Sunday, May 2, 2010

Big Dreams, Small Steps

Although there isn't what I would call an abundance of wildlife in our neighborhood, I do see and hear a few birds from time to time. Usually, they are distant enough that they just sound like a natural part of the background. Except that one day, I heard a chirping that sounded like it was in the hall near our front door. It was very much a part of the foreground, distinct and difficult to ignore. I was certain that a bird had somehow gotten into the coat closet.

When I looked out the front window, however, I saw a little bird perched on the mailbox by our front door. I'm no ornithologist, but this was probably a sparrow or maybe a finch. It was about that size. The mailbox is one of those upright deals attached to the house next to the front door. The top of the mailbox was open, and as I watched, this little bird took a sprig of pollen and dropped it into the box. Then he flew off, only to return a moment or two later with another contribution. And he was so proud of himself that he wanted somebody to know about his accomplishment. He made so much noise in that little echoing alcove that he sounded like a whole flock.

Well, it didn't take me long to figure out that he was building a nest in the mailbox, and although I was greatly amused watching him, I knew that his residence of choice wasn't going to work for me. Before anybody got too comfortable, I put on my heartless villain persona and cleared out the mailbox. The thing was over halfway filled with pollen and twigs and leaves, so I know he had been at this for awhile. I wondered how long I had left the mailbox lid open in that tempting and inviting position. Not only was this little fellow angry, but I heard at least two other noisy little birds chastising me from the bushes as I callously tossed aside their future home and blocked any hope of reconstruction by closing the mailbox lid.

Since then, I have been very aware of whether I have closed that mailbox. I have great confidence that he found another, even more impressive nesting location, but I didn't relish dashing his hopes of raising a family in a cozy little nest by my front door. I thought about that little guy this week, though. I considered how much he had accumulated by taking just one little sprig or leaf at a time and adding to his construction. And I'm imagining that he took some care with just which perfect spring of pollen to place next in his lush abode. He created something pretty impressive by taking it one piece at a time.

That was an important lesson for me this week, even though it's one I've learned many times before. As I looked at my calendar, I saw time blocked out for big projects on various days, and yet I felt like I was spinning my wheels on some things. I was not celebrating each day, I was bemoaning how little forward motion I had created. So, I changed how I was scheduling my time. I took each big project and I decided what the next few steps were. Then I scheduled the sprig-sized tasks instead of just blocking out time to work on the nest. I can imagine that building a nest could be daunting, but going out and getting the next twig or leaf seems simple enough.

I have written before about eating the elephant one bite at a time, and I have learned time and again about strategic planning. But still I get caught sometimes in the temptation to beat myself up over not accomplishing "enough." Like that upward spiral I have described, I am encountering the same lesson from a slightly different vantage point, and hopefully I am learning it a little bit deeper this time. The result for me this time was not only a sense that I am actively creating the big dreams I have set before myself, but also that I have something to celebrate each day as I take that one next step or add that one next little sprig.

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