The end of the beginning

When in doubt, just start at the beginning. Take one step at a time, and eventually you’ll reach your destination. For those of us who suffer from decision fatigue, this is the most practical way to get going on a project. I remind myself of this all the time. Just start at the beginning! This simple method can remove countless meaningless decisions that cause us to spin our wheels in place.

I unexpectedly encountered this at a talk I gave to 150 or so people last year. I dreaded preparing my remarks FOR MONTHS ahead of the event, wondering why I had agreed to keynote this thing in the first place, and couldn’t seem to get any traction going. Then, the day before, after all opportunity for procrastination had been exhausted, I realized that I could simply start at the beginning. I structured my story chronologically, starting with childhood and events described in my book, and moved along to the present day. Easy peezy lemon squeezy. No real thinking required. Just begin at the beginning. As someone who has a tendency to overthink, this is a revelation. This simple technique can remove something like 80% of one’s decisions, thus saving your brain-power for navigating the crossroads moments that actually matter.

In this particular case, my talk was the very best I ever delivered. People lined up to meet the author, and I sold a whopping 28 books, an incredible conversion rate. $20 bills were scattered all across the table, as I didn’t have time to properly manage the cash while signing books and visiting. This was most unusual for me, so the power of simply starting at the beginning is something I’ve extended into other areas of life…

For example, today my son and I began our goal of hiking the 300+ mile Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) in chunks. Once again, I’m taking the meaningless decisions out of the project. We simply began at the very beginning:

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This is the brand new southern terminus of the SHT, just south of Duluth in Wrenshall. Continue walking in this direction, East, and you’ll soon be able to hike all the way to Vermont (when this spur trail connects it up to the North Country Trail).

 

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But we’re taking it in the other direction, which leads all the way to Canada, along the North Shore of Lake Superior, primarily. 

This section of the trail is just 1.9 miles long, and takes you northwest toward Jay Cooke State Park. It’s an out-and-back situation, so though we hiked about four miles today, we didn’t even notch our first 1% of the trail. The hardest part of any big goal, however, is simply getting started. This little jaunt through the woods was the perfect warmup for the larger project. Now, going forward, there will be no thought given to where we’ll be hiking next. We’ll simply begin again where we left off.

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Much of this portion of the trail looks like this. No grand scenery to slap onto postcards, but there’s an understated elegance to the forest with the bright sun diffusing gently through the canopy. Lots of wildflowers and lush spring growth.

This campsite had me wishing we had spent the night out here. The picture doesn’t do this site justice. Perched high above the Red River Valley (a less famous Red River), the spot is breezy, which keeps the bugs away. The trail builders really went all out on this one. They had apparently carried in a sandy pea gravel mix for the tent pads, which leveled them out perfectly. No roots or rocks lodged beneath your back. I’ve never seen that before! The ground looked like a fine mattress.

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The forest was filled with many maple trees, which will make this a gorgeous hike come autumn. It was also a stellar stroll amidst lush spring growth.

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Ferns galore.

This sort of goal is fantastic for us. On the drive out there, a mere 25 minute journey from our home on the opposite end of town, we found ourselves arguing about nothing, which is kind of a specialty for us. The hike, on the other hand, was perfect. Dappled by casual conversation throughout. Really lovely. Just what we needed.

I previously wasn’t in any hurry to complete the trail, and I have already hiked a large chunk of it on my own, but now I’m kind of changing my mind. My schedule is highly flexible RIGHT NOW. How much longer will this be the case? I’m looking for regular employment these days (ANY OPENINGS OUT THERE?) Eventually a two-hour stroll through the woods on a Monday with my boy will become a rare occurrence. This new reality might happen sooner than later.

Perhaps this project is a kind of capstone to the last five years of self-employment. These sorts of things are stellar for the family, as they force me to be fully present. Plus, we can involve Josiah’s sister and mother at regular intervals on the trail (be it hiking or camping). Neither is interested in hiking the whole thing, which is fine. To each their own.

Until next time, hugs and kisses, y’all.


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