One of the games I play with my 4-year-old is a memory game.
You know, the one where you lay a bunch of cards facing down, and take turns turning two at a time, trying to find a match.
Every time I play that game, I think to myself, ah, this is how life is.
Think about it. When you start the game, you don’t know where the cards are. So you are blindly turning cards. You are exploring, trying to memorize all the cards you turn, so that down the road when you do find a match, you can come back to them.
You can’t find many matches in the first few turns, except for some lucky few. And you don’t expect to. You don’t stop the game in frustration, thinking that “I’ll never find matches!”
Starting is the hardest part in any endeavors. Learning a new language or instrument, picking up a sport, building up good habits or forming relationships. In some of those activities, you’d think that the beginning exploration is even fun. You get many things wrong, but that’s OK. Right?
But sometimes, we have unrealistic expectations — especially with things like starting a business. We expect instant or quick success. We expect our ideas to take off. We think that it’s not a good idea when it doesn’t.
Let’s get back to our card game. What happens after the first few turns? You start turning up cards you’ve seen elsewhere. There are still many cards left on the table, so you may not remember all the ones you’ve seen — but you start to get them. At first, it’s still a trickle. A match here and there. Things are starting to get exciting. Ones who were diligent in memorizing the card locations in the beginning, even when the results weren’t following, will get to this stage sooner. They just do better. They didn’t lose their focus. They didn’t slack off or give up their effort in dismay, from the lack of immediate results.
And you know what happens in the final stage of the game. You take home multiple matches per turn. As the number of cards on the table dwindle, you really see the rest of the picture. You may still make a mistake here and there, but you get things right more often than not. The game rushes to the end in a great speed.
See how the game takes a gradual turn for the better in the middle, but after that, builds momentum very fast? Growth can be exponential like that.
And knowing this truth can help greatly in maintaining your motivation early on.
Say, you’re learning to play the guitar. But in the beginning, you only know like 2 chords. You can’t strum in time. You have to stop the song to switch chords. What you’re doing doesn’t really resemble “music.”
You toil away at this, but it can take weeks, even months, before you see any progress. Many people give up.
But this is the way it is! If you had kept going, at some point you’ll get those 2 chords down. Then in another week, you’ll learn the 3rd chord. And the next week, you’ll learn two more. The week after, 10.
The hardest part is the beginning. To be steadfast in your efforts. To keep the faith in your vision. When it feels like you’re stuck, there’s no progress, it’s taken too long.
Perhaps this is why the world works this way. It’s designed to turn away the uncommitted, those who don’t believe in what they’re doing.
Or maybe it’s a trial period. The time when you’re supposed to find out whether what you’re doing is really “you.” Whether it’s something you enjoy doing for the sheer love of doing it, without needing tangible results.
I know I have let my earlier business ventures die like that. And I am glad I gave up on them — as they were not me. I had started them because I wanted the benefits of my endeavors — but what I was doing, in itself, were not rewarding to me.
Another example was the house building project my wife and I took on. My wife did enjoy building, but I didn’t. I wholeheartedly believed in the idea of living in a natural house. But I’m not a builder — what we should’ve done was to hire those who love building and have them take the lead, if not do the whole thing.
Many of us start things like that, with our eyes on the goal, and nothing else. Having the end in mind when you start, is not a bad thing in itself. But what we must not forget, is that life is what happens while you’re “on the way.” Don’t choose to do anything if all you’re interested in is the results. Do things where doing itself is the reward.
Starting is the hardest part, for a good reason. You have to work on it, with little to no results. No proof that what you’re doing is working, or going to work.
If you truly believe in what you’re doing, just remember how you play the memory game. Keep your faith.
The hardest part is the beginning. It will get easier.
This article was featured in The Seventeenth Edition of the Carnival of Improving Life