by Janet M. Shlaes, Ph.D.
“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
Have you ever agreed to take on a project that seemed like a good idea at the time and then felt impossible to accomplish? Getting started may have felt impossible for several reasons: the project or goal seemed too big to achieve, you lacked the requisite resources and you had no sense of where to begin. Writing my doctoral dissertation initially felt overwhelming, a common experience for graduate students when considering the 50+ percent of individuals who wind up with an ABD (all but dissertation) status. What distinguishes those who finish from those who don’t is not about intelligence; the difference that makes the difference is about process. With expert mentoring from my department chair, I quickly learned to move through my dissertation year one step at a time. The whole project felt beyond my capabilities, but each of the five stages we mapped out seemed both challenging and entirely doable. Accomplishing each stage provided the space to step back, feel good about my accomplishment and regroup for the next stage. Over the course of the year, each successive stage was made possible through the skills and confidence gained from the previous stage. The year flew by rapidly and organically; I was surprised looking back over that year at how much I actually enjoyed the entire process.
How do you accomplish a mammoth goal? You approach it like the solution to the question: “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer to the question is: “one small bite at a time.” What one small step can you take today toward reaching a desired goal?
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