I like a good metaphor. Some are charming and complex, and some hit me like Moe slapped Larry (just in case: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xLalzzaQggI). I’d like to share a Moe metaphor. Earlier this week, I was alone on a walk in the hills and the trail came to a very cold fast-running stream that had to be crossed. There were stepping stones, but not a lot of them. I was pretty far up in glacier country, and the path was not well travelled; progress was left to the hiker rather than the engineers. I wanted to continue- there was more for me to see, so I stood streamside and began to work out my plan. I backwards-designed the crossing, finishing with my first step. No doubt I’d need to start with my right foot. Then I walked through it in my head from the first step, and concluded that I had to start with my left foot. No question. I looked at the camber of the stone surfaces and figured I’d need to take that into account: if I stepped onto a left slanting stone (the surface size of a tennis ball) crossing with my right foot I’d probably end up in the drink. Did I mention it was cold water? I wanted to be right, I wanted to be certain. I started my planning over. I was now about three minutes into the process.
Can you hear the slap coming? Two things occurred to me. First, I’ve crossed about a thousand streams in my life and I’ve never fallen in. Second, I’d never taken the time to plan a crossing before. Ever since I was a kid, my feet have known what to do. Cue slap.
I walked back down the trail a few steps, turned back to the stream and took a sure first step in full stride. Maybe two seconds later I was on the other side headed up the trail towards the summit. I didn’t look back to review the crossing so that I could repeat it on the way back down. The lesson had been learned.
There are times to plan, of course. It’d be foolish to careen through your life without considering consequence. Thoughtfulness often requires a pause… but a pause is different than hesitation. A pause is not a stop, a pause is not paralysis.
This day though, the message was clear. When you’ve been running as long as I have, your feet know what to do. Trust your experience, trust your instinct, trust your ability, trust your shoes. Trust that others have crossed the same stream without incident.
I’m taking this lesson with me as I continue starting up a new non-profit business. It’s quite a hike, and there’ve already been a few fast-running streams to cross, most of them very cold. I imagine there’ll be times when I try to figure out left foot first or right foot first, and maybe there’ll be days when I need to pause, but as long as I take a sure first step, my feet will always know what to do.