A Step at a Time

The proverb The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step[i] shows up in various forms, with somewhat different endings. The point, though, remains the same. All beginnings require some action.

Last week I wrote about Life Plans and how, with all the challenges and opportunities, life doesn’t often go as planned. From my youth, I can cite nearly endless examples. The future model became a grocery store check-out clerk. The promising businessman from the wealthy family disappeared in a cloud of addiction. The future preschool owner became a medical doctor. The shy girl who planned to teach moved to Europe and went into broadcasting. The future school administrator sold insurance. While I know a few people who worked in the field they planned to, most did not. Still, they seem happy.

During my high school (secondary school) years, my dad repeatedly assured me that he would never help a female (me) with any college costs, nor would he disclose his income by filling out financial aid forms. Guidance counselors assured me of my capabilities and the importance of a university education. Knowing my dad meant what he said, I held onto my high school enrollment in a college-bound educational track instead of focusing on vocational training, but all my elective classes related to clerical skills I believed would help me secure work. And they did.

After graduation, I married young and my spouse groused constantly about my interest in education. Nevertheless, I took college classes – one or two at a time – and I worked.

What I wanted to be as a child – an elementary school teacher – sounded delightful until I volunteered in a classroom. It took one day for me to acknowledge few students would appear as a mini-Me, filled with a love of learning and a desire to make the world a better place. In fact, the classroom environment felt more like the inside of a food processor at full speed, without the pulverizing but complete with action, distraction, and some combat.

That cold day, one student came to school without a coat (shivering and swearing they were not chilly), two had thrown a small blanket over the head of the bus driver with the bus in motion on a busy street, and one student kept falling asleep between complaints of being hungry. The other challenges elude me, except a pair of kids who found cursing and passing gas a hilarious pastime. Before the first recess ended, the teacher dug up a coat from an abandoned-objects box secreted somewhere on the school grounds, engaged in a stern and motivational talk with the miscreants, and provided snacks for the hungry child (this was at a time before everyone understood allergies could be fatal and nobody ever talked about gluten). Amid the spurts of teaching, the 25 bodies in the classroom remained in some sort of constant motion and need.

When I left the school, I felt adrift and as if the life raft I’d been floating on had become a bit deflated and wobbly. I could not envision myself doing that every day (though long periods of time off work sounded heavenly). On the way home, I realized that the time in the classroom had taught me a lot about the challenges teachers face as well as my own perceptions. Clerical work seemed a bit more pleasant while I pondered other options, feeling like a late-20-something dud.

When I received an offer to fast-track from clerical work into a tech program (nerdy me loved that), I jumped at the chance and pushed myself to focus on an undergrad degree to improve my promotion potential. When my marriage crashed and burned, a decision to face some completely unplanned and generally unpleasant events in both my marriage and my youth led me to seek help from a therapist and then a healing group. Still, I never planned to transition from computer programming to social services.

However, while working part-time as a fund-raising assistant, I received an opportunity to help low-income people overcome their fear of computers, so took a full-time job in non-profit world. From there, I did not plan to get a graduate degree in Counseling Psychology, work in a mental health field, or work with houseless people. Yet that’s where I found my career home. For a while, I kept meeting people who wanted to share their painful stories with me, seeking reassurance. I felt honored to be trusted to hold a space for them to examine their experiences and drawn to that healing path. I took the road later in life than many, but the experience of grad school and the opportunities it gave me: better than any Plan.

All that to say, I hope you appreciate each step you have taken along your life’s path so far and acknowledge what you have accomplished – whether it’s surviving or you’re a future Nobel, Oscar, or Pulitzer winner. Give yourself a pat on the back.

You deserve to celebrate your accomplishments. May you have the strength to take each step forward with appreciation.

May you be healthy, happy, safe, and strong.

Last words: Please remember that neither my opinions/experiences nor resources I mention are meant as cures or treatment. This is intended to uplift and educate, not as counseling or professional advice. If you are in a moment in your life when most efforts feel huge, consider finding a mental health professional to support you.[ii] If you’re considering ending your life or if you are in crisis, please reach out to emergency services (9-1-1) or a crisis hotline[iii] to connect with someone who will have your best interests at heart. Your tender heart deserves respect.

Copyright 2021 D.R. deLuis


[i] From Chapter 64 of the Dao De Jing ascribed to Lao Tzu. See Wikipedia for more information.

[ii] One potential resource for finding an affordable counselor is www.opencounseling.com and most communities offer a 2-1-1 number where you can get info on local resources.

[iii] If you’re not comfortable speaking with someone, try reaching out to the Crisis Text Line. In the US and Canada text “HOME” to 741741; in the UK text 85258; in Ireland text 2050808. To speak with someone, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit the website to text/chat at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/.

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