My grandson, at age 28, still hasn’t learned this. When he was a very small boy he always had to rush up stairs 2 or 3 steps at a time. He failed often, falling back and having to start over, or tripping and falling all the way back to the bottom. This is still his mode of operation, especially now, seeking to earn his living. And in spite of my constant admonishments to slow down and take one step at a time, he rushes into situations unprepared and keeps falling back – just like the stairs.
Funny thing is that while taking one step at a time can often seem unbearably slow and boring, in the long run it quite often ends up being faster. Remember the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare? Of course there are times when a huge multi-tasked leap works out excellently, but these are rare, and may God grant us the wisdom to tell when to jump and when to take one step – which brings me to the real purpose of this story.
Let’s see if I can come up with a title, — how about “How to Get Things Done at Age Ninety”. By this I mean (now don’t get excited because another old man is reciting his litany of aches and pains). The thing is these multiple body aches and pains can be so severe, they effect everything one does all day and all night. I used to work 8 to 16 hours a day, on farms, ranches, in auto shops, on the road, but now I tire so quickly I have to rest almost every hour, which doesn’t take long, but that few minutes’ reprieve makes all the difference. For example, I am presently engaged in building a twenty four inch wide – foot path at the top of a ridge behind our property. It will take a good hour to cut the weeds, while perched on this steeply-sloped hill, then another hour to dig the roots out and level the ground. I judge another hour to measure and drive wooden stakes where the 120-ft long terraced barricade will go. Then 2 to 3 hours to construct the barricade (a plastic edger six to twelve inches high). After that I will have to wheelbarrow 1.5 cubic yards of decomposed granite from a pile where it was dumped out in the driveway – all along the new path. That’ll take another two hours – maybe more. So let’s see – that’s already an eight-hour day. I know I could never do it, unless I worked so hard and so long it would take two more days to recover. Not only that, but I will be in a terrible mood, cause I have to work temporarily with only one eye, and having a back so stiff and painful it’s hard to even walk upright. Then there’s the severe loss of feeling in hands and fingers from damaged carpal tunnel and ulner nerve damage, and, oh yes, I mustn’t forget – one leg is longer than the other until I can get my second knee replacement. In all, I will be cursing and stumbling and feeling so rotten working all day, it won’t be worth it. But if I take one step at a time by stopping each time boredom or fatigue creep in it will be far easier. In other words the secret to getting things done at age 90 is to work in a series of stops – and proceed in a series of creative intervals. These are the “famous small steps”. With these steps (or stops) it might take me a week to finish the above job, but I won’t be cranky and I won’t slip and break something, and I won’t get mad at God for making life so difficult. I couldn’t afford this luxury of taking it slower when young. I had to move faster, but then I had the strength and energy to do it. Not so now. So why be a fool and act like I’ll still young! I’m not.
We all have our limits, young or old. So when stressed, try taking it in bites – steps – little pieces. Writing a paper or a book, doing math, driving five hundred miles, washing dishes, vacuuming the house, cutting the grass. It’s damn hard to force myself to go slow – like typing this paper right now. My mind thinks two keys ahead, but the finger types the second key first, resulting in having to stop, make the correction and proceeding. The result – it takes longer to type fast than to type slow.
My most vivid recollection of being introduced to this theory comes from the 1940s when I was working as a surveyor during college vacation for a firm that was (in WW II) building an assault boat manufacturing plant on the banks of the Mississippi River in St. Louis. Everything was in a huge hurry. The war was on! Things had to be done super fast to prepare for Pacific invasions yet to come. Six foot-six old Joe Yallaly was our four-man survey crew leader. We had not only to work fast, but be 100% accurate – no small task. Time after time Joe would growl around a pipe stem which seemed to have been built into his mouth at birth: “Boys, we gotta work real fast today, so I want you to go real slow.”
Such a one-step-at-a-time business could now be serving my grandson well, but after twenty years he still hasn’t risked venturing into that territory. I am far luckier (when I remember the drill). It really does work. The only problem now is – my steps seem to be getting smaller.
But you might benefit by trying it – whether you’re nine or ninety.
By going slow – to go fast.