A while back, during a trip to Arizona, I was hiking up one of the beautiful canyons with a small guided group.  Within the first 30 minutes of the 3+ hour hike, a woman in the group said to one of the guides, “I can’t do this, there’s just no way I can make it to the top.”  When the guide suggested that he would walk back down with her and they could wait at the bus until the rest of us returned, I could see the look of utter disappointment on her face.

At that moment she just sat down. The guide told her he would give her a few minutes to make her decision but the rest of the group continued to climb. When the woman noticed me standing there looking at her, she made eye contact with me and smiled.  That was my in…so I sat next to her and suggested that, since she had to wait for everyone anyway, why not just see how far she could get.  Instead of trying to climb to the top, “why not just concentrate on taking one more step, and when you can’t take any more, I’ll stop and rest with you, and then you can either take a few more steps up or we can turn around and head back towards the bus”.

She admitted that the idea sounded better than the alternative and off we went.  We talked about all of the rocks, trees, blooming cactus, lizards, etc. that nature so graciously put on our path as we took one step at a time. Some steps were slow, some more quickly, sometimes we even stopped to smell a flower, laugh at a stumble, or take a picture.  Each step was filled with fascinating conversation, discovery, and breathtaking silence.  Before we knew it, we were admiring the view from the top with the rest of the group.

As we stood there, without a word, she looked at me, gave me a huge hug, and we continued to talk about “nothing” all the way down the canyon. It wasn’t until later that day that I realized, I never even got her name, I’d probably never see her again, and yet she had had a significant impact on my life.  By “helping her”, she actually helped me finally realize that all any of us can ever really do is one step at a time; whether it’s up a mountain, to reach a life goal, or even just getting through the day.

Since then, when I find myself overwhelmed at the thought of a big project, trip, or even a possible future event, I stop and think of her and how we made it to the top. I take a deep breath, try to figure out what I can actually do now, and that’s where I begin, one step at a time. I find my anxiety starts to disappear once I get started. I tell myself that if I get stuck, I’ll assess that actual situation, as opposed to the one I’m imagining, and do what I can at that point. That’s really all we can ever do, isn’t it? I have always said that taking baby steps forward gets you further than standing still, paralyzed at the thought of a giant leap, but now I actually practice what I preach, or at least I try ;-).  I recommend trying it (it really doesn’t required any major changes, just less thinking and more doing…less is more)

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p.s. Most of the time, when I am successful at focusing solely on the step in front of me, somewhere between where I start and finish,  I end up learning what I need to know, or gain the strength required, to figure out and reach the next step more easily; it’s pretty amazing how life works that way!