June 19, 2011
Beginnings are tricky experiences, in part because of the attention that the “first step” phenomenon has received.
Much that has been said about first steps is both true and obvious. We are not likely to arrive if we do not start. Cliché or not, in the journey of a thousand miles that first step does hold a decisive importance. I wish, however, we were as clear and as vocal about the significance of the second (or seventy-second) step as we are about the first.
It was my joy to spend the weekend with a small group of women who for some time now have met together monthly. The group was formed to encourage personal growth (spiritual and psychological) in each individual woman. These women are highly diverse; they have differing goals and differing lifestyles. Consequently, to no one’s surprise, they are experiencing widely differing difficulties in reaching their individual goals.
But they have experienced in common what I think of as second-step shock (or seventy-second-step shock as the case may be). It is a common experience in the human change process. We start toward a goal, and then, sometimes when we are barely into the process, we begin to realize how far away that intended goal may be. The adrenalin spiked by the opening gun fades, self-applause fades, and we become uneasily aware of an unpleasant pinch in our shoe that could well be the beginning of a blister on our heel. Second steps, so to speak, require us to face the fact that no, we aren’t there yet—we are, in truth, only just begun. The process of getting to goal requires resolve, energy and commitment quite different than the excitement of first steps.
There was wisdom and gentleness in the way in which these women encouraged one another.
“I don’t know if I can do this,” one young woman said. “It’s so hard. I don’t know what to do.” Her voice held a hint of tears despite the strong stubborn steadiness of her chin.
After she spoke, there was a warm comforting silence among the women (the group is not very tolerant of quick and glib responses). After a while, one woman spoke in a calm matter-of-fact way. She said, “I have discovered that if I take the next step, just take the next step, and then the next step that then I sometimes begin to know.”
That is the mystery and the power and the challenge of second steps. They are the necessary prerequisites not only in getting to goal, but in understanding the journey itself. But these second (and seventy-second) steps require moving without the energy of an adrenalin rush, without the cheers of a crowd, and often with a painful pinch of uncertainty in mind and soul.
In the long journey to achieve deep and lasting maturity in our lives, inevitably we reach a flat and characterless middle place that both bores and frightens us. We understand that we are far beyond the excitement and energy of the beginning place, but we can see as yet nothing of the end. In that middle space, all we know of the ending of the journey is our profound awareness that we are not there yet, and our uncertainty that we will ever reach the goal we've set.
A clear understanding of the significance of second steps is crucial here. If we resolve simply to take the next step, and then the next step, and then the next one, often to our surprise, we not only move, we begin to know. We know that are not there yet, but we also begin to know that we can be, and will be. First steps start us, but it is these crucial second steps that get us there in the end.
Left foot, right foot, breathe. Left foot, right foot, breathe.
Thinking with you of the ways in which we must sometimes do our truth before we can fully know it. Let's hear it for second steps.
See you next week.