The Art of Doing What You Can With What You Have

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“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”Anne Lamott

There are some psychologists who believe over-thinkers to have highly specialized brains; their minds are great at solving complex problems. Where most people give up easily enough, they keep thinking and trying to find a solution. They spend more time on a certain task that anyone else.

But over-thinkers often get stuck. Their minds keep trying to fix something that can’t be fixed, no matter what. And this slowly kills them inside.

A solution to overthinking is to think of what’s next to be done. That is, actually, a good way to keep you distracted from most of the miseries of life.

Doing what you can, then the next thing, and the next, is how all great things are built. This is how you get from doing what is easy, to what is difficult, to what is impossible.

I am writing this post one word at a time. And, no matter how hard I or anyone else tries, you can only write something one word at a time.

You don’t set out to build a wall. To write the greatest novel of this century. To create the most influential blog of all time. The task will seem impossible.

How do you get from here to there? Your feet on the ground, your eyes of the stars, you dream of flying. But before you can fly, most often than not, you must crawl.

When I first started working out, I could not afford to pay for a gym membership. So I started doing push-ups. On my knees. It was the only thing I could do. I believe that to be quite humiliating, unless you’ve deluded yourself into thinking that not being able to lift your own weight off the ground even though healthy is okay.

I did what I could. The most affordable thing I could do. That one thing that I was able to do. Yes, I did want to be able to do more than some push ups. I wanted to lift weight, to run, to look good naked…

But I could only do some push-ups on my knees. I could only run a few blocks before feeling like my lungs would implode or something.

And that was what I did.

Yet, it’s not what we can do that keeps us from achieving our goals, but what we think we can’t do.

We all wake up some mornings and we feel like climbing up a mountain.

“It is impossible,”says the mind. “You can’t do it.”

A thousand voices keep telling us that we are not good enough, or strong enough, or smart enough. You can’t even see the top of the mountain you are to climb.

How can you possibly reach it?

How many steps does it take to reach it? How many?

That’s what scares us. Not what’s in front of us, but what we imagine to be the top.

Then you just take one step. You have to force yourself. Legs shaking, you take one step. Then another. Staring down at your feet, you put one foot in front of another. You don’t even think about reaching the top, you don’t even count the steps that you have taken, you stop thinking about the steps that you still have to take.

You take one step. Then another.

You stop thinking about the mountain.

Bird by bird, buddy.

Bird by bird.

One step at a time. One foot in front of the other.

That’s how you accomplish anything in life.

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17 thoughts on “The Art of Doing What You Can With What You Have

  1. My motto at the moment is very similar. Just keep following the bread crumbs, picking them up one at a time. And never lose faith that there’s a loaf of bread at the end of the trial. It is there if you believe it is. 😊

    Liked by 2 people

  2. My family says “don’t let it drive your boat,” when someone starts overthinking things. Meaning, if you obsess over whatever it is, that thing is in control of your life. Not you. We then try to find a way to take control back from whatever is bothering us and we do it one step at a time.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. That is what I have done, task by task, day by day, for the last fifteen years. It started when I became my late wife’s caretaker. It continues now, as I am scanning a friend’s archives onto a computer-one item at a time.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Such a good post. Super inspiring. I have always been a super impatient person. When I want something, I want it right then. When it comes to achieving my goals, I don’t want to make my way up the latter, I just want to be at the top. Impatience isn’t always a bad thing but in this situation it is. This post made me realize that I need to take it one step at a time because that’s the only way I’ll get there and I’ll end up driving myself crazy if I continue things the way I’ve been.

    Liked by 1 person

      • I agree. There’s been times when impatience has made me work my ass off, allowing me to achieve what I wanted. However, I tend to mistake impatience with stubbornness. I don’t want to admit that I have to start from nothing. I just want to instantly be at the top so my stubbornness prevents me from doing anything. Impatience is weird, it can either kill you or make you stronger. I need to learn the difference and this blog helped me see that.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I think you need to use impatience, but also play the long game. Like running a marathon, but doing lots and lots of sprints.

          Of course, this analogy doesn’t make much sense, because you’d never get there as fast as maintaining the same rhythm, but that’s what successful people do: they “sprint” through each day.

          What if today is the last day of your life?

          What would you do?

          I’d type a little faster… That’s why I also punch the damn keys. I never know which words will be my last.

          Liked by 3 people

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