  I was still paralyzed, incredulous at the task, but inspired by my companion’s positive attitude and optimism.

‘Anne, just start!’ I said to myself.  ‘GO!!’ 

Activation energy, or the energy it takes to get something started is often the hardest part of a project. It takes guts, but sometimes you just have to take a deep breath, and START, 

And start we did.  Within 15 minutes, we were having sawing races, counting the seconds together to see who could saw through….correction,RIP through the plywood faster.  Jado, our super energetic, super athletic young expeditioner won.  No surprise to anyone.  Before we started the Plywood Project, he was doing flips and handstands with the village boys.

Once we determined the sawing champion, we started singing.  Show tunes, pop songs, spirituals, rap. Whatever it took.  We were racing the other sawing team now, not only to cut the plywood faster, but to have more fun.

Before we knew it, there were only 2 sheets of plywood left.  We were tired.  We were sweaty, and we were almost done.

With the split of the final cut, we rejoiced.  jumping and down, singing victory songs.  High fives were exchanged, and we did some flips.  (Ok, Jado did the flips) We had conquered the mountain, actually pretty quickly, and we had way more fun than we thought we would doing it.

Activation energy is a challenge.  Often projects seem insurmountable.  Running a marathon.  Writing a book.  Getting a masters degree.  Losing 40 pounds.  Joining a roller derby team.  The key to success is….take the first step.  START!

Here are my 4 steps.

1.            Create a SMART goal.  Write it down.  (For those of you who know what a SMART goal is, and are rolling your eyes right now, STOP THAT.  I know it takes more effort, but you are EXPONENTIALLY more likely to hit your goal when you frame it up this way.  Trust me!!!) 

For those of you who don’t know what a SMART Goal is, here, I’ll tell you!

    Specific (what’s the “cork popping” moment when you know you’re done and you can pop the cork and drink the champagne?)

    Measurable (Your goal has to be easily measured. How do you know you’ve been successful, and how do you keep track of progress?)

     Achievable (stretch goals are great, but come on! With “real life” playing along, we have to make sure our goals are realistic.)

     Relevant (duh!  Be sure your goals are relevant to what you’re trying to accomplish in life.)

     Time Bound (this is the big one for me.  I need to put a date on it, so I can’t say “I’ll do it tomorrow.”  No.  If I’m going to get there, I’ve got to create a sense of urgency.  Put a date on it!)

2.            Break that big goal into smaller steps.  If your time frame is 6 months, what do you need to do each month to achieve it?  What do you need to do each week?  Each day?  Then you’ve got your small steps. 

3.            Sometimes you’re not going to see the whole path, so whether you do or not, Figure out what the first step is.

4.            Take that step!

Have the guts to just START! 

Done is better than perfect

Started is better than stagnate

You might not see the whole path, but if you can see the first step, take it.  The fog will clear gradually as you walk, and eventually, you will be done.

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