I remember when I was first told to lead a decade of the rosary. I got so uneasy and intimidated as my turn approached. I was afraid that I would fumble holding the beads, lose count, or not say it the way it should be said. But my grandma, who was the most prayerful woman I have ever met, whispered to me in Tagalog: “just say one ‘Hail Mary’ at a time.” And with those words of wisdom, I was set. I started slow and nervous but then after a few beads, I got the flow, the rhythm, and the confidence. Ten beads later, I found that I had led an entire mystery. It was piece of cake, I thought, and it was quite a moment of accomplishment for the 8-year-old me. Later on in my young life, I often found myself leading prayer groups through an entire rosary. And it all started with those few words that my grandma whispered in my ear.
One Sentence…to One Book
My grandmother is long gone now but those simple words of wisdom are with me to this day, helping me get through many of my goals and challenges. In 2017, those words echoed once more to help me publish my first book. With the thought of simply writing one sentence at a time, and then one page at a time, and then one chapter at a time, I succeeded in pushing through and finishing a 258-page book.
In fact as I researched for that book, Lessons in Leadership from the Saints, I learned that those words my grandma told me echo the wisdom of the saints when it comes to accomplishing the things that they did.
The First Steps of Sainthood
Many of the Saints’ feats were enormous. Who would have known that what Mother Teresa started in India over a half century ago would grow to become one of the largest international organization today? She didn’t start out feeding and caring for thousands of people right away. She took it one day at a time, caring for one soul at a time. She said: “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.”
John Bosco had that same approach. One day, he was taking care of an orphaned poor boy in need. Days later, he was helping nine other boys. Three months later, he was helping 25. Now, 100-plus years after his death, the religious order he founded, the Salesians, is the third largest missionary organization in the world, with almost 3,000 houses worldwide that continue to care for thousands of poor and at-risk kids.
Start Small to Make Progress
In the business world, there is a simple but very effective technique that seems to be widely preached when it comes to accomplishing lofty goals. It is the same technique my grandmother taught me—take it one step at a time. Start small and take incremental steps towards the goal, no matter how big and lofty that goal is. In the history of progress, we often celebrate and talk about major leaps forward such as the landing on the moon or the invention of computers, but the majority of the history of progress is actually made up of the small progress events that happen every day. We know about Apollo 11, the first landing of humans on the moon, but this monumental event would not have been possible if not for Pioneer 0, the very first attempt to go to the moon 11 years prior. The monumental events in history stand on the shoulders of the small everyday-progress events that we rarely discuss.
When we set smaller, incremental, and achievable goals, the large goal becomes less daunting, more manageable, and more realistic. When we have a lofty goal that we need to accomplish, it is almost always our natural tendency to first get overwhelmed, and that instinctive reaction has the potential to leave us stressed out and paralyzed by fear and intimidation. We can overcome that feeling and tackle the issue differently by following what Mother Teresa and Saint John Bosco did. Let’s take it one small step at a time—steps we can actually take, manage, and win. Small wins add up and accumulate and, eventually, the big lofty goal is achieved.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that “you don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” Let us focus on the smallest details first, and then work our way up to ultimately tackling the larger issue. We can learn from the wisdom of the “little way” of St. Therese the Little Flower. As we take those small steps on the way to our larger goal, let us not minimize each step but make sure that we perform the little ordinary things with extraordinary love.