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There’s no elevator to the top, you’ll have to take the stairs

Upon hearing this expression the other day, it got us thinking. What does this mean and is taking the stairs a plus or a minus? On first blush it seemed more negative, as in “wow, stair climbing, that’s a lot of work,” but on second thought, it seemed liberating as in “wow, it’s actually achievable, there are steps I can take that will add up to big changes.” When you read this saying, how does it strike you?

We often want things to be easy and quick – like an elevator ride – and our modern lifestyles reflect this. Further, technology, as wonderful as it is, fuels the assumption that it is always possible to get things done quickly and effortlessly. However, there are many examples of where having things come too soon or too easily can be challenging. Think of lottery winners who become wealthy instantly, athletes who win their very first competition, or celebrities who become famous just after being discovered. All too often people in these circumstances “crash and burn” because they are unaware of how to sustain their good fortune. They end up in unpleasant circumstances because their success came too rapidly, with few if any intervening steps.

Stair climbing begins to feel a lot more appealing after taking a closer look at the possible “elevator scenarios”. Taking things slowly has its advantages. With that in mind, how do we help ourselves look at things more positively when we feel we aren’t making progress toward our goals or we face obstacles that seem too big to surmount? Here are a few tips:

Recognize where you are. Expect that your long-term plans will be like running a marathon – when you feel the finish line is a long way off, notice how far you have come from the starting gate. Recognizing this will help you stay motivated to keep going.

Break big goals into much smaller ones. Nothing new here, but how often do we forget to do this? Remember the expression “Rome was not built in a single day” and apply this wisdom when things start to feel overwhelming. Completing small tasks over time yields big results.

Celebrate, celebrate, celebrate! We can become so fixated on our goal that the journey becomes an afterthought at best or drudgery at worst. It doesn’t need to be this way. We can celebrate each small success and enjoy the fact that we are learning and growing as we proceed – indeed this should be our goal no matter what else we are hoping to accomplish!

Self-Discovery Tool Number 69:
Quick results can be seductive, but often they only have temporary staying power. Instead of wishing and waiting for an immediate payoff, take a small step and congratulate yourself on accomplishing it. Make an effort to enjoy the ride in whatever way you can, rather than exclusively focusing on the destination. Love yourself as you keep on learning and you’ll be reaching the top before you know it!


Embracing the Unknown

What do bungee jumping, traveling to a foreign land, and asking for a date have in common? Depending on who you are, these particular examples may be too extreme, too mundane, or not directly relevant, but they all point to the potential for learning that comes with taking a risk. Whether or not you get the results you were seeking when you take a chance and step out of your ordinary routine, your perspective will have been expanded by the attempt.

So, how can we do a better job of viewing risk-taking as positive and energizing instead of scary or intimidating? And how do we shift our focus away from the outcome we expect or think we need and instead focus on and value the risk-taking journey for its own sake? Is there an attitude that we can adopt in order to appreciate more deeply the inherent gifts of embracing the unknown?

Here are some strategies to get you started:

  • Practice saying, “I don’t know” when you aren’t versed in something rather than forcing yourself to come up with a response. See what insights emerge when you let go of needing to have all the answers.
  • Adopt a growth mindset. See mistakes as opportunities for learning and development. Recognize how many times you have been able to learn in the last month and congratulate yourself on your progress.
  • Ask “what if….” If you usually do things a certain way or in a specific order, purposely mix up your routine. See how diverging from the tried and true for an hour or a day can reinvigorate your life.
  • Plunge in with childlike enthusiasm. If you think something might bring you joy, give yourself permission to do it just “because.” See how it feels to get started with only minimal expectations, preparation, or goals.
  • Decide to keep an open mind. Allow yourself to change your mind, be wrong or simply pursue of a new point of view. Commit to acknowledging the uncertainty and ambiguity of life and discover what gifts this mental fluidity affords.
  • Find humor in surprises. View the twists and turns of life as opportunities to take life – and yourself – less seriously. Look for the comedy in the unexpected and consider what about your challenges might also be funny.

As humans we prefer things to be all figured out and neatly ordered into instantly recognizable categories. This is a natural tendency. Yet when we limit ourselves to what we know and makes us feel comfortable, we can miss out on exciting and interesting opportunities that would allow us to expand our thinking and increase our wisdom.

Self-Discovery Tool 52
Embrace the unknown, look at things differently, and try something new. Refresh yourself through experimentation and ease up on the drive to be perfect. Be open. Be curious. See what amazing things life has in store when you take a risk. Although missteps are possible and successes are a terrific bonus, the true value of any risk is in the experience: life’s greatest teacher!