“Take the first step in faith. You don’t need to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I was born and raised as a planner. As such, I took planning for anything and everything very, very seriously. Moving. Scheduling the weekend. Preparing for a test. Throwing a party. Packing for vacation. I was really, really good at planning. So good that I was actually sort of famous for my planning skills. More than once I was offered jobs with the word “planner” in the title.
If you’d read the above MLK quote to this younger version of me, I would have snickered. In my mind then, it would be downright foolish to take a step before you’d scoped out the whole staircase. I can hear myself arguing with you. “You wouldn’t hike the Appalachian Trail without a clear understanding of the terrain and the weather forecast, would you? You’re telling me you’d drive to New Hampshire without a route in mind?”
While I still make some of the best lists you will ever see when planning a party or packing for a trip, simple time on the planet (aka age), life experience, a little exhaustion and a whole lot of yoga have combined to change me rather dramatically. At this point, not only would I not laugh at Dr. King’s pearl of wisdom, I firmly and wholeheartedly embrace it.
No matter what challenge you’re facing or struggle you’re having or growth spurt you’re in, you absolutely do not need to see the whole staircase in order to take the first step. In fact, seeing the whole staircase can be a bit of a deterrent at times. If you have a lot in common with Amy-of-old, hear me out.
When my husband started practicing Aikido, the lure of eventually earning a black belt drew him to the dojo morning after morning. Watching advanced practitioners train inspired him. That said, if he’d known the full scope of his journey – the wicked bruises, the classes where he’d be asked to hold one position for nearly an hour, the weeks sitting on the sidelines watching others while an injury healed, the anxiety of belt tests – I’m not sure he would have taken the first step. If my husband had been able to see the full staircase, it is likely he would have missed out on one of the most rewarding and transformative things he has ever done.
I could say the same of my yoga practice. I have a hard time believing that I would have been inspired to hear that sixteen (16!) years later I would still be working on some of the postures my teacher showed me during my first class. I think (no, I know) that a journey of that length would have looked way too daunting for me to embark upon. I also know for a fact that it was almost impossibly difficult for me to commit to attending class once a week. That hour and a half a week was truly all the time I thought I had to spare. If you’d told me then that you really need to practice more often than that (for some of us, a lot more often than that), I never would have purchased my second 10-class card. It was my very cluelessness about the journey that lay ahead that allowed me to take the first step (and the second, and the third, and, well, probably the thousandth as well).
A detailed view of “the full staircase” can shut down happy choices such as getting a puppy, training for a marathon, decorating your living room, or taking a fantastic new job that requires you to relocate. For instance, knowing everything involved in raising and cohabitating with adolescents, would definitely make the decision to start a family more difficult to make. Speaking personally, my idealized, probably Hallmark-inspired image of a happy family, gave me the courage to set off on that particular tremendous journey.
Life is filled with pivotal moments like these. Moments that could render a planner like I once was paralyzed. Moments that are the start of something so big and so wonderful that no planner in the world could create lists and schedules and flowcharts to map their course. Moments that we risk missing entirely without the courage to take things “one step at a time.” But courage is not all we need.
Taking that first step, as Dr. King points out, requires a leap of faith. Faith in what? Practically, we must have faith that one step is plenty for right now. Faith that the step which is presenting itself (the step that you can see and that feels right in this moment) is probably exactly the right one to take. Faith that you can trust this one step even though you cannot sense the next or the next or the next steps. And, finally, faith that you are braver and more resilient than your desire to have control.
Plans absolutely have their place. For instance, a packing list for a vacation, a menu and a guest list for a party or even a route to New Hampshire all help maximize the fun of the journey ahead. But there is only so far a plan can take you. Sometimes (and these are often the very best times of all) what takes you furthest is simply taking that first step.