“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” — Mark Twain
Many big efforts happen like this:
- Get clarity on what you want to do, define your goal
- Make a plan to reach the goal
- Get started (You Are HERE!)
- Keep going and adjust along the way
Whether you’re taking on a new project or embarking on a life journey, it all begins with clarity about what you want to accomplish—and why. You have your vision, your goal—or at least a glimpse of it. It’s been said that “a ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for.” Getting started means moving from that thought in your head to an action in the real world. At some point you begin, you hoist the sails and head out to open waters.
You may want to raise a million dollars, start an organization, get a degree, write a play, save a fragile piece of the environment. You know what you want to accomplish and have planned how to get there as well as you can. Now it’s time to take the first step.
Getting started: voices of doubt
You may have some more overriding task you need to deal with first. If so, take care of that so you can focus on your project. But you also may have to deal with your own inner voices. While new adventures can be exciting they can be scary, too. Your emotions can conspire against you. Here are few of the voices of doubt that may be whispering that you’re not ready:
- Hesitation. You’re on the verge of starting, but you hesitate, imagine some reason you’re not quite ready or that something that might go wrong. Here’s a tip: You’ll never be completely ready. And your first steps won’t be perfect—neither will be most of the most of the thousands of steps along the way. So knowing this, start anyway.
- Insecurity about your abilities and qualifications. If there’s some training you actually need then go get it. That’s actually getting started. Otherwise, just get over this one! It’s okay to be a beginner. You’ll start getting valuable experience the moment you jump in and you can adjust as you go along.
- Fear of what others may think. With that first action you move into the real world where others can actually see you. You may worry that you might appear naïve, not qualified, clumsy or any of a thousand things. Forget it! Those who would judge you don’t deserve your attention.
- Waiting for someone else do their part? Talk with them directly and tell them the situation. If that doesn’t work, find a way around the bottleneck, a different starting point. Waiting or somebody’s permission? Here, I’ll give it to you: You have permission to begin that important project.
- Maybe you’re waiting for the right time. Ask yourself: Is there something you wish you’d started on months or years ago? While you can’t go back in time, you can go forward. So try to ask your Future You, one year from now. What would Future You be glad that you had gone ahead and started today? The right time to start is now. You may be able to start without succeeding, but you certainly can’t succeed without starting.
As you listen to these and other voices you shouldn’t be surprised by what you hear. They’ve probably been slowing you down for years. Recognize them, name and acknowledge them and you will take away much of their power. Remember a time when you successfully overcame self-doubt. Ask someone you trust to support you in the endeavor. As you start, no matter how small a step, you begin to push those doubts aside.
Do you need a full plan to start?
It’s great to have thought out your goal and planned it all out, but… some people just start. They plant the first tree, hand out the first sandwich, set out that first recycling bin. There’s no big hairy audacious goal, no plan, just a desire to do something.
So, another way big efforts happen:
- A sense of what you want to do, but a fuzzier goal
- No action plan, but a strong desire to start making a difference
- Get started (You Are HERE!)
- Keep going and adjust along the way
You see a need and act on it doing the best you can. You don’t know where you’re headed, and that’s just fine. Young Beethoven didn’t start playing the keyboard with a goal of writing nine powerful symphonies. Clara Barton didn’t volunteer to help the sick and wounded in the Civil War in order to start the American Red Cross. Gandhi didn’t start law school in order to lead India to independence. “How wonderful it is that no one has to wait, but can start right now to gradually change the world!” said Anne Frank. “How wonderful it is that everyone, great and small, can immediately help bring about justice by giving of themselves!”
A group I know is making a giant difference with low-income people. Their goal was a bit fuzzy, they had no formal plan, they just got out there and did things. They saw what worked and what didn’t and adapted, always moving forward.
Whether you are getting started with a full-blown plan or just jumping in, remember that you can’t wait until you have all the answers. “Take the first step in faith,” advised Martin Luther King, Jr. “You don’t have to see the whole staircase to take the first step.” In fact, you can’t possibly see the whole journey.
Getting started doing the great and wonderful
That first action you take is “Once upon a time.” You’ve begun. But you follow that with the story’s second sentence, the second action. Then the next. Until you’re well into a story that evolves over time. Passion for your goal and just enough confidence in your effort will set you in motion with that first act. Then as you take action after action you build momentum.
Soon, you will make your first big stumble. From that fall you’ll learn something that doesn’t work and you will try something else. You’ll discover new obstacles to overcome—and ways to overcome them. You’ll find that things aren’t exactly as you’d envisioned them. You’ll find that as interesting as it was taking the first step, the 14th one is more interesting. Or the 200th one.
Once you’re underway you’ll begin to find your rhythm, your style, your voice. You’ll discover new friends and allies. You’ll also get some lucky breaks and occasional windfalls.
By the way, decide upfront that this effort will not be mediocre. This is something you really want to do so do it with moxie. Enjoy it! Let it be the coolest thing you’ve ever done. “I wish to do something Great and Wonderful,” said Albert Einstein, “but I must start by doing the little things like they were Great and Wonderful.”
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“I never lose an opportunity of urging a practical beginning, however small, for it is wonderful how often in such matters the mustard-seed germinates and roots itself.” —Florence Nightingale