2016-0410 Footprints

By Scott J. Friedman | Beyond Adversity

I am fairly certain most people have heard the quote by Lao Tzu, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” or some variation of it.

When I first heard the quote, I was part of a cave/cliff rescue squad and thought the quote referred to the time necessary to rescue somebody from the location where they were injured to the safety of an ambulance or helicopter.  I already knew cave rescue required considerable time, so I did not think about the quote very often.

Ten years later, after I was diagnosed and treated for a rare cancer that spread from my brain to my spine, I remembered the quote. I was in a disturbingly white room. Aside from the heavily padded carpet and single dim light hanging from the ceiling, there was nothing in the room. My physical therapist decided it would be a great time to test her theory, so she asked me to give her my walker then relax on the ground with my back on the floor. After I was on my back, she told me she was going to cook my favorite comfort food and all I had to do was figure out how to get from the floor to the kitchen, without light or a walker. Less than a minute later, with my walker in hand, she turned off the light, closed the door, and walked away.

I immediately began evaluating my options. Seconds later, I realized darkness and a padded floor were all I needed – I closed my eyes and fell asleep.  After a short nap, I decided the cancer which damaged my body, erased most of my vocabulary, complicated my movement, and destroyed my confidence, was not going stop me from eating the macaroni and cheese I could now smell through the air vent. At that time, I considered “the journey of a thousand miles” to be a struggle from the floor to my macaroni and cheese.

Many years later, somebody recommended I join Toastmasters. I could not understand how learning to make toast would help. “It’s pretty easy,” I thought, “put bread in a toaster, press the start button, wait until you smell something burning, carefully remove the very crisp bread, and add jelly — done.”

A little more than two years ago, as I was trying to connect to a webinar, I accidentally clicked something that opened the Toastmasters International website. I finally understood Toastmasters teaches speaking and leadership skills rather than the culinary art toasting bread. I attended a meeting, but had many reservations about joining – I had a scratchy voice, strong desire to sleep rather than attend meetings, and zero interest in leadership. I joined anyway.

After one of the meetings, I described my concerns about joining Toastmasters with the member who kindly offered me a ride home. In a calm and comforting manner, he assured me that my voice is not “scratchy” it is “distinguished” and I could be both a great speaker and inspirational leader. At that moment, I was convinced joining Toastmasters was the best decision I ever made. My thousand mile journey with Toastmasters began with a single step – the belief success was possible.

As I reflect now on the quote, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” I realize how we interpret the quote largely depends on our experiences. At one point, the quote could refer to a struggle, and at another time it could refer to something else. Similarly, two people could be looking for the same thing, but view their journeys to success differently.

Whether you take large steps or small steps, three questions remain . . .

During your journey of a thousand miles, where will you go, what steps will you take to get there, and what footprints will you leave for others to follow?

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