Once upon a time there was a beetle who lived near the Pacific Ocean with his family. One day he took a nap on a leaf high in a tree. The wind began to blow and the tree shook. When the beetle awoke, the tree was swinging wildly. All at once, the leaf broke off from the tree and the beetle hung on for dear life as the leaf carried him up and up and far away.
The wind drove him in circles and then high in the air. Around and around. Up and down. Hour after hour. Until, finally, he came to rest in a desert.
The beetle looked around. He didn’t know where he was. Soon, as scorpion wandered by. “Excuse me” said the beetle, “can you tell me where we are?”
The scorpion looked puzzled. “We are here” she said.
“Thank you,” said the beetle, “but I am not from here. I live by the ocean. Can you tell me how to get back to the ocean?”
“The ocean is not here” said the scorpion. “The ocean is a long way off. You cannot get there.”
The beetle was alarmed. “Why can’t I get there?”
“Because,” said the patient scorpion, “You are here and the ocean is a long way off. You can’t walk that far.”
The beetle was sad. “But I got here from far away. So I must be able to get back,” he said.
“How did you get here?” asked the scorpion.
“I flew on this leaf” said the beetle.
“I don’t know about flying,” said the scorpion. “I only walk. And I know you can’t walk to the ocean. Ask a bird about flying.”
“Thank you,” said the beetle.
Then the beetle looked around for a bird. He saw birds flying about, but none close enough to talk to. But in watching the birds he observed that they could fly easily in one direction but had great difficulty in the other. And as the sun set, the beetle settled down under his leaf to sleep. He noted that the sun sets in the direction the wind comes from. So, he concluded, the ocean must be there.
The next day the beetle rolled up his leaf and headed in the direction of the ocean. He walked all day, stopping occasionally to eat. After awhile a dragonfly came by. “Hello said the beetle.
“Hello” said the dragonfly. “Where are you going?”
“I’m going to the ocean,” said the beetle.
“You can’t get there” said the dragonfly. I am from the ocean. I know.
“Why can’t I get there?” asked the beetle, alarmed once again.
“Because,” said the dragonfly, “the wind almost always blows away from the ocean. You can’t fly against the wind.”
“So you go wherever the wind takes you?” asked the beetle.
“Of course,” said the dragonfly. “What else can I do?”
“You can walk against the wind,” said the beetle.
“No,” said the dragonfly. It is a hundred miles to the ocean. Flying is much faster than walking. And when you fly, the wind almost always takes you away from the ocean.
“So you fly,” said the beetle, “because it’s faster than walking. But you don’t fly where you want; you fly where the wind takes you.”
“Yes, of course,” replied the dragonfly. “Walking would be much too slow.” With that, a breeze picked up and the dragonfly was off.
“Thank you,” called the beetle. Then he began walking in the ocean direction, thinking about the dragonfly. “If the wind almost always blows away from the ocean, it must sometimes blow toward the ocean,” he thought. “I will be prepared. When the wind blows toward the ocean, I will fly with my leaf. And when it does not blow toward the ocean, I will walk.”
The beetle walked many days and many nights. When the wind flew toward the ocean he tried to fly on his leaf. It took him a long time to learn to fly the leaf. He tried many things that did not work until he eventually learned to control it. Sometimes the wind tricked him and he flew farther from the ocean.
But our friend was a very determined beetle. Despite the discouragement of flying poorly or flying in the wrong direction, he was dedicated to his goal. Whenever he landed, he took his bearings and began walking toward the ocean.
Then one day the beetle came to a large body of water. He found a slug and asked “Is this the ocean?”
“No,” said the slug. “The ocean is a long way off. You can’t get there from here.”
“Why not?” asked the beetle.
“Because the ocean is on the other side of the lake,” said the slug.
“How do I get to the other side?” asked the beetle.
The slug looked confused. “You don’t” she said. “There is this side and there is the other side. You are on this side.”
“Have you been to the other side?” inquired the beetle.
“No,” replied the slug. “I am on this side.”
“Do you like this side?” the beetle asked. “Is this side better than the other side?”
“This side is fine,” said the slug. “I don’t know about the other side. I know this side is fine.”
“Can I walk around the lake?” asked the beetle.
“No,” said the slug. “It would take too long.”
“Too long for what?” asked the beetle.
“Well,” replied the slug, “you don’t want to go all the way over there and decide you like it better here. Then you’d just have to come back.” And with that, she moved off to find some leaves to eat.
The beetle thought about his journey so far. He didn’t seem to be making much progress. Everyone he met thought he was odd for wanting to make the journey. The scorpion could not imagine going anywhere. The dragonfly went fast but couldn’t go where he wanted. He just went fast. The slug knew how to get around, but was afraid her effort would be wasted.
Were they all right? Was he foolish? He sat for a long time and thought about his plight. Finally, he decided that the others were foolish and not him. They had no purpose, or they floated aimlessly through life.
He knew what he wanted. He had devised clever ways to use the elements for his benefit. True, there were days when he went backwards and there were days spent making up time. But he knew he must be getting closer.
And so the beetle determined once again to find his way home. He rolled up his leaf and headed around the lake. Eventually the beetle made his way around the lake and gradually got closer and closer to the ocean. Then one day he caught sight of a large rock formation he recognized. Right away he knew he would be successful.
On the last few days of his journey the beetle thought about his success. “I am successful because I persevere,” he said. And he went on: “I am successful because I know that I don’t know everything.”
“I am successful because I am willing to try things I haven’t done before—even if I’m scared.”
“I am successful because I don’t give up when I have discouraging days or big setbacks.”
“I am successful because I take time to focus on my goals and remind myself where I’m going.”
“I am successful because I know I don’t have to make a great progress every day.”
“And I learned that I don’t have to think about the bit ‘impossible’ goal all the time. Every day I work to accomplish the simple little work that moves me toward the bigger goal.”
End of the Tale
When people achieve great things we often analyze them. Two classic examples are centurions and sports figures. Reporters always feel obligated to ask people what they did to live the age of 100 years. The answers are often cute and seldom informative. “I got up every day and I didn’t die that day, so I got up the next day. Before I knew it I was 100.”
Sports figures tend to give better answers. This is especially true of goals that are grandiose. The most goals ever scored in a lifetime. Ten years without missing a game. Best in the league five years in a row.
When asked about these milestones, athletes tend to say something like “I didn’t start out with this goal. I just went to work every day, worked hard, and earned my pay. When I realized this record was reachable, I started focusing on it. I thought a little about it every day. But there’s nothing you can do all at once. You have to go to work every day, work hard, and earn your pay.”
The same thing happens a million times a year with less-publicized goals. Ordinary people walk across America, climb Half Dome, complete marathons, graduate from college, pay off their mortgage, celebrate five years of sobriety, or celebrate 50 years of marriage.
These are awesome goals and we should not minimize them. And yet all these miraculous achievements stem from normal daily living. You can’t get married one day and celebrate 20 or 40 or 50 years the next day. You have to get up every day, be a married person, work on it (and don’t die), then get up the next day and be a married person some more.
Miraculous events sometimes grow out of simple hobbies. I have a friend who has juvenile-onsite diabetes. He has to constantly monitor his body and keep a delicate balance between food intake, insulin, and physical activity. If he “took it easy” and spent all his time monitoring his disease, no one out notice. But that would be boring to him. So he runs for a hobby. He runs long distances. This requires huge effort to balance his body and keep things in check. And in his 50s he ran a marathon. Now for a marathon seems impossible under any circumstances. But for him it is more difficult than for most people. And he didn’t just build up to 26 miles, run a marathon, and be done with it. He runs marathons.
There are many people who achieve these truly grand goals by overcoming challenges, and focusing, and working at it a little every day.
Financial independence is like this. You might buy a lottery ticket from time to time, but you better have other plans for your retirement. You’ve read the formula for financial success a hundred times: put aside a regular amount from every paycheck. $100 or $500 or $1000. Or, some say, ten percent. Do it right now. Resolve on your next paycheck to “pay yourself first” and live on $100 less per month. Just do it.
In fact, all grand goals are like this. Focus on the future you (Me2). Have a vision. Visit your vision every day. Move toward it. Don’t be discouraged. Keep going a little at a time. Don’t be overwhelmed by it (in other words, relax). Simply be aware of it and move toward it. You can get there from here.