These past few weeks have been instructional ones for my daughter Allison, and for me as well.
This time last year, Allsion was in the dumps because her fledgling career as a cello instructor had taken a nose dive. Specifically, she lost one of her only two private students because that student’s original teacher had returned from maternity leave. She also was laid off as a group teacher, because the music school which had hired her was having financial difficulties. It was a totally unexpected blow–up until the week or so before, she’d been repeatedly told by someone she trusted that she would at least be teaching the group lessons come January.
Needless to say, she was not a happy camper. She continued on through the winter and spring sessions, but in late August, she did some soul searching, and set herself a goal.
“I will have four private students by September 31.”
Now, yes. Her father and I pointed out that September 31 would never come, but it didn’t much bother her. She had a goal, she had a date, even if it was really October 1.
She started by setting up a web site. Printing up some flyers, and going out after her one lesson and putting them in mailboxes.
She got a response. Just one. And the caller ended up not taking lessons.
The lack of success didn’t really matter. What mattered, far more, was that she’d gone from a place of inactivity and an attitude of apathy to a place of action.
Mid September, she got a call. From a woman she didn’t know in a city she hadn’t considered as a teaching venue. They needed a teacher. Even more specifically, they needed HER.
They interviewed her the following week, and hired her on the spot. It helped a great deal that the interview involved a demonstration lesson–she’s a teacher first and foremost, and if you put her in front of a willing student, she teaches.
And on October 1, she taught her first classes to four new students, one more than she’d aimed for.
It gets better. That week I asked her about what promotion she was considering–free introductory lessons, refer-a-friend incentives, advertising… The school had already put that into motion. Plus a brand new scholarship designed specifically to build her studio.
She set a new goal–to have twenty students, so that she can move to the city where she teaches (and out of her father’s house). If all of the scholarship applicants pan out, she’s already up to thirteen, and it’s the middle of the school year, which is not the usual starting time for new students.
To top it all off, she’s being swept down an interesting path, but one she’s exceptionally suited to taking. She has, in professional jargon, stumbled into a specialty, in that one of her current students and two of her prospective students have or likely have autistic spectrum disorders. This was unexpected but not beyond her capabilities–she has, after all, a lifetime of experience gained from dealing with her autistic younger brother.
What’s happened to my daughter isn’t unusual.
In my experience, the most important step to take in any project is the first one. If you’re passionate about the project, you’ll more often than not find yourself swept up in a whirlwind of activity that takes you to places you’d never dreamed of going.
My own theory is that God (or the universe, if you prefer) will leave you to your own devices. But the moment you show some initiative, God starts pushing, and it’s not a gentle push. Like the falling pebble that starts an avalanche on an unstable slope, the small actions you take trigger a chain reaction that culminates in something you could never have envisioned, nor accomplished on your own.
Newton tells us that “a body at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon by an external force.” The “body” is your position in the world, the external force is that first tiny step.
What trips people up, I suspect (because it sometimes trips me up) is the over estimation of the force needed to cause the massive change. We forget the effects of time and distance. We also forget that many little steps (which are much easier to contemplate and actually do than one big one) have as much or more effect than one big step.
To return to my daughter, the tiny step she took that had such big effects happened even before she got laid off. Years before she got laid off, in fact. She started taking lessons. She practiced, a little at a time, then more and more as she got used to playing. And she met people, and she made friends with those people.
And one of the people she met was so impressed by her dedication and teaching skills that when the school director phoned her saying they needed a cello teacher RIGHT NOW, she replied, “You need Allison.”
Would this woman have phoned if Allison hadn’t taken those steps of trying to build up her studio herself? Maybe. Probably.
But those steps did something for Allison that wasn’t part of the original plan. They got her out of her funk, and moving towards her goal. The goal which was, in fact, a step in and of itself. It didn’t matter that the initial steps she took were in the wrong direction–once she was moving, she was able to change course quickly enough, and the momentum stayed with her.
One trait I’ve noticed is not only common, but universal amongst my friends who are poor and who are destined to remain so–they refuse to take those first steps. They whine. They make excuses about why it’s hard (it’s always hard–get over it!), why they’re so disadvantaged, why they don’t have time or money or energy to do what has to be done. They make excuses, they make plans, they invent new crises–anything to avoid ACTING.
On the other hand, those of my friends who are financially secure and happy about their lives DO things. They may have exactly the same problems as my poor friends (or even worse ones–sometime I’ll tell you about my formerly homeless and formerly unskilled friend who became a respected journalist and community leader), but instead of remaining a body at rest, they exert force and start moving. It’s a lot easier to steer a moving object (car, boat, career, life) than it is to steer a stationary one. Because you can’t steer a stationary object!
So if you want God or the universe or Newton to help you out, they stand ready and waiting. All it takes is one tiny step. Then maybe another. By the time you take the third, you’ll know I’m telling you the truth.
So. What’s your goal, and what will be your first step?