May 19, 2017
There are days when I don’t want to show up. Days when I wish I could just jump ahead to the part where I have accomplished my goal, won the contest, finished the project.
The allure of the quick fix or the easy win is huge. It’s why get-rich-quick schemes work so well at attracting new customers. Why toil for years when you can get rich overnight? Why spend a year writing a book when you could finish one in a weekend?
It’s worth pointing out that showing up is not actually enough. If you don’t actually make progress (which requires understanding what progress looks like - not always a trivial task), then you could be using showing up as a proxy for progress, which is a dangerous game to play.¹
Those proxies can provide cheap wins, moments of fleeting satisfaction, but in long run leave you demoralized. That’s because while the cheap wins provide a jolts of serotonin that can help you feel like you’ve accomplished something, but upon review you see you have nothing to show for it and leave you feeling empty.
Avoiding that outcome takes a lot of grit. That’s what you see in The Daffodil Principle, where one woman showed up and planted flowers one at a time until she created something breath-taking. That’s why she has a field of daffodils and most people only have a small flower bed.
h/t to Rohan from alearningaday.com for the story. I’ve included the story below for reference.
“The Daffodil Principle”²
Jaroldeen Asplund Edwards
Several times my daughter had telephoned to say, “Mother, you must come to see the daffodils before they are over.” I wanted to go, but it was a two-hour drive from Laguna to Lake Arrowhead “I will come next Tuesday”, I promised a little reluctantly on her third call.
Next Tuesday dawned cold and rainy. Still, I had promised, and reluctantly I drove there. When I finally walked into Carolyn’s house I was welcomed by the joyful sounds of happy children. I delightedly hugged and greeted my grandchildren.
“Forget the daffodils, Carolyn! The road is invisible in these clouds and fog, and there is nothing in the world except you and these children that I want to see badly enough to drive another inch!”
My daughter smiled calmly and said, “We drive in this all the time, Mother.” “Well, you won’t get me back on the road until it clears, and then I’m heading for home!” I assured her.
“But first we’re going to see the daffodils. It’s just a few blocks,” Carolyn said. “I’ll drive. I’m used to this.”
“Carolyn,” I said sternly, “please turn around.” “It’s all right, Mother, I promise. You will never forgive yourself if you miss this experience.”
After about twenty minutes, we turned onto a small gravel road and I saw a small church. On the far side of the church, I saw a hand lettered sign with an arrow that read, “Daffodil Garden.” We got out of the car, each took a child’s hand, and I followed Carolyn down the path. Then, as we turned a corner, I looked up and gasped. Before me lay the most glorious sight.
It looked as though someone had taken a great vat of gold and poured it over the mountain peak and its surrounding slopes. The flowers were planted in majestic, swirling patterns, great ribbons and swaths of deep orange, creamy white, lemon yellow, salmon pink, and saffron and butter yellow. Each different-colored variety was planted in large groups so that it swirled and flowed like its own river with its own unique hue. There were five acres of flowers.
“Who did this?” I asked Carolyn. “Just one woman,” Carolyn answered. “She lives on the property. That’s her home.” Carolyn pointed to a well-kept A-frame house, small and modestly sitting in the midst of all that glory. We walked up to the house.
On the patio, we saw a poster. “Answers to the Questions I Know You Are Asking”, was the headline. The first answer was a simple one. “50,000 bulbs,” it read. The second answer was, “One at a time, by one woman. Two hands, two feet, and one brain.” The third answer was, “Began in 1958.”
For me, that moment was a life-changing experience. I thought of this woman whom I had never met, who, more than forty years before, had begun, one bulb at a time, to bring her vision of beauty and joy to an obscure mountaintop. Planting one bulb at a time, year after year, this unknown woman had forever changed the world in which she lived. One day at a time, she had created something of extraordinary magnificence, beauty, and inspiration. The principle her daffodil garden taught is one of the greatest principles of celebration.
That is, learning to move toward our goals and desires one step at a time—often just one baby-step at time—and learning to love the doing, learning to use the accumulation of time. When we multiply tiny pieces of time with small increments of daily effort, we too will find we can accomplish magnificent things. We can change the world …
“It makes me sad in a way,” I admitted to Carolyn. “What might I have accomplished if I had thought of a wonderful goal thirty-five or forty years ago and had worked away at it ‘one bulb at a time’ through all those years? Just think what I might have been able to achieve!”
My daughter summed up the message of the day in her usual direct way. “Start tomorrow,” she said. She was right. It’s so pointless to think of the lost hours of yesterdays. The way to make learning a lesson of celebration instead of a cause for regret is to only ask, “How can I put this to use today?”
¹ See Amazon’s Letter to Shareholders this year for a nice discussion on using proxies inappropriately. ² Text found at Abundance-and-Happiness.com
Written by Stephen Weiss who lives in Chicago with his wife, Kate, and dog, Finn. Follow him on Twitter!